July 24, 2021

Aristocratic British Model Stella Tennant Dies at 50

Stella Tennant, the unimpeachably aristocratic model and inspiration to designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Gianni Versace, died suddenly on Tuesday, five days after her 50th birthday.Her death was announced in a statement by her family. The cause of death was not given. Police reports noted no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death, according to the BBC.The granddaughter of Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire and Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, the youngest of the Mitford sisters, Ms. Tennant was directly descended from Bess of Hardwick, builder of the opulent Elizabethan manor, Hardwick Hall, and once reputed to be the richest woman in England.ImageMs. Tennant, third from left, was among the British models to represent English fashion in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games.Ms. Tennant, third from left, was among the British models to represent English fashion in the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games.Credit…Saeed Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesMs. Tennant wore her rarefied heritage lightly throughout her three-decade run in fashion, during which she walked the runways for most major fashion designers; was featured in advertising campaigns for nearly every important label; appeared on scores of magazine covers; and worked with a full roster of the world’s elite photographers, editors, makeup artists and stylists.AdvertisementContinue reading the main storyAlong with Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, Ms. Tennant was chosen to represent English fashion at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. In the late 1990s, Karl Lagerfeld signed her to an exclusive contract as the face of Chanel. In doing so, Mr. Lagerfeld noted the very English Ms. Tennant’s likeness to the incomparably Gallic founder of the fabled house.It was a fanciful assertion by any standard, given that Coco Chanel was short and better known for her style than her looks, while Ms. Tennant stood nearly six feet, had crisply regular features and retained into adulthood the “limpid blue eyes” her grandmother Deborah Devonshire first noted in a letter to the Anglo-Irish writer Patrick Leigh Fermor when Ms. Tennant was in diapers.ImageMs. Tennant walks with the designer Karl Lagerfeld in the Chanel Metiers d’Art show in Paris in 2011.Ms. Tennant walks with the designer Karl Lagerfeld in the Chanel Metiers d’Art show in Paris in 2011.Credit…Benoit Tessier/ReutersWhat the two women did have in common, though, was an element of androgyny. Ms. Tennant’s brushy haircut, along with her boyish cool (and a punk septum piercing), caught the attention of the photographer Steven Meisel in the early 1990s. After turning up at a casting call the photographer sent out for unknowns, Ms. Tennant found her face featured on the cover of Italian Vogue.AdvertisementContinue reading the main storyShe soon found favor with designers across the spectrum, from New York indies to the renowned couturiers of Europe.The Year’s ObituariesRemembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Lewis, Kobe Bryant, Chadwick Boseman, Kirk Douglas, Little Richard, Mary Higgins Clark and many others who died this year.Notable Deaths 2020“Steven Meisel sent Stella for a go-see to my design studio, and I immediately cast her in my spring ’94 show as an aristocratic punk princess,” the designer Anna Sui said. “She was so elegant and had the prettiness and androgyny of an Elizabeth Peyton drawing. Plus, there was that posh accent and the defiance of the nose ring.”ImageMs. Tennant in the spring 1994 Chanel show in Paris.Ms. Tennant in the spring 1994 Chanel show in Paris.Credit…Guy Marineau/Conde Nast, via Getty ImagesImageWalking in the Christian Dior haute couture fall 2006 show in Paris.Walking in the Christian Dior haute couture fall 2006 show in Paris.Credit…Bassignac Benainous/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty ImagesMs. Tennant’s offhand ease with duality — particularly of class and gender — kept her in demand throughout the decades with designers like Valentino Garavani, Alber Elbaz, Giorgio Armani, Marc Jacobs, and Gianni Versace (whose family, in a statement on Tuesday, called her the late designer’s “muse”). If they admired her beauty, designers also banked on her ability to embody multiple fashion archetypes.“She was equally beautiful in a tuxedo or a chiffon dress,” said Alber Elbaz, who cast Ms. Tennant to star in his first advertising campaign for Yves Saint Laurent when he assumed design responsibilities there in 1998 (and soon after Ms. Tennant gave birth to her first child).“She was not really a model,” he added. “She was a woman, a mother, English, aristocratic but with a golden heart.”

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