“If I make you famous, I want a bottle of my favorite perfume,” the late great Isabella Blow told a then-unknown Stella Tennant back in 1993. Blow, herself a peerless style visionary was also an accomplished spotter of talent (Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Sophie Dahl were more of her discoveries), and cast Tennant, a lanky, bull-ringed, pixie-haired sculpture student at the Winchester School of Art, in the now iconic “Babes in London” shoot for British Vogue; at a cost of almost $100,000 it remains the magazine’s most expensive undertaking. The shoot would kick off Tennant’s meteoric rise through the modeling ranks. (Needless to say, Blow got that bottle of Fracas.)
Soon Meisel cast her in the latest Versace campaign alongside super supreme Linda Evangelista, and Karl Lagerfeld anointed her the new face of Chanel with a coveted exclusive contract, bumping out bombshell Claudia Schiffer (who was reportedly bitter); as he told one reporter then, “Stella is more in tune with modern fashion trends than Claudia.” It’s true, Tennant, with her beanpole frame, shock of dark hair, clear blue eyes, and pale skin, was the picture of 90s-era androgyny. And it was thanks to her and then-cohorts like Alek Wek, Karen Elson, Erin O’Connor, Kirsten Owen and Kristen McNenamy, that a new brand of unconventional beauty began to curry favor. Tennant’s austere look landed her a slew of covers and campaigns and proved to be the ideal complement for the decade’s iconic minimalist designers like Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang. (When she wed her French photographer boyfriend in 1999, she was clad, in true 90s icon style, in a short Helmut Lang dress).
Though Tennant announced her retirement from modeling in 1998, she, like so many superstars before her, would quickly rescind on that promise; by 1999 she was back on the cover of Vogue and walking in the spring shows in New York, Milan and Paris for Prada, McQueen, Yohji Yamamoto, Jil Sander and Helmut Lang, and she even shot her 2000 Burberry ad campaign while pregnant with her daughter Cecily. Though Tennant’s day-to-day changed when she bought a country mansion in the Borders (not unlike the sprawling Scottish sheep farm she grew up on nearby, the third child of the Honourable Toby Tennant and Lady Emma of Devonshire) for her growing family (by 2005 she had four kids), not a year has gone by without her making fashion waves: campaigns for Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga, and Celine; covers of i-D and Italian Vogue; the opening and closing act for many a major runway show; and a return to her post as the face of Chanel.
At 45, her singular brand of insouciant elegance has kept her as relevant in our collective beauty and style mindset as ever. And 2016 has already been good to Tennant: she walked the Prada runway; landed a Moschino campaign; was photographed by the legendary Peter Lindbergh alongside Yasmin Le Bon, Eva Herzigova and Nadja Auermann for Armani’s “New Normal” campaign; is the new co-designer (with Isabella Cawdor) for British legacy brand Holland & Holland, and most recently made an appearance at Ralph Lauren’s Spring 2017 romp. In our minds, she’s a forever arbiter of cool. After all, would there be an Edie Campbell, a Saskia de Brauw, a Freja Beha Erichsen, if there hadn’t been a Stella Tennant before them?