When model and musician Karen Elson puts on a show, the focus isn't just the music. The muse is a style icon in her own right because of her on and off-stage fashion choices. One day you'll see her on stage in a ensemble reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, and the next day spot her on the pages of Vogue in haute couture.
So we weren't the least bit surprised that Nine West tapped the trend-setting star. Her collection, a part of the shoe company's "Vintage America" line, is a mix of rugged style with glam accents. Towering platform wedges in rich velvet and Victorian-inspired boots are sure to sell out at stores, and the chain-adorned handbags are essential for any concert-goer.
We sat down with the model to discuss everything from the people who influence her style (hint: she admires another red head!) and the importance of footwear in creating the perfect ensemble.
Stylelist: The collection looks amazing!
Karen Elson: It’s fun… I’m so happy about how it turned out! When we went into the first creative meeting, none of us knew what to expect. It’s like they knew of me, but not really what I’m about. But likewise I knew of them, but I didn’t know what they were eager to do.
Stylelist: What was your inspiration?
Karen Elson: I did this shoot years and years ago for The New Yorker, it’s like one of the few fashion stories The New Yorker’s ever done. The story was based on the Dustbowl -- this glamorous former star got hit by the Depression and is going back to the dustbowl. Also with the Citizens Band I definitely have this melancholy feeling.
The idea was to create a shoe, a bag, even jewelry that looks as though it has seen the test of time -- a relic that you found in your glamorous grandmother’s attic that’s still in great condition, but a little weathered.
Stylelist: When girls are wearing your shoes, what do you think they’re going to wear with them?
Karen Elson: What we wanted was to create something that was approachable. For instance these boots -- I was wearing them all day yesterday with these little shorts I have -- it’s much more casual. Going out at night, putting on a vintage dress or a vintage-inspired dress -- that’s how I imagine the collection ultimately. It’s for the girl who’s into being quirky -- going into a vintage store, finding an old vintage pair of jeans, an old vintage dress and working it with the shoe.
Stylelist: When you get ready where do shoes come into the equation?
Karen Elson: They’re usually the last thing really, but it’s always the thing that confuses me the most to be honest. I’ll have an idea of what dress I want to wear -- for instance, today I did it reverse because I knew I wanted to wear these shoes. It was actually quite confusing to me because I didn’t know what to put on, I was driving myself crazy with the multitude of dresses and hoopla. Usually I find I have a dress or an idea in mind of what I want to wear, and the shoes are always not necessarily the afterthought, but the thing that perfects it. Is it going to be a heel? Is it going to be a chunky pair of boots? And that changes my whole look as well, from sort of a casual -- well not, because I’m never casual, no, that’s not how I roll.
Stylelist: Who do you look to for style inspiration?
Karen Elson: Grace Coddington is sort of my style icon. She’s such a good friend of mine and I really love how she particularly brings fantasy and magic into an everyday dress. And that’s how I approach dressing in general, I always have a story in my head about who I want to dress (as) today.
When Grace and I met -- she’s been a mentor to me for years -- she helped me navigate through modeling, as she was a model herself, she’s always been a great source of advice across life’s many chapters.
Stylelist: What is the best vintage find you’ve ever come upon?
Karen Elson: Oh my goodness the best vintage find, there are so many but there’s this one purchase -- it’s like a housecoat, but it’s velvet but it’s sheer, silk, sparkles, and I wear it constantly. It’s very hard to explain because it’s so special.
Stylelist: Who would you like to see design a collection of shoes?
Karen Elson: My friend Sarah Sophie Flicker -- she’s in the Citizens Band -- she has incredible taste. She needs to do shoes, do it all, she’s got great style. She’s one person I’d love to see do a whole collection.
Stylelist: What are your go-to shoes?
Karen Elson: My staples -- aside from these now, which I am going to wear to the death -- are designed by my friend Tabitha Simmons. She’s a very old, old friend of mine, one of my best friends -- she’s practically family!
Stylelist: Do you have a fun story from a shoot that you really loved?
Karen Elson: Anna Sui has been a good friend of mine for years and years, she’s the one who got me into vintage -- she and Marc Jacobs. I remember they’d tell me about the flea markets, the Chelsea Flea Market, they’d say, "you’ve got to go down there", and I’d say, "tell me what stores to go to!" We did a shoot for Elle because she [Sui] had a book coming out soon, it was really fun because I’m usually the one who’s getting my picture taken and it was so fun and silly for us both to be taking a picture together.
I’ve always been such a fan of her clothes in general. People’s style is always such an evolution of how you feel. For example I wear Alexander McQueen because he has very personal fashion. I have to feel it, I have to like the designer. I can’t just wear something because it looks good, I have to feel it in my heart.
Make sure to check out Elson's designs for Nine West below:
Photo(s): Getty | Nine West