It is incredibly difficult to select a ‘favourite’ photograph of the late Stella Tennant. A chameleon of a supermodel, she might, on one catwalk, embody ultimate Versace glitz, or on another, morph into a Sonia Rykiel rebel. One of the best fashion photographs of all time – not just of Tennant – has to be the 1995 Arthur Elgort snap of her diving headfirst into a swimming pool, fully clothed in a tweed suit and Wellington boots. It took one take.
At just 50, the Scottish model tragically took her own life after struggling with mental health, her family has told The Telegraph. Tennant died just days after her birthday, on 22nd December 2020.
Her loss is a tremendous blow to the fashion community – as the many tributes paid by designers, journalists, stylists and photographers will attest. But the loss of her creative spirit also leaves a hole which few could begin to fill in the worlds of design and photography.
Here, we remember some of the photo shoots and catwalk moments that made supermodel Stella Tennant a fashion star…
1993: Tennant’s debut
The stylist Isabella Blow and photographer Steven Meisel were the first to capture Stella Tennant’s unique beauty. Shooting for British Vogue in December 1993, the then-23-year-old was included in the magazine’s “London Girls” portfolio, which highlighted “English roses with an edge”. From an aristocratic family (Tennant was the granddaughter of the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Andrew Cavendish, and Deborah Mitford, the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters) yet with a new, punkish nose ring, she fitted the brief perfectly.
1995: Arthur Elgort’s photographs for American Vogue
This seminal fashion shoot was Tennant’s debut for American Vogue. Former fashion director Grace Coddington remembered the moment, on location in The Hamptons, that the model suggested diving into the pool at the end of the shoot. “She said, ‘My god, I could just jump in the pool now. We said go for it. She did one absolutely perfect dive. That’s how she was – she was always up for anything.”
1995: The Chanel bikini
Demonstrating how powerful the Chanel logo had become, Tennant modelled one of Chanel’s exceptionally tiny bikinis on the catwalk for Lagerfeld’s spring 1996 collection. The show started out demurely enough, with models wearing pastel tweed suits. Then, at look 93, Tennant appeared in her logo emblazoned micro-kini, followed by fellow models Amber Valetta and Carla Bruni.
1996: The supermodels at Chanel
Tennant became a lifelong muse to the late designer Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. She modelled his collections prolifically over almost three decades in the industry, as well as sitting front row at several shows. Here she is photographed in an iconic 1990s supermodel moment, with Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Amber Valetta and Kate Moss.
1996: Versace’s bride
Tennant also featured regularly in the shows by the late Gianni Versace. In January 1996, he made her his ‘bride’, dressing her in a couture wedding outfit for the finale of his show.
2003: Vogue favourite
By the early 2000s Tennant had become a favourite in the pages of both British and American Vogue. In her career she clocked up three American Vogue covers, four solo British Vogue covers, and countless other international covers both solo and as part of a supermodel cast.
2012: Olympics Closing Ceremony
When Britain’s most famous supermodels were asked to appear at the Closing Ceremony of the London Olympic Games, Tennant joined the lineup, alongside Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Lily Cole and more. She wore a gold suit by Scottish designer Christopher Kane.
Something which so many designers loved about Tennant was her versatility. Here she is making a neon Versace party dress seem like a second-skin, but the next day she might do androgyny in a white shirt and slacks, or be found in a holey punky knit.
2014: Chanel supermarket
When Karl Lagerfeld turned his catwalk into a Chanel supermarket in 2014, Tennant was there to model the baskets, relishing the fashion theatre.
Opening the second Balenciaga show by the new, wave-making designer Demna Gvasalia, showed just how relevant and cool Tennant was in the fashion world, over 25 years after she was first employed as a model. She wore, appropriately, a tartan kilt with a pinstripe shirt, styled with electric orange, skin-tight, thigh-high boots.
Her final catwalk appearance was at the Valentino couture show, modelling a pink and black confection of a dress with bright red leather gloves. At 49, she was as in-demand as ever.
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