Stella Tennant’s Best Moments in Vogue Are a Testament to Her Legacy

This morning’s news of Stella Tennant’s sudden passing at the age of 50 sent shockwaves through the fashion world. A fixture in the industry since the 1990s, the supermodel was one of the most recognizable talents within her field. Granddaughter of Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Tennant brought a regal quality to the era’s grunge imagery before becoming one of the most versatile models of all time. While her septum piercing and handsome features marked her as one of modeling’s it-girls, nothing could distract from Tennant’s innate refinement. Even in her most fashion-forward photoshoots and avant garde runway appearances, she retained a poise that elevated the clothes and the concepts behind them. 

In the pages of American Vogue, Tennant displayed a welcome versatility. Photographers such as Steven Meisel, Craig McDean, Arthur Elgort, and Irving Penn looked to her to add effervescence to their high concept storytelling. A former student of sculpture at the Winchester School of Art, she was led by her artistic sensibilities as a model. She was a game collaborator, always willing to take part in a boundary-pushing editorial or transform completely with artful hair and makeup. Equally at home perched atop shipping crates in feathered Alexander McQueen or in the Scottish highlands with husband David Lasnet and their children Iris, Cecily, Marcel, and Jasmine, Tennant expressed the heights of fashion fantasy and welcomed the cameras into her private world. 

A three-time American Vogue cover star, Tennant often represented feminine sophistication within her pictures. Dressed in the best of early aughts minimalism, she was a portrait of modern refinement in luxury loungewear and minimalist power suits. And yet the star’s best magazine moments involved madcap eccentricity. Photographed diving headfirst into swimming pools clad in the aforementioned businesswear, riding through the Oregon trail in couture, and leaping across the rooftops of Paris with Derek Zoolander, she imbued her work with cheeky humor. Those audacious images brimming with style wouldn’t have been half as fun without Tennant’s gamine presence. 

Tennant’s revered status within the fashion industry wasn’t solely about looks either. In a business fixated on novelty, she formed collaborations that lasted for decades. Photographers, editors, and designers respected Tennant’s skill in front of the camera, but they valued her warmth and intelligence more. As Donatella Versace told Vogue in 1996, what Tennant brought to the table went beyond posing. “Stella’s not a perfect beauty,” said Versace of the model whose career was just beginning to take off. “But she’s strong, smart, opinionated, and determined.” Looking back through her pictures in Vogue, there is the sense that no one could have filled her shoes then and no one ever will. 

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