She made it a rule never to smile for the camera, and she eschews the fashion set for a more grounded life with her husband and three children. In short, Stella Tennant breaks all the rules of the modelling code. But perhaps it is this ability to cock a snook at the world that brought her fame and made her one of the most sought-after models around.
Stella Tennant was born in 1970, the youngest of the three children of the Honourable Toby Tennant and his wife Lady Emma, daughter of the current Duke of Devonshire. She attended the prestigious St Leonards School for Girls in Scotland, close to the 1,500-acre sheep farm in the Borders where she grew up, before going to Marlborough College in Wiltshire to study for her A Levels.
An art foundation course at Kingston Polytechnic preceded a degree course at Winchester School of Art, where Stella embarked upon her sculpting career the part of her life she describes as "my first love". And it appears the budding creative would have made a name for herself in the art world sooner rather than later if it hadn't been for a photographer called Steven Meisel.
Steven, the image-maker for American Vogue
was in London to do a shoot for the magazine's British counterpart, and had informed the fashion department he wanted non-models. When Stella, a friend of one of the Vogue-ettes
turned up for the shoot with a ring embedded, bull-style, in her septum, the fashion set blanched. Their requests for the six-foot beanpole with the translucent skin to remove the piercing fell on deaf ears, and the session took place with the metalwork stubbornly in place.
Steven Meisel was impressed with this unsmiling, patrician vision of Britain. So impressed, in fact, that the next day he took her off to Paris for an Italian Vogue
photo shoot. At first, Stella was not keen on pursuing a career in fashion and told her agency booker that she would think about it before calling her. It took a superhuman attempt on the booker's part to persuade her to give it a go.
In her first weeks as a clotheshorse, Stella did catwalk shows in Paris, Milan and London, plus editorial work for US Vogue
She still found it hard to believe her luck, however. "When jobs come up I'm still... Wow! Weird!" she said. "Sometimes I see myself and I have no idea why they booked me."
It was Karl Lagerfeld
who first spotted Stella's potential, referring to her "modern allure", and making her the new face of Chanel. Her predecessor, Claudia Schiffer
, was elbowed aside in favour of the reluctant model. "Stella is more in tune with modern fashion trends than Claudia," he told an interviewer.
In the course of her career, Stella never let her head be turned by the fashion industry. In fact, at the beginning of 1998, the British beauty announced she was retiring from the world that had made her name, as she was pregnant with her first child. Nine months after Marcel's birth, she married her photographer boyfriend David Lasnet, who she had met on a Mario Testino shoot, at a family ceremony in her home village of Oxnam. She wore a short, Helmut Lang-designed dress and, following the service, drove her new husband to the wedding reception.
After welcoming daughter Cecily, born in 2001, Stella dipped a toe back into the fashion world again with a return to modelling and the knitwear line she designs for Burberry. "It seemed incredibly incompatible before I had children, but once I started working, I realised it's a brilliant job to do," she stated in 2002, the year she gave birth to her third child, Jasmine. "It's part-time, I don't have to work if I don't want to. I have long holidays and it's not nine to five."
And that same year she returned to the Chanel fold, shooting the fashion house's Spring-Summer 2002 campaign for Karl, down at the designer's Biarritz house. She's grateful about the money it brings in, but is keen to return to her two passions, gardening and sculpture she is even toying with the idea of getting into taxidermy.
She and her family were once based out of New York and London, but they recently bought a £500,000 Scottish country mansion in the Borders. The purchase is not surprising, however, as Stella once expressed a desire to return to her farming roots for the sake of her children. "It teaches you a lot," she says, referring her down-to-earth upbringing.