Stella Tennant

Portrait of a Muse

London,
January 15th, 2016

THE 90S WAS A DEFINING DECADE FOR STELLA TENNANT. AFTER ALL, SHE WAS DISCOVERED DURING THOSE YEARS, WAS PROPELLED INTO GREAT SUCCESS, BECAME A MUSE TO KARL LAGERFELD, ANNOUNCED HER OFFICIAL RETIREMENT AND LASTLY, AS THE PERIOD WAS CLOSING, FOUND LOVE. STELLA CAPTURED THE 90S ZEITGEIST – WITH HER LOOK, BUT IMPORTANTLY WITH HER UNWAVERING ATTITUDE TOWARDS IDENTITY. SHE NOT ONLY DEFINED THAT DECADE BUT ALSO IMPACTED ON SUBSEQUENT YEARS.

FC You were discovered in the 90s, how did that come about?
ST I was 22 and I was roped into a London girl’s story with British Vogue, through a friend of mine, a friend of Plum Sykes who was helping Izzy Blow put together the fashion shoot. It was my first shoot, but it didn’t feel like a proper modeling job; all the girls were characters around London, none of us were professional models. at the end of the day Steven asked me if I was interested in shooting a Versace  campaign, and that was my first serious shoot.
FC Tell us about that, it must have been daunting for you as a newcomer…
ST It was terrifying! I had no idea what I was walking into. I was flown out to Paris, a city I barely knew. They sent a stretch limo to pick me up from the airport and take me to le Meurice Hotel, which was the most luxurious hotel I’d ever seen.
A couple of hours late a car picked me up and took me to a grungy studio in some suburb of Paris. I had no idea what to expect, so coming into the studio to find Linda Evangelista, Kirsten McMenamy and Shalom Harlow put me way out of my depth. That said, they did their best to put me at ease.
FC Do you have fond memories of the shoot?
ST I remember Linda Evangelista draping her arms over me and thinking, ‘this cannot be happening right now. Something’s gone horribly wrong. I’m not supposed to be here.’ It was pretty surreal. It was a strange combination: the full on glamour and thrill of it all; flying to Paris, staying at this super fancy hotel, but then the dingy studio, with Linda looking incredible in the Versace clothes, and Donatella being there. It was madness.
FC It must have been really overwhelming at the time?
ST Absolutey! The London shoot for Vogue was fine; it was all about characters: Bella Freud, Izzy Blow, Plum Sykes and Honor Fraser. None of us were models, so there was no pressure, and not much was expected of us. But the following week was another story.
FC Are there any other shoots that stand out to you?
ST There are so many – I’ve loved nearly all the photographers I’ve worked with. I’ve particularly enjoyed doing the Yohji campaigns with David Sims. Those were amazing – it felt like we were really pushing fashion imagery. There was a great shoot with Glen Luchford in Las Vegas, Berlin with Mario Sorrenti, my first american Vogue shoot with Arthur Elgort and Grace Coddington out in Long Island – that was really fun. I loved all the shoots with Paolo Roversi, and with Mario Testino, where I met my husband. I’ve been to incredible places with Bruce Weber: the Adirondacks, Argentina, Uruguay… the Highlands. Then there was the experience of working with legends like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, and Karl Lagerfeld, of course. So many memories.
FC How was it working with Mark Borthwick?
ST I’ve worked a lot with Mark over the years. We’ve always kept in touch; he’s a dear friend, and such a sweet and generous man. The shoots with Mark, they’re often eccentric – we played around with a puff cushion, dancing down the street with it on my foot. His work’s more conceptual but his images are beautiful, beautifully odd.
FC I remember the Tim Walker 1999 shoot for Vogue Italia, “Couture Delivery” you wore haute couture dresses and played a doll – what did you think of that shoot?
ST That was the first shot I did with Tim, and I didn’t like turning up on set and being made into an object without having a conversation with the photographer about the ideas and story behind it. So it felt like I was simply an element of the shoot that was totally static, without life or opinion. I was a doll, and objectified – the images show it, but it’s also what I felt like on the day. I had a total sense of humour failure, but got over myself a bit, and I’ve worked with Tim on many epic shoots since. I soon learned to appreciate his unique fantasy world.
FC I know you studied sculpture at the Winchester School of Art, has this somehow influenced your life? Do you think that being a model could be considered as being an artist?
ST I do think that having an art background has influenced my modeling. I’ve always loved Cindy Sherman’s work, and I’m always interested in changing my identity.

43_covers_Stella--
Stella Tennant
photography by Mark Borthwick, fashion by Ethel Park
Stella wears turban Jacquemus; jacket Yohji Yamamoto;
t-shirt Y’s by Yohji Yamamoto

I like changing roles, and I hope it comes through in the photography. Where more is required of the model, I try to become a character. Sometimes I use movements to show the clothes in a certain way. The Yohji shoots with David are all about that kind of dynamism, about bringing a whole new energy to the clothes. There are a lot of tools you can use as a model: your expression, your movements, the way you stand gives a certain attitude depending on what you’re wearing, dictates how you present it to some extent: couture vs grunge. Sometimes photographers are very specific in their direction, and some leave it completely up to the model. I think the best is something in between, where you’re working together collaboratively.
FC Are there any new photographers or models that have caught your attention?
ST He’s not really that new, I like but Alasdair McLellan’s work; Colin Dodgson is an interesting photographer. Jamie Hawkesworth takes beautiful pictures too.
To be honest, I don’t real follow models, but I’ve know Jean Campbell since she was a baby, and I am enjoying watching her meteoric rise.
FC If you were the editor in chief of Muse, who would you have on your September Issue cover?
ST I’d put my mother on the cover – I would love to turn the tables on her! She has always described my modeling career as, ‘a glorified coat hanger’, but she’s really my heroine, ever resourceful, and I’d like to see how she would take on the challenge.
FC Are you working on any new projects? What do you have coming up for 2016?
ST I have a huge project in the pipeline for this year – I’m entering a whole new phase of life… with a proper job! I’m very excited about 2016, but I can’t say too much now… I’ve also been working with my sister for the past few years making gilded lamps and mirrors. I’ll continue with that, and I hope to be in the studio with her a lot more this year.