Stella Tennant, the undisputedly aristocratic model and inspiration for designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace, died suddenly on Tuesday, five days after her 50th birthday.
His death was announced in a statement from his family. The cause of death was not informed. Police reports did not notice any suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, according to the BBC.
Granddaughter of Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire and Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, the youngest of the Mitford sisters, Mrs Tennant was directly descended from Bess of Hardwick, builder of the opulent Elizabethan mansion Hardwick Hall, and once famously the woman England’s richest.
Mrs. Tennant used her rarefied heritage slightly over the course of her three-decade career in fashion, during which she paraded for most major designers; was featured in advertising campaigns for almost all major record labels; appeared on dozens of magazine covers; and worked with a complete list of the world’s elite photographers, editors, makeup artists and stylists.
Along with Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, Ms. Tennant was chosen to represent British fashion at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony. In the late 1990s, Karl Lagerfeld signed an exclusive contract with her as Chanel’s face. In doing so, Mr. Lagerfeld noted the similarity of Mrs Tennant English with the incomparably Gallic founder of the legendary house.
It was an unrealistic statement by any standard, since Coco Chanel was short and better known for her style than her appearance, while Mrs. Tennant was almost six feet tall, had distinctly regular features and kept her “blue eyes” in adulthood. of her grandmother Deborah Devonshire first noticed in a letter to Anglo-Irish writer Patrick Leigh Fermor when Mrs. Tennant was wearing diapers.
What the two women had in common, however, was an element of androgyny. Mrs. Tennant’s brushed haircut, along with her boyish style (and a septum punk piercing), caught the eye of photographer Steven Meisel in the early 1990s. After appearing on a casting call the photographer sent for unknowns, Mrs. Tennant found her face featured on the cover of Italian Vogue.
She soon found favor with designers from across the spectrum, from the New York indies to Europe’s renowned tailors.
“Steven Meisel sent Stella on a visit to my design studio, and I immediately cast her on my spring 94 show as an aristocratic punk princess,” said stylist Anna Sui. “She was so elegant and had the beauty and androgyny of a drawing by Elizabeth Peyton. Plus, there was that chic accent and the nose piercing challenge. “
Tennant’s spontaneous ease with duality – particularly class and gender – has kept it in demand over the decades with designers like Valentino Garavani, Alber Elbaz, Giorgio Armani, Marc Jacobs and Gianni Versace (whose family, in a statement on Tuesday (she called the “muse” of the late designer). If they admired its beauty, the designers also relied on its ability to incorporate various archetypes of fashion.
“She looked just as beautiful in a tuxedo or a chiffon dress,” said Alber Elbaz, who cast Tennant to star in his first advertising campaign for Yves Saint Laurent when he took over the design responsibilities there in 1998 (and shortly after Tennant gave birth to your first child).
“She was not really a model,” he added. “She was a woman, a mother, English, aristocratic, but with a heart of gold.”
Stella Tennant was born in London on December 17, 1970, the youngest of the three children of Lady Emma Cavendish and the Hon. Tobias William Tennant, son of the second Baron Glenconner, himself Colin Tennant’s younger half-brother, Princess Margaret’s favorite rakehell and the force behind the development of the Caribbean island of Mustique.
Raised on her family’s 1,500-acre sheep farm in Scottish Borders, she attended St. Leonards School in St. Andrews and later Marlborough College in the countryside. She was still a student at the Winchester School of Art when she caught the eye of British Vogue fashion writer Plum Sykes. When she was cast for a Steven Meisel photo shoot for a December 1993 issue of Vogue UK entitled “Anglo-Saxon Attitude”, she was already 23 years old.
However, his detachment and relative maturity served him well in a business notorious for its agility and helium-filled extravagances.
“As soon as someone mentioned her name, the reaction was always, ‘I want her to be on my program,'” said Elbaz. Asked why, he replied: “The moment you are most crazy and panicked, she is the one who is calming you down.”
And although she was no stranger to greatness in dress (not every child, after all, is allowed to play dress up in the wardrobes of Chatsworth, the residence of the Dukes of Devonshire in Derbyshire), she had an elegance of spirit and attitude this was innate, according to Pierpaolo Piccioli, Valentino’s designer.
Just before the world went into blockade last winter, Piccioli climbed Tennant into the coveted opening wave of his haute couture show. It would prove to be the last.
“When she came to make the adjustments, she was so nice to everyone – not just me, but all the seamstresses, to everyone,” wrote Piccioli by email. “What she showed was that elegance is not just physical attributes or walking, but something interior. She had a grace impossible to copy or explain. “
She leaves her husband, David Lasnet, a photographer and osteopath from whom she separated in August after 21 years of marriage, and four children, Iris, Jasmine, Cecily and Marcel.
Vanessa Friedman contributed additional reports.