The crack-up of a Cosmo model: over the past decade, Karen Mulder graced the covers of dozens of magazines, including this one four times. But then she suffered a serious mental meltdown. Read on for the details of her unraveling and what brought it on.
Publication Date: 01-JAN-03
Author: Franck, Elisabeth
© Hearst Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved
It was the evening of Wednesday, October 31, 2001, and Karen Mulder, one of the hottest supermodels of the '90s, was scheduled to appear on a provocative French talk show. Karen had previously refused to appear on the show, probably because its host, Thierry Ardisson, was known to have a style of questioning that was too aggressive for her. And as the modeling industry's quintessential nice girl, Karen had always avoided confrontation. But earlier that month, the Dutch-born blond bombshell had called Ardisson to say she wanted to go public with some explosive secrets about the modeling industry. Because Karen was a former cover model on countless magazines--including four times on Cosmopolitan--and the star of major advertising campaigns, Ardisson was game to get the juicy details from her.
What followed, however, was more than even Ardisson had bargained for. In front of a live audience, Karen claimed that many men--her former bookers, her friend Prince Albert of Monaco, even her own father--had raped her. She hadn't come forward earlier, she explained, because she'd been hypnotized as part of a huge conspiracy against her. It was clear she was not in her right mind--she seemed very agitated, almost delirious. Ardisson quickly stopped the cameras. "None of what she said made sense, it was just this bizarre rant," Ardisson remembers. "Everyone was flabbergasted to see this beautiful girl just losing it." The show's producers decided to edit her out of that week's show, and Karen left the set in tears. Days later, she repeated her allegations, this time to a weekly magazine in an interview conducted in her Paris apartment. Within hours of the interview, her sister Saskia arrived and took her to Villa Montsouris, a psychiatric hospital specializing in such disorders as depression, anxiety, and delirium, where Karen stayed for more than three months. "Everyone was very, very shocked," says Elite New York modeling agency president Monique Pillard, who worked with Karen for many years. "Karen had always been very professional, very together, and very healthy." But beneath her picture-perfect exterior, she was actually hiding a very troubled past. Here, Cosmo takes a look at what caused this onetime fixture of the high-fashion world to come apart at the seams.
THE STORYBOOK BEGINNINGS
As a child growing up in the Netherlands, Karen hadn't given modeling much thought. But her teenage friends entered her picture in the Elite Look of the Year contest, and thanks to her 5-foot-10 stature and classically beautiful features, she won second place. Within weeks, the 17-year-old had flown to Paris and started posing for Vogue, Elle, and Marie-Claire. "There was a fresh quality to her," remembers her former Elite booker, Raphael Santin. (Mulder declined to be interviewed for this article.) "She was always smiling, ways upbeat and happy. Even a little kooky, in the best sense of the word."
Soon, she was in high demand on the fashion runways. At the age of 22, she became the face of Guess jeans. Shortly after, in 1992, she appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitan for the first time. Photographer Francesco Scavullo went on to shoot her for three more Cosmo covers over the following three years. "She was one of my favorite models," he remembers. "She loved the camera, and the camera loved her." By the mid-1990s, her career was full throttle, but even still it seemed that Karen was eager to please and be loved. "When I'd tell her she was looking beautiful, she'd light up," says Scavullo.
Her personal life was also moving very quickly. In 1988, at the age of 20, she had gotten married to a French photo age Rene Bosne, but by 1993, her marriage had fallen apart. "She married very young very quickly," Santin remembers. "Then her career evolved, and she probably realized that marriage had come too soon." Almost immediately, she started dating Jean-Yves Le Fur, a real-estate entrepreneur, after meeting him in an airport in Paris before a flight. In interviews, she talked of blissful happiness with Le Fur. But Elite's Pillard said she remembers Karen seemed depressed and acted agitated and even mistrustful toward others. Her busy schedule seemed to be taking a toll as well. "There were moments of intense pressure, when she had six shows to do in one day, when I saw her lose her poise and control," says Santin. A
CRACK IN THE ARMOR
Even the careers of the most successful models inevitably wind down. In 1995 Karen appeared on her final Cosmo cover. In 1997, she and Le Fur broke up. Then in April 1998, she announced she was quitting modeling and revealed some of her true feelings. "From the beginning, I hated being photographed," she told reporters at the time. "For me, it was just an assumed role, and in the end, I didn't know who I really was as a person. Everybody was saying to me, `Hi, you're fantastic.' But inside, I felt worse from day to day."
After leaving the modeling industry, she took singing lessons and tried acting but spent a lot of time traveling, often with her new boyfriend, a wealthy Colombian named Julio Mario Santo Domingo, whom she dated until February 200l. Although she had been happy to stop modeling, she later told the press that working had been a convenient way to avoid painful thoughts. "My job distracted me from my worries," she told a French magazine. "It enabled me not to be myself, to pretend I was someone else. But when my energy was no longer directed toward this one goal to meet, the anguish caught up with me."
But what, exactly, was haunting Karen? In later interviews, she said that those close to her were refusing to acknowledge that she had been sexually abused by an old family friend, now dead, when she was 2 years old. Karen had repressed the incident for years but had pieced it back together in psychoanalysis after she quit to modeling. She said it was the explanation for her teenage battle with anorexia, her excitable moods, and her constant flights between laughter and tears.
Yet no one believed her. Feeling increasingly isolated, she finally broke down. "It seemed everyone was against me," she later remembered about this period. "People told me I was fantasizing, that my psychoanalysis was wrong. So in order to be heard, I exaggerated. And I went overboard." Since then, she has recanted the rape allegations she made to the press and apologized to Prince Albert. But she continues to suggest that she was sexually abused as a child. "A lot of people thought she just wanted attention," says Elite's Pillard. "They'd say things like `Well, she waited for her career to be on the wane to come out with this.' But I really don't think so."
In fact, Karen's descent into a delusional state is probably a rare but recognized condition where seriously depressed people can start having trouble separating fact from fiction. "Some people who get depressed become psychotic," says Carol A. Bernstein, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at New York University's School of Medicine. "They lose touch with reality and start to see or hear things that aren't there." Experts say the delusions are often linked to actual disturbing events in a person's life. "In some ways, delusions can be an adaptive response to stress," said Bonnie Strickland, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "Sometimes, when trying to understand why something happened to you, you start making up things that are going wrong that you can point to. If there's a history of sexual abuse, then the rape allegations could well be an attempt to understand how she feels toward men in general. She knows that something is wrong."
A CLEAN SLATE AT LAST?
Today, friends insist that Karen has put her illness behind her. "She went through a depression and is out of it now," one of them says. "She wants to leave all this behind her." last July, after staying in seclusion for months, Karen appeared in the front row of the Christian Dior fashion show to a chorus of whispers. In an attempt to launch a singing career, she also recorded a single--ironically, a cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Am What I Am," which was a summer hit on the French charts. In early June, she even made it back to Ardisson's show. "She came back to thank me for not airing the piece," says Ardisson. "Then she sang a cappella, and everyone heard what a pretty voice she has." Unfortunately, it's a well-known fact that once you've suffered a serious case of depression, you're at a greater risk of being hit by the debilitating disorder again. But her former booker Santin, who now runs a restaurant, says that she recently came into his place and that she seems to be doing well. "It's a new beginning," one of her friends says hopefully.
THE MANY FACES OF DEPRESSION
Symptoms of typical depression include weight loss and insomnia, but there are several subtypes that take on much different guises. Women with so-called atypical depression (which is somewhat less severe and affects anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of those with the malady) will gain weight and sleep excessive amounts. Those with the less common agitated depression will seem antsy and irritable, while those with psychotic depression can become delusional and paranoid. (For more information, go to nimh.nih.gov.) More Model Meltdowns