Karen Elson: ‘A lot of models don’t know how much they’re getting paid’

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I waited a bit before I read InStyle’s second cover interview with Karen Elson. InStyle released Jennifer Aniston and Elson’s covers and interviews around the same time, and obviously, Aniston’s was the one which got tons of attention. Because she’s Jennifer Aniston. But Karen Elson’s interview is really interesting and really good. Elson is 42 years old, divorced from Jack White but still Nashville-based (so is White). She’s a mother of two and during the pandemic, she decided to leave her modeling agents and represent herself in the industry. She’s still getting tons of work offers, obviously (she’s on the cover of InStyle), but she sounds completely disgusted with the kind of bad sh-t that’s still happening in the modeling industry. I really enjoyed this piece:

Why she left her modeling agency: “COVID, as difficult as it’s been, gave me an opportunity to slow down and take stock. When I did that, I realized I was unhappy. I had no control over my life — it was a series of destinations, scheduling. There’d be so many times when I’d have to forgo important moments in my kids’ lives for my job. I became a version of myself that I didn’t particularly like. I’ve had an amazing career. I love collaborating with great photographers, designers, hairstylists, and makeup artists, but there are moments when I don’t like the business.

Modeling is about gossip & bitchiness: “It’s this feeling that unless you’re completely, 100 percent dedicated to the drama and the bitchiness, you’ll be forgotten about. For years it’s always been a fear of mine. But that was getting old. How many dinners can you stay at where you’re gossiping about somebody? Or being sucked down the rabbit hole of how people perceive you? There is this sort of Marilyn Monroe complex that happens a lot with famous women because our personalities are often not seen. This business projects so much on a person. The more outrageous you act, the more broken you are, the more susceptible to be manipulated you are. When I was at my weakest and sickest was when people were just like, “We love you. You’re so major. You’re incredible.”

There should be more camaraderie: “Pitting women against one another is a drama as well. There’s no team camaraderie. I think of Carolyn Murphy, Amber Valletta, Shalom Harlow, Erin O’Connor, and even the young girls — Adut Akech, Kiki Willems, Rianne Van Rompaey. I like all of these women. Why can’t we lift one another up? It’s been refreshing to represent myself and work with my management team. It makes me more eager to go to work.

Her advice for the young models: “That they’re allowed to ask questions, especially about finances. A lot of models don’t know how much they’re getting paid. It’s been a big struggle throughout my career to have that transparency. I found myself in many situations where the payment didn’t add up, and it’s not because anybody’s doing anything shady. It’s just very careless, and [asking questions] stops the momentum. It’s like, “Oh, you’re flying to Paris to do the shoot, but all of your expenses — the 20 percent agency fee, the 20 percent commission — are coming out of your rate.” So that’s 40 percent of the pie, not including taxes. There’s no email trail, and the attitude is, “Babe, don’t worry.”

The power of the Glamazon era: “I remember [casting director] James Scully said to me that in the ’80s the models had all the power. They were the ones who were calling the shots, like Linda Evangelista: “I don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.” I love Linda, by the way. She is the funniest person on the planet. But they were in charge, and then. Somewhere in the ’90s it went to, “Oh, they’ve got too much power. We’ve got to smack them back down.”

On models & social media: “With social media, models became superstars again. I’m not trying to slight anybody here, but it helped if you came from a certain background. I have a problem with people judging a person because they were just born into a certain thing. They can’t help that. But with the fickleness of fashion, they love when you’re the daughter of someone. It’s a lot harder for the younger girls now who, like me, may come from up north [of England] to become a superstar. They don’t have the resources. Back then, Kate could be Kate Moss from Croydon. Naomi [Campbell] is from South London, as well.

[From InStyle]

It’s clear that the old business model still works for many in the fashion industry – they don’t want to go back to models having “too much” power, they don’t want to go back to paying huge amounts to book the biggest names, and it’s easier for most agencies and industry professionals to just manipulate, gaslight and neg these young girls and women from ever realizing how much power they actually have. She’s absolutely right about “they love when you’re the daughter of someone” and how difficult it is, nowadays, for a Kate-from-Croydon to really launch herself into the industry. And what she says about the money is so scary – young women are practically paying out of pocket to model.

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Cover courtesy of InStyle, additional photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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11 Responses to “Karen Elson: ‘A lot of models don’t know how much they’re getting paid’”

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  1. psl says:

    *cough Kaia Gerber *

    I am so bored of the nepotism models. They don’t have “it”.

  2. Jules says:

    So basically, modeling is just as shallow and superficial as we think it is.

  3. Mireille says:

    I can appreciate what she’s saying about knowing your worth in a job in any industry. BUT. THIS. INDUSTRY. High fashion modeling has been about (mostly) white women, no shorter than 5’10, size 0-2, under the age of 30, plastered all over billboards, magazines, and walking the fashion runways being promoted as the epitome of beauty. I remember the 80s supermodel era — Linda, Naomi, and Christy — commanding high salaries and coveted beauty deals, but I also remember them being 3 of the most arrogant, mean-spirited, self-absorbed people this side of glossy mags. This industry has not changed much over the years. The standards of the “type” of women that they idealize as beauty or fashions icons hasn’t changed either — still very much discriminatory.

    • Col says:

      I always thought Christy had a great reputation, have you met her irl?

    • GrnieWnie says:

      all true but if they treat the ideal woman of the industry this way…just imagine how much worse it is for women who aren’t the ideal or women trying to break into the industry!

      I think it’s a deeply misogynistic industry…from the way it is owned by men who use the bodies of women to sell products to the way it idealizes the pubescent frame. I don’t see any chance of reform until these industries become more formalized.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Under 30? More like under 21. Easier to manipulate the young & inexperienced.

  4. jferber says:

    But people in many powerful, coveted jobs are “arrogant, mean-spirited” and “self-absorbed.” And the super-models did hang together in their very small, exclusive group. I remember 4 once shared one hamburger together (this is true). I always felt bad for Renee Zellwegger because she seemed really into Jack White when they were dating, but he dumped her for Karen Elson (I think). I don’t blame Karen for this, but Jack was a dickhead to do that.

    • enike says:

      I dont know if it was Karen Elson or someone else, but after Jack White and Renee broke up and he was with that new girlfriend at some gas-station and called her Renee in public

  5. Aurelia says:

    Nobody in the industry ever had a bad word to say about Christy.