By Lieba Nesis
The casualties from the pandemic are too great to enumerate as widespread hunger and joblessness have set in. Some have died directly from coronavirus; while others have been collaterally effected: those who failed to seek medical treatment for fear of contracting the deadly disease or others who became mired in depression or substance abuse during this dreadful nine-month period. Tony Hsieh, the ex-CEO of Zappos succumbed to addiction amidst a fire in November which many colleagues attributed to his isolation in quarantine. The striking Stella Tennant, died “suddenly” in Duns Scotland on December 22nd, with her family failing to release a cause of death and the police saying there were no suspicious circumstances despite her young age of 50. Some contributing factors might be the dissolution of Tennant and husband David Lasnet‘s marriage a year ago after 21 years and four children ages 15-22: Iris, Jasmine, Cecily and Marcel. The French-born Lasnet, former assistant to photographer Mario Testino, met Tennant on a photo shoot and they hit it off almost immediately marrying in a parish church in Oxnam, Scotland in 1999. Lasnet credits Stella for rescuing him from a deepening depression he experienced from 18 through his mid 20’s. The two resided in New York for years eventually deciding to leave in 2001 largely due to the effects of 9/11
Relocating to a grand 1740’s built house on the Scottish borders, next to Tennant’s parent’s estate, Lasnet pursued osteopathy after his son Marcel was successfully treated for debilitating whooping cough. He became an osteopath in Edinburgh after attaining his degree from the British School of Osteopathy in 2009. He was recently rated one of the top three osteopaths in Edinburgh specializing in sports-related injuries. An avid surfer, skateboarder, yogi and meditation expert Lasnet has carved out a successful career far from the confines of fashion. However, Stella was the luminary of the two achieving stratospheric fame almost immediately. Stella had the X factor-that special power that transfixes and leaves you wanting more. Almost six feet tall, with piercing blue eyes, and soaring cheekbones she enraptured the masses instantaneously. She rarely gave interviews, spurned social media and guarded her privacy with an unusual zealousness-refusing to brand herself like fellow mannequins Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Linda Evangelista and Cindy Crawford.
Tennant was an unrivaled rebel, the essence of British cool, with an insouciance and nonchalance that outshone all those surrounding her. Whether walking for Versace, Chanel, McQueen, Burberry or Dior she always stood-out and did so unabashedly. Born on December 17th 2020, Tennant was a true blue-blood her mother Lady Emma Cavendish was the daughter of the 11th Duke of Devonshire while her father Tobias Tennant was the son of the 2nd Baron Glenconner. Both Stella’s parents shunned the spotlight retreating to a 1500 acre farm along the Scottish Borders as opposed to hobnobbing with British royalty in London. The 23-year-old Stella was pursuing a career as a sculptor at the Winchester School of Art in 1993 when she was alerted to a casting call for a British Vogue December story featuring London aristocrats who were strikingly regular. Writer Plum Sykes took one look at the passport photo Tennant submitted and called her in for the Steven Meisel photo shoot organized by Alexander McQueen’s muse- Isabella Blow. Meisel, Sykes and Blow were unanimously entranced by Tennant’s enigmatic aura. (Paradoxically Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen, both close friends of Tennant ,committed suicide within years of each other.) A smitten Meisel invited Tennant to a photo shoot the following day resulting in her being featured on the cover of Vogue Italia-and the rest is history.
Her quick rise to fame is highly unusual in the modeling world which often sees models languishing for years before catching the eye of the right photographer or designer. Stella’s ascent continued as Versace, Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier came calling; along with illustrious photographers Mario Testino, David Sims and Mark Borthwick. Tennant was the paradigm of effortless chic when the barbie look of Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford had become tiresome. Karl Lagerfeld, a soothsayer of trends replaced an unhappy Schiffer with Tennant in 1996 as the face of Chanel -likening her appearance to Coco Chanel. Her androgyny was revolutionary yet there were others preceding her-Kristen McMenamy shot to fame years earlier with her chameleon-like stature. Tennant popularized androgyny as the grunge trend was exploding-ushering in a new era of heroin chic that was further promulgated by Kate Moss and Erin O’Connor. The fashion world is notoriously fickle making it nearly impossible to keep up with its evolving standards of beauty. Tennant, was rather big-boned yet always maintained a skeletal figure-at what price? She came about in the 90’s when the modeling industry had zero tolerance for plus sized figures and was rife with substance abuse. The emphasis was on protruding bones and taking any measure necessary to achieve the requisite physique. This dangerous environment led to rampant drug abuse and eating disorders amongst the most well known mannequins. Thankfully, the current environment is more inclusive with plus-sized models a regular occurrence on the cover of magazines. Tennant’s look however, only worked as a Size Zero. After retiring to raise her child in 1998 she reentered the field after her third child in 2002 lured by the perks of modeling and her command of the runway.
Tennant’s last catwalk was on January 23, 2020 opening for the Valentino Haute Couture Show in Paris right before the pandemic emerged. She wore a pink chiffon shirt with red gloves and an expressionless face. Few 49-year-old catwalkers are tasked with opening a major collection more than 25 years later-she was just that good. Then the pandemic struck and undoubtedly she was stuck on her Scottish farm, quarantined from her family with little to keep her engaged. The absence of her estranged husband who was residing in Edinburgh worsened her loneliness as she struggled to maintain her identity without her profession and family keeping her occupied. Maybe she reverted back to some old nasty habits she picked up during her modeling days to help maintain her waiflike figure. According to the Daily Mail, a neighbor who frequently saw her riding horses alone said Tennant recently expressed fear that due to her advancing age her modeling career would be over once the pandemic resolved. Akin to Tony Hsieh, and Benjamin Keough, who died during the pandemic, if Covid had never materialized I wager we would have had the privilege of seeing “Catwalk Queen” Tennant shoot her steely-eyed stare for decades to come.