Obituary: Stella Tennant, supermodel with aristocratic Scottish roots

Stella Tennant, model and sculptor. Born: December 17 1970 in London. Died: December 22 2020 in Duns, Berwickshire, aged 50

Model Stella Tennant at an event in 2017
Model Stella Tennant at an event in 2017

Coming from an aristocratic Scottish background, Stella Tennant seemed to possess the natural poise, stature and attitude to stroll into that select international group known as “supermodels”.

Widely described as “androgynous” in an age when that had become a compliment rather than an insult, Tennant modelled for McQueen, Versace and Lagerfeld, who chose her to succee

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Coming from an aristocratic Scottish background, Stella Tennant seemed to possess the natural poise, stature and attitude to stroll into that select international group known as “supermodels”.

Widely described as “androgynous” in an age when that had become a compliment rather than an insult, Tennant modelled for McQueen, Versace and Lagerfeld, who chose her to succeed Claudia Schiffer as the Face of Chanel in the mid-1990s.

But unlike fellow Brits Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, Tennant eschewed the celebrity lifestyle, the parties, press interviews and social media and lived in a large 18th-century house at Edrom, near Duns, in the Borders with her husband and their four children.

She kept chickens, grew her own vegetables and liked nothing better than country walks, embroidery and fussing over babies. The couple also had a mews house in Edinburgh.

It was revealed in August that she and her husband David Lasnet, a French photographer who became an osteopath, had separated after more than 20 years together.

Tennant died just days after her 50th birthday. No cause of death was released. The family described it as “sudden” and police said there were no suspicious circumstances.

“She was well liked, warm and friendly,” one neighbour said, “the very opposite of a social butterfly, quite unstarry, and all the more popular in the community for it.

“I saw her recently out on her horse and we had a good chat. She seemed well, but did say she was very worried about Covid, because she thought it might mean she never worked again. She said that by the time people were allowed to travel again and the catwalk shows restarted, she would be regarded as too old.”

Tennant was born in London, but grew up largely in Scotland. Her father Tobias Tennant was the son of Lord Glenconner and her mother was Lady Emma Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, and Deborah Mitford, one of the notorious Mitford Sisters. She was a distant cousin of Princess Diana.

The family had a large sheep farm in the Borders and Tennant grew up among “lambing and ewes, blood and guts and sex”.

She started school at the local primary before going to St Leonard’s School in St Andrews, where she found the girls very dull, and Marlborough College in Wiltshire, one of the most expensive schools in Britain. At Winchester School of Art she specialised in sculpture and welding and designed a lavatory with a lot of feathers.

With her cropped hair and multiple piercings, Tennant was hardly the epitome of traditional British aristocratic elegance. She was, however, slim, tall and striking, with a nasal piercing that prompted her father to suggest that he put her in an enclosure with the bulls. Instead he gave her a workshop on the farm.

But success as a sculptor seemed a long way off. She sent photos to a fashion magazine, met Steven Meisel, who had recently shot the photographs for Madonna’s book Sex, and she wound up on the cover of the Italian version of Vogue magazine.

Tennant was reluctant to pursue a modelling career and had to be talked into continuing. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be objectified,” she said. “I thought it was a big, shallow world and I wasn’t really sure if I liked the look of it.”

Meisner said: “She’s feminine, but there’s a twist, an attitude.” She was totally upfront about her own ignorance of fashion and perhaps that insouciance helped. It was suggested she stalked the catwalks like a bird of prey. She said that if she had known what she was doing she might have got nervous.

“Modelling is something which might enable me to do what I really want – concentrate on sculpture,” she said.

But within a couple of years Karl Lagerfeld had taken her under his wing and she had a contract with Chanel. Lagerfeld had spotted a resemblance to the young Coco Chanel, in appearance and in a liking for Scottish tweed. Her image was a long way away from that of Claudia Schiffer.

Tennant met Lasnet on a shoot and they married at Oxnam Kirk in 1999. She continued modelling after having children, achieving unusual longevity in a fickle business.

But in recent times she also worked with her sister Isabel, a gilder, producing lamps, mirrors and objets d’art, trading as Tennant & Tennant, with a base in Hawick. Tennant also collaborated with fashion editor and stylist Lady Isabella Cawdor on a range of country wear for the upmarket gun and clothing company Holland & Holland. And she campaigned on green issues, supporting the Turn Up the Style, Turn Down the Heat campaign and endorsing Oxfam’s Second Hand September initiative.

She is survived by her husband, her parents and four children, who are in their late teens and early twenties. Initially she and her husband and children lived in New York before moving back to Scotland.

“The first summer we had in Scotland, the older two just played at the back door with some gravel and a hosepipe, and were really happy, because it was more than they had had in New York," she said.

BRIAN PENDREIGH

d Claudia Schiffer as the Face of Chanel in the mid-1990s.

But unlike fellow Brits Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, Tennant eschewed the celebrity lifestyle, the parties, press interviews and social media and lived in a large 18th Century house at Edrom, near Duns, in the Borders with her husband and their four children.

She kept chickens, grew her own vegetables and liked nothing better than country walks, embroidery and fussing over babies. They also had a mews house in Edinburgh.

It was revealed in August that she and her husband David Lasnet, a French photographer who became an osteopath, had separated after more than 20 years together.

She died just days after her 50th birthday. No cause of death was released. The family described it as “sudden” and police said there were no suspicious circumstances.

“She was well liked, warm and friendly,” one neighbour said, “the very opposite of a social butterfly, quite unstarry, and all the more popular in the community for it.

“I saw her recently out on her horse and we had a good chat. She seemed well, but did say she was very worried about Covid, because she thought it might mean she never worked again. She said that by the time people were allowed to travel again and the catwalk shows restarted, she would be regarded as too old.”

Tennant was born in London, but grew up largely in Scotland. Her father Tobias Tennant was the son of Lord Glenconner and her mother was Lady Emma Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and Deborah Mitford, one of the notorious Mitford Sisters. She was a distant cousin of Princess Diana.

The family had a large sheep farm in the Borders and Tennant grew up among “lambing and ewes, blood and guts and sex”.

She started school at the local primary before going to St Leonard’s School in St Andrews, where she found the girls very dull, and Marlborough College in Wiltshire, one of the most expensive schools in Britain. At Winchester School of Art she specialised in sculpture and welding and designed a lavatory with a lot of feathers.

With her cropped hair and multiple piercings, Tennant was hardly the epitome of traditional British aristocratic elegance. She was however slim, tall and striking, with a nasal piercing that prompted her father to suggest that he put her in an enclosure with the bulls. Instead he gave her a workshop on the farm.

But success as a sculptor seemed a long way off. She sent photos to a fashion magazine, met Steven Meisel, who had recently shot the photographs for Madonna’s book Sex, and she wound up on the cover of the Italian version of Vogue magazine.

Tennant was reluctant to pursue a modelling career and had to be talked into continuing. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be objectified,” she said. “I thought it was a big, shallow world and I wasn’t really sure if I liked the look of it.”

Meisner said: “She’s feminine, but there’s a twist, an attitude.” She was totally upfront about her own ignorance of fashion and perhaps that insouciance helped. It was suggested she stalked the catwalks like a bird of prey. She said that if she had known what she was doing she might have got nervous.

“Modelling is something which might enable me to do what I really want - concentrate on sculpture,” she said.

But within a couple of years Karl Lagerfeld had taken her under his wing and she had a contract with Chanel. Lagerfeld had spotted a resemblance to the young Coco Chanel, in appearance and in a liking for Scottish tweed. Her image was a long way away from that of Claudia Schiffer.

Tennant met Lasnet on a shoot and they married at Oxnam Kirk in 1999. She continued modelling after having children, achieving unusual longevity in a fickle business.

But in recent times she also worked with her sister Isabel, a gilder, producing lamps, mirrors and objets d’art, trading as Tennant and Tennant, with a base in Hawick.

Tennant also collaborated with fashion editor and stylist Lady Isabella Cawdor on a range of country wear for the upmarket gun and clothing company Holland and Holland. And she campaigned on green issues, supporting the Turn Up the Style, Turn Down the Heat campaign and endorsing Oxfam’s Second Hand September initiative.

She is survived by her husband, her parents and four children, who are in their late teens and early twenties. Initially she and her husband and children lived in New York before moving back to Scotland.

“The first summer we had in Scotland, the older two just played at the back door with some gravel and a hosepipe, and were really happy, because it was more than they had had in New York," she said.