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Stella Tennant: not your usual top model

Aristocrat with a rebel soul and supporter of sustainable fashion: Stella Tennant has brought the avant-gardist British spirit of the time on the catwalks that made her one of a kind. Let’s find out more about her life and the impact she had in one of fashion’s best decades: the 90s.

By Beatrice Jennifer Tagliabue

December 22nd, 2020: the family of the English top model announces the sad news of her death five days after her 50th birthday. The police exclude “suspicious circumstances”, and the family asks for their privacy respect.

If 2020 only brought misfortune, this news has definitely been a hard blow to the fashion world.

With noble origins, she was the Granddaughter of Andrew Cavendish, the 11st Duke of Devonshire, and Deborah Mitford. Stella had a strong artistic spirit and grew a particular interest in sculpture. Graduated in Art at the Winchester School of Art in 1993, she got scouted at the age of 23, which is quite late compared to the majority of her colleagues.

It was Vogue UK journalist Plum Sykes that noticed her for the first time, introducing the young girl to the well-known photographer Steven Meisel, who decided to put her on the cover of the Italian Vogue in the Anglo-Saxon Attitude issue.

Her aristocratic allure, her androgynous traits and her punk and cheeky look made her a real muse for the most rebellious and innovative designers of that time like Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gautier.

Let’s not forget we are in the 90s, the decade of the Cool Brittania and the grunge aesthetic, and Stella Tennant perfectly embodied all these sensations.

With her unique and remarkable look, she soon became the face of many important brands, obtaining the Top Model status.

She decided to retire from the runways in 1998, when she was pregnant with her first son Marcel, the first of four kids from her husband and photographer David Lasnet. Despite that, she was still highly in demand and made rare appearances in the 2000s, like that for the closure ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games alongside Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.

She made her comeback on the runways a few years ago, walking at the Fashion Weeks.

From Balenciaga to Prada, her last show was Valentino’s in February 2020: Stella’s unmistakable personality lighted up every catwalk she walked on, reminding us who she was and what she represented.

For this reason, we want to celebrate the top model with 5 facts and highlights of her life and career!

  • The scandals’ popularity

If celebrities are made of gossips, gossips are made of scandals, and Stella has been in the scandals’ sight.
Her first shooting with Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia in 1993 had a strong grunge influence, which bringing that phenomenon to high fashion was quite controversial for the time. Moreover, the model had a nose piercing in the pictures, a feature that made her career take off as she distinguished herself from the rest.

But talking about scandals, we cannot forget Chanel’s Haute Couture Fall/Winter 1995-1996 fashion show, where Stella appeared in a micro-bikini and was criticized by the media for her extreme thinness.

  • The androgynous look

If on one side there were Claudia Schiffer’s long blonde hair and blue eyes, on the other side there were Stella Tennant’s pixie haircut and masculine features.

It was, in fact, in this decade that designers started to introduce the androgynous look on the runways thanks to models like Kate Moss, Erin O’Connor and Stella herself.

  • Stella, Karl and Chanel

The union between Stella and Chanel started at the end of the 90s, when Karl Lagerfeld put her under an exclusive modelling contract as it is said she reminded him to the original Coco Chanel.

Stella belonged to the aristocracy, a world Gabrielle Chanel always dreamt of being part of, but still with a sort of disgust towards its fashion taste. Being inspired by the men’s wardrobe, Chanel reinvented the womenswear of the rich aristocrats adding more confidence and power, and who better than Stella Tennant could represent this trait?

  • Jeremy’s shyness and Gianni’s bride gown

Mythology says that muses have to inspire people. Jeremy Scott claims that when he was still a student, he used to get into fashion shows’ backstage. There, he saw a young Stella Tennant reading a book in a corner before her catwalk debut. He said he fell in love with her tall, elegant, refined but punk figure, comparing her to a gazelle, and was too shy to talk to her. Years later, he managed to have her posing for a Moschino’s fashion campaign.

Talking about muses, Donatella Versace wrote on social media that Stella has been Gianni’s muse for many years. The bride gown, a white pair of coulotte with an embroidered petticoat, the model wore to end Versace’s Spring/Summer 1996 show is still an iconic fashion moment.

  • A fan of sustainable fashion

Always been fashion-forward, Stella started recently to look closely at sustainable fashion, taking part in environmental issues and being involved in first person in ecological causes against the fast fashion industry.

She reports in a 2019 interview at The Guardian that she only buys 5 new items every year, which motivates her to reuse her old 90s clothes.