Stella Tennant - Biography
She made it a rule never to smile for the camera, and she eschewed the fashion set for a more grounded life with her husband and three children. In short, Stella Tennant broke all the rules of the modelling code. But perhaps it was this ability to subvert expectations within the world that brought her fame, and made her one of the most sought-after models around.
Who was Stella Tennant?
Stella Tennant was born in 1970, the youngest of the three children of the Honourable Tobias Tennant and his wife Lady Emma, daughter of the current Duke of Devonshire.
Stella Tennant’s Education
Stella attended the prestigious St Leonards School for Girls in Scotland, close to the 1,500-acre sheep farm in the Borders where she grew up, before going to Marlborough College in Wiltshire to study for her A Levels.
An art foundation course at Kingston Polytechnic preceded a degree course at Winchester School of Art, where Stella embarked upon her sculpting career, the part of her life she described as "my first love". And it appears the budding creative would have made a name for herself in the art world sooner or later if it hadn't been for a photographer called Steven Meisel.
Stella Tennant’s Early Career
Steven, the image-maker for American Vogue was in London to do a shoot for the magazine's British counterpart, and had informed the fashion department he wanted non-models. When Stella, a friend of one of the Vogue-ettes turned up for the shoot with a ring embedded, bull-style, in her septum, the fashion set blanched. Their requests for Stella to remove the piercing fell on deaf ears, and the session took place with the metalwork stubbornly in place.
Steven Meisel was impressed with this unsmiling, patrician vision of Britain. So impressed, in fact, that the next day he took her off to Paris for an Italian Vogue photo shoot. At first, Stella was not keen on pursuing a career in fashion and told her agency booker that she would think about it before calling her. It took a superhuman attempt on the booker's part to persuade her to give it a go.
In her first weeks as a budding model, Stella performed catwalk shows in Paris, Milan and London, as well as undertaking editorial work for US Vogue and Elle. She shot a campaign for Verscace the week after her shoot for Italian Vogue. She still found it hard to believe her luck, however. "When jobs come up I'm still... Wow! Weird!" she said. "Sometimes I see myself and I have no idea why they booked me."
Meisel was the visionary who saw Stella’s potential, with Karl Lagerfeld later making her the new face of Chanel. Her predecessor, Claudia Schiffer, was placed aside in favour of the budding model. "Stella is more in tune with modern fashion trends than Claudia," Lagerfeld told an interviewer.
Stella Tennant’s Family
In the course of her career, Stella never let her head be turned by the fashion industry. In fact, at the beginning of 1998, the British beauty announced she was retiring from the world that had made her name, as she was pregnant with her first child. Nine months after Marcel's birth, she married her photographer boyfriend David Lasnet, who she had met on a Mario Testino shoot, at a family ceremony in her home village of Oxnam. She wore a short, Helmut Lang-designed dress after modelling for the Austrian brand in 1995 for Vogue and, following the service, drove her new husband to the wedding reception.
After welcoming daughter Cecily, born in 2000, Stella dipped a toe back into the fashion world again with a return to modelling and design of a knitwear line for Burberry. "It seemed incredibly incompatible before I had children, but once I started working, I realised it's a brilliant job to do," she stated in 2002, a year before giving birth to her third child, Jasmine. "It's part-time, I don't have to work if I don't want to. I have long holidays and it's not nine to five."
Stella Tennant’s Return to Fashion
In 2002, Stella strikingly returned to the Chanel fold, shooting the fashion house's Spring-Summer 2002 campaign for Karl, down at the designer's Biarritz house. It was said that she was grateful about her income from modelling, however her two passions took centre stage: gardening and sculpture. She was said to have even toyed with the idea of getting into taxidermy.
Iris Lasnet was welcomed by David and Stella, in 2004. The youngest of the four siblings, Iris shared her mother’s passion for modelling after candid shots appeared of a photoshoot she did with Stella for Oxfam UK, a charity which Stella was very passionate about. “The fast fashion industry is unsustainable, but we can slow it down by buying more second-hand clothes,” Stella said in an interview for the campaign.
Stella later appeared in various campaigns for Chanel over the years, working closely with Karl Lagerfeld. She also performed at the closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics alongside notable industry names such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. She later caught darting eyes at Paris Fashion Week in 2016. The last shoot she did was the Valentino haute couture spring/summer 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week in January 2020.
Stella Tennant’s Family Life
She and her family were once based out of New York and London, but they also bought a £500,000 Scottish country mansion in the Borders. The purchase is not surprising, however, as Stella once expressed a desire to return to her farming roots for the sake of her children. "It teaches you a lot," she says, referring to her down-to-earth upbringing.
Stella Tennant’s Death
One of Britain’s most elite models, Stella shockingly passed away on 22 December 2020, four months after her split from David Lasnet. Many stars shared their condolences on social media, commemorating her life and achievements.