In 1996 Karl Lagerfeld (who was rumoured to have paid a cool £1.5 million for the privilege) chose her as the face of Chanel in place of the more conventionally beautiful Claudia Schiffer, whom he dismissed as “part of another world, another fashion, another spirit, another time”. The ousted Miss Schiffer was equally withering: “I am no great fan of the fact that nowadays you have to look like a junkie just to be cool. To look like someone on smack can hardly be labelled a healthy ideal.”
Yet alongside Kate Moss, Stella Tennant, whose elegant, confident stride would open and close numerous Chanel catwalk shows, established a new idea of beauty. Known for her work ethic, she continued to make catwalk headlines until 2018 when she modelled some of fashion’s biggest brands including the new-look Burberry and Victoria Beckham – quite an achievement in an industry obsessed by youth – and one that required, not drugs, but huge reserves of self-discipline and professionalism.
The youngest of three children, Stella Tennant was born in Scotland on December 17 1970, the granddaughter of both the 11th Duke of Devonshire and the 2nd Baron Glenconner.
Her father’s side of the family included her great uncle, Stephen Tennant, a famously flamboyant gay man who adopted a toad and a snake as accessories and, for the last 30 years of his life, took to his bed in the home he had refashioned as a shrine to Hedy Lamarr.
Her father’s brother, Lord Glenconner, developed Princess Margaret’s favourite resort of Mustique and appeared at the Edinburgh Festival at the age of 71 with limbo dancers and fire-eaters. Stella’s father, Toby Tennant, Lord Glenconner’s younger brother, however, is an aristocrat in a more down-to-earth mould, a sheep farmer in Roxburghshire who, as Stella once put it, “gets involved in all kinds of causes. He goes to endless meetings with Defra.”
Her mother Lady Emma, née Cavendish, is the daughter of the 11th Duke of Devonshire and his wife “Debo”, the youngest of the Mitford sisters. A keen gardener, Emma Tennant served as chairman of the gardens section of the National Trust and is also a rug designer and watercolourist.
From St Leonards School, St Andrews, and then Marlborough, Stella Tennant moved to London to do an art foundation course at Kingston School of Art. She went on to study sculpture at Winchester Art College and it was said that, even at the height of her fashion career, she was never happier than when dressed in jeans and T-shirt and wielding a welding torch she had been given as a 21st birthday present. But her career as a sculptor was brief and she was soon caught up in the whirl of the 1990s fashion business.
Stella Tennant described herself as being “a very old-fashioned girl at heart”, more comfortable in Wellington boots than Manolo Blahniks. At the big fashion shows, she was said to spend her time backstage doing needlepoint embroidery.
As her career progressed, she was often photographed in Chanel tweeds and Burberry checks striding the moors or wandering around chilly Scottish castles.
In 2015 she was approached by Holland & Holland, the British field-sports brand, to overhaul their clothing range and, together with her old friend, the former Vogue fashion editor Isabella Cawdor, she set to work to give a fresh twist to traditional English tweeds and outerwear.
One commentator described the results as “swoonworthy pieces at a luxury price”, adding: “Even the thermals – in bright primary colours, with extra-long sleeves to pull over the hands – are exquisite.”
In 1999 Stella Tennant married David Lasnet, a French photographer with whom she had lived for several years in London and New York, wearing a minidress designed for her by Helmut Lang. Three years later she bought Edrom House, a Georgian pile in Berwickshire with 20 acres, where they brought up their three daughters and a son and where Stella became a keen gardener while her husband retrained as an osteopath.
In August this year, however, it was reported that their marriage had broken down.
The Telegraph, London.