Stella Tennant was a Scottish supermodel with a career spanning almost three decades. As a prolific editorial and runway model, Tennant frequently graced the pages of Vogue, The Face, i-D, LOVE and Pop and walked for Chanel, Dior and Jean Paul Gaultier. After news of her death broke on 17 December 2020, the fashion industry was shocked and saddened by an incomparable loss, with tributes pouring out on social media from Edward Enninful, Donatella Versace, Stella McCartney and more.
As the granddaughter of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Andrew Cavendish, and Deborah Mitford, Tennant was born into an aristocratic family and grew up on a farm at Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders, where her parents ran a sheep farm. After marrying her then-husband David Lasnet (a former assistant to Mario Testino) in 1999, Tennant moved from Manhattan back to the Scottish Borders to raise her four children in the countryside.
Tennant graduated with a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but despite initial misgivings about the fashion world, soon swapped art for a modelling career. 'I didn’t know if I wanted to be objectified. I thought it was a big, shallow world and I wasn’t really sure if I liked the look of it,' said Tennant in an interview with The Evening Standard. After being chosen by American photographer of the moment Steven Meisel for a British Vogue shoot in 1993, Tennant soon found herself in a Versace campaign and on the cover of Italian Vogue.
Despite announcing her retirement from modelling before she was 30, Tennant did not stop appearing in magazine editorials or on the catwalk, even making an appearance at the 2012 Olympics ceremony. In 2015, Tennant enlisted close friend and former British Vogue stylist Isabella Cawdor to collaborate on a countryside clothing line for London-based gunmakers Holland & Holland. Aside from her design and modelling work, Tennant also worked on numerous campaigns advocating for the use of less energy and for the reduction of the environmental impact of fast fashion. In 2012, she was inducted as Model of the Year into the Scottish Fashion Awards Hall of Fame.
Tennant has collaborated with Nick Knight since 1996 (and later SHOWstudio), appearing in British Vogue, fronting a Galliano-era Dior campaign and posing in a gold Christopher Kane suit for an image which would later appear in the 2012 Olympics ceremony as a vast billboard. Below, we have chosen a selection of Stella Tennant's most memorable moments with SHOWstudio over the years.
British Vogue (November 1996)
Nick Knight's 1996 image for British Vogue sees Tennant wearing a black beaded waistcoat and wool trousers by Alexander McQueen with a faint pink halo hovering behind her head. The clothes were pulled from McQueen's legendary Autumn/Winter 1996 Dante collection, which took place at Christ Church in Spitalfields and was named after the 14th-century Italian poet whose Divine Comedy examined life after death. 'I think religion has caused every war in the world, which is why I showed in a church,' McQueen told Women’s Wear Daily at the time.
More Beautiful Women (2002)
As homage to Andy Warhol's Thirteen Most Beautiful Women (1964) screen tests, Nick Knight's project More Beautiful Women (2002) featured the most famous fashion models of the twentieth century standing in front of the video camera for two minutes each. Alongside contemporaries like Kate Moss, Gisele Bündchen, Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and more, Stella Tennant stood backstage in an open white robe with rouged cheeks, playfully sticking her tongue out and blowing her fringe out of the way in small glimpses of frivolity in an otherwise serious video.
Past, Present & Couture (2002)
To mark John Galliano's fifth year at Christian Dior, Nick Knight chose his favourite couture models - including Stella Tennant, Karen Elson and Erin O'Connor - to take part in a five-day shoot featuring key pieces chosen by Galliano from his Dior haute couture archive. Tennant wore items from the Pocahontas-inspired Dior Autumn/Winter 1998 haute couture collection as a jet of water was lobbed at a polythene sheet.
Moving Fashion (2005)
In a continuation of SHOWstudio's mission statement to show clothes in motion, Nick Knight issued a brief to some of fashion's leading figures to create a 30-second film featuring garments from the Autunmn/Winter 2005 collections. Tim Walker captured a model enclosed in the pages of a giant issue of Vogue, Kate Moss jumped around topless in white skinny jeans, Glen Luchford filmed Gemma Ward in a murky water tank, while Stella Tennant's submission was distinctly anti-fashion: strolling through her homeland of the Scottish Borders, she donned a rifle while playing affectionately with her dog.
Dior Campaign (Spring/Summer 2006)
Tennant and Knight collaborated once again in 2006 on a Dior campaign under the creative directorship of John Galliano. In a series of delicate backlit images, Tennant wore a sheer pink dress with various black lace vests layered over the top, sometimes clutching Galliano's signature Saddle bag in white.
British Vogue (September 2012)
For the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony, British Vogue enlisted Christopher Kane to dress fellow Scot Stella Tennant in a gold suit, a dazzling creation he described as 'a bit Ziggy Stardust.' With a crystal mesh made by Swarovski especially for the occasion, the slouchy suit also consisted of gold and aluminium chainmail. Nick Knight captured Tennant in the 'Midas Touch' shoot for British Vogue's September 2012 issue, as she kicked up a gold heel and sported an inky black mullet. A billboard-sized version of Knight's image was then wheeled out into London's Olympic Stadium for the ceremony's segment on British fashion, Tennant stepped out from behind it in that very same gold suit and walked alongside fellow models Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Lily Cole, Karen Elson, David Gandy, Jourdan Dunn, Georgia May Jagger and Lily Donaldson.
In 2005, having happened upon a pinpression toy while shooting Stella Tennant for Dior, Nick Knight began experimenting with 3D, pondering the possibilities that existed beyond the flat photograph. Created using archive footage, the film - edited by his then assistant Ruth Hogben - sees Tennant, Kate Moss, Erin O'Connor, Naomi Campbell, Karen Elson, Gemma Ward and Liberty Ross creating facial sculptures with the help of the toy, while Val Garland decorated the pinpression boards after impact had been made. Skip ahead to 08:20 to watch Tennant's cameo.
100 Women (2018)
To honour the centenary of women's suffrage, SHOWstudio presented 100 Women in 2018, an exhibition comprising of 100 fashion illustrations in which models felt most empowered. Stella Tennant chose an image taken by David Sims for the Yohji Yamamoto Spring/Summer 1996 catalogue for artist Jowy Maasdamme to reinterpret via illustration. 'There can be beautiful quiet moments that are captured on film; this wasn’t one of them. The challenge was to move in a way that gave expression to the clothes. I love the freedom of it,' said Tennant of Sims's striking image.