Nashville calling: Supermodel Karen Elson wakes up at our new House
The fashion muse and singer takes us on a tour of Music City, and tells us about life as a local
Tuesday February 22 2022 By Osman Can Yerebakan Photography by Emily Dorio Video by Mika Matinazad Styling by Leslie Stephens Makeup by Colleen Runne Hair by Giovanni Delgado
Fifteen years is long enough to fall in and out of love – with people, objects, or places – but for Elson, Nashville proves the opposite. Just like many storied connections, hers with the city was accidental, beginning during a cross-country road trip with her ex-husband, the rock musician Jack White, while carrying their first child. ‘On a whim,’ she recalls, they bought a house in what presented itself as ‘a charming and lovely place to raise a child’. Two children, many songs, and countless magazine covers later, Elson still resides here. ‘It’s just one step removed from the metropolitan rat race, but with everything I need,’ she says.
'Anyone who assumes that we wear plaid shirts and sit on haystacks is wrong – not that there is anything wrong with that'
The Tennesseean capital and a British supermodel-musician may sound like an odd pairing, but Elson is ready to prove the eyebrow-raisers wrong. ‘Anyone who assumes that we wear plaid shirts and sit on haystacks is wrong – not that there is anything wrong with that,’ she says, recommending Robert’s Western World for that true tumbleweed-blown and lasso-tossing Western experience. Walking the runway for Chanel, Versace, Dior, Balmain, Gucci, or Alexander McQueen in her 25-year career has taken the modelling veteran across the globe. Here, in the American south, she finds the freedom to claim many other roles, including a mum, a neighbour, and a friend – or even ‘a dorky British woman, sitting here on my bed with a cup of tea, my big tom cat Fergus on my lap,’ Elson said in an interview last year. In fact, Nashville reminds her of her hometown of Lancashire, and her life before she was discovered at age 16 by a modelling agent. ‘Being from the north of England always created the impression in the fashion world that I was not sophisticated,’ she remembers. Similarly, the Nashvillian is ready to challenge the similar provincial tropes of her new home.
With her explosive red hair and Victorian features, Elson could be mistaken for a living Viktor & Rolf mannequin, and when she clutches her guitar, she could have been born and raised within a 10-mile radius. She does not hesitate to blend her two worlds and be a spokesperson for the city: Harper’s Bazaar UK and Russian Vogue have come down here to shoot her for their covers. (Sean Brock’s restaurant The Continental provided the backdrop for this feature.)
Cardigan, Proenza Schouler at Modiste; trousers, Modiste
To recharge, Elson heads to Radnor Lake for its hiking trails and vistas. ‘My friends have amazing niche boutiques here, too,’ she adds. Brooke Baxter’s vintage jewellery at Arrow and Anchor, Alyssa Spyridon’s rugs at Relic Home, and Salt Ceramics run by Jess Cheatham are her favourites, as well as the local boutique, Modiste, for its curated range of established international brands and young designers.
‘You might have a hangover, but you will be entertained here,’ says Elson, describing a typical few days in Nashville. Professionally, she has concocted a balance between creating locally (‘I write and record so many songs here,’) and hopping on a plane to New York or Los Angeles when the work calls. ‘But,’ she adds, ‘my day always includes driving my kids to school.’
Karen’s new record, Green, is out 28 April; it is her third full-length album (after The Ghost Who Walks and Double Roses – she also released her first EP Radio Redhead Vol. 1 in 2020). It was co-written and produced alongside the award-winning musical duo of Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk and ushers in a new musical era for her, in both direction and sound.