Fashion Flashback: Stella Tennant

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When most people think about fashion models, particularly supermodels, the reflection always centers around those supermodels that are exquisitely beautiful, even if they obtain their loveliness with the help of a lot of makeup. Our minds go almost immediately to those traditional beauties like Dorian Leigh, Dovima, Donyale Luna, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Beverly Johnson, Naomi Sims, Alva Chinn, Claudia Schiffer, Liya Kebede, Coco Mitchell, Wanakee, Veronica Webb, Shalom Harlow, just to name a few. And more recently Joan Smalls, Karlie Kloss, Chanel Iman, Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Jasmine Tookes, Cara Delevinge, and Maria Borges come to mind.

Though these models had great beauty, it is just as important to include in this fashion pantheon, fashion models that challenged the standard ideas of beauty. And in retrospect, these non-traditional beauties expanded the fashion industry’s concept of what was beautiful and fashionable.

To this list of unusual beauties, you can add the names of Suzy Parker, Pat Cleveland, Twiggy, Verushka, Lauren Hutton, Marissa Berenson, Grace Jones, Donna Jordan, Kristen McMenamy, Alek Wek, Jenny Shimizu, Stacey McKenzie, Agyness Deyn, Diandra Forrest, Grace Bol, Winnie Harlow, and several others. You can also add to that list Stella Tennant.

Interestingly, these non-traditional models helped revolutionized the fashion industry. And no fashion model did more to project a new fashion image of femininity than Stella Tennant.

Stella Tennant with Kristen McMenamy changed the global look of Chanel. Though reluctant, at first, to pursue a career as a fashion model, British-born Tennant’s career as a fashion model was meteoric, to say the least.

Discovered by iconic fashion photographer Steven Meisel, in her first week as a fashion model Tennant was whisked off to Italy for a fashion shoot for Italian Vogue. In her first few months as a fashion model, Tennant walked in Paris, London, and Milan, as well as shooting editorials for Elle, and American Vogue.  “When jobs come up, I’m still … Wow! Weird!” she said. “Sometimes I see myself and I have no idea why they booked me.”

Karl Lagerfeld spotted Stella Tennant and very quickly she became the face of Chanel, with an exclusive contract replacing Claudia Schiffer. “Stella is more in tune with modern fashion trends than Claudia,” Lagerfeld told an interviewer.

Throughout her modeling career, Stella Tennant has had campaigns for Chanel, Calvin Klein, Hermes, Moschino, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Pringle of Scotland, L. K. Bennet, Saint Laurent, Holland & Holland, Oscar de la Renta, Versace, Dior, Tom Ford, Hugo Boss, and Burberry. And she has walked in runway shows for Michael Kors, Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Victoria Beckham, Salvatore Ferragamo, Loewe, Zara Denim, Ralph Lauren, Schiaparelli Haute Couture, and Givenchy.

Known for her boyish look and serious demeanor, Stella Tennant bridged that intersection in 90s fashion that started to move toward an expanded vision of femininity, ushering in such models as Alek Wek, Agyness Deyn, Jenny Shimizu, Daria Webowy, and Julia Nobis.

Stella Tennant announced her retirement in 1998, later marrying French photographer turned osteopath David Lasnet and together they have four children. And though Tennant announced her retirement in 1998, she has repeatedly returned to fashion modeling, walking in the Valentino show in 2020 and modeling for the Chanel look book in November of this year.

William S. Gooch

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