'Le Freak' from Oldham joins style bible's list of world's top supermodels

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The Independent Online

She was taunted at school for being "too tall and too thin" and given the dubious accolade of Le Freak by a modelling agency, but Karen Elson has been anointed as one of the world's supermodel elite by the style bible, Vogue.

The 24-year-old cover-girl from Oldham has featured in a line-up showcasing the cream of international talent in the modelling industry.

The US edition of next month's Vogue has her among the 21st century's most iconic faces alongside such celebrated models as Gisele Bündchen, Natalia Vodianova, Isabeli Fontana and Karolina Kurkova.

Elson's success as the only British model in the line-up will surprise her doubters who mocked her fragile frame, red hair and chalk-white complexion, when she appeared on the fashion circuit at 15.

The list of rising stars replaces the legendary Vogue 1992 line-up, which had Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Elle Macpherson and Linda Evangelista, for whom the term "super-model" was invented, and the latest waves of models have been hailed as their successors.

Elson was discovered by Manchester-based modelling firm, Boss Model Management, as a schoolgirl, and rose to fame after being photographed by the star-maker, Steven Meisel three years later, for Italian Vogue in January, 1997. She was billed as Le Freak by Ford Model agency for her unique looks, and was a figurehead of a new wave of British models, including Erin O'Connor, celebrated for their quirky, irregular features.

Debra Burns, managing director of Boss, which remains her mother agency, said despite her appearance, she had a "luminescent" quality which singled her out for stardom.

"She looked like a red-haired, pale-skinned geeky girl but she just had a presence, a luminescence about her," she said. "She has a peculiar beauty that is not run-of-the-mill which gives her an edge. She had a natural confidence despite being teased at school."

Vogue said the new faces would become the elites of their generation, who had a "quieter" profile than their mega-star supermodel predecessors. Patrick O'Connell, the media director, said: "These women are not particularly aspiring to have the über-celebrity status of the supermodels of the 1990s."

Karen Diamond, director of Elson's London agency, Models 1, said: "The industry has a face of the moment then moves to the next face. Models are tempted to say, 'I'd better cash in now', but Elson was much more selective, and that's given her longevity."

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