Chanel's new Tennant

Tamsin Blanchard celebrates Stella Tennant, the English face of Chanel. Photographs by Gavin Bond
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The Independent Culture
Chanel's new Tennant

Stella Tennant has had an easy season. No 6am wake-up calls every morning, no dashing between shows, no scrubbing off her make-up to prepare for the next application of lipstick and gloss. Instead, while the autumn/ winter shows have been raging, she has been relaxing and enjoying Paris. One afternoon, after shopping at Prada, she sat on the wooden Pont des Arts, just enjoying the sunshine. At the shows of Helmut Lang and Jean Paul Gaultier, she stood in the audience. Few models - especially models of her calibre - have the chance of such luxury. But Stella Tennant, the 24-year-old granddaughter of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, has an exclusive agreement with one design house: Chanel.

Tennant burst into the limelight two years ago, when Steven Meisel photographed her for British Vogue's now legendary "British Girls" shoot. He then shot her for the cover of Italian Vogue, and a Versace advertisement with Linda Evangelista.

Now she has entered into a six-month contract with Karl Lagerfeld. Backstage, before the show, she said, "It's very easy to get on with Karl - he's fascinating." She had already been taken up and down the cross-shaped catwalk by the designer, directing her, fan in hand, as to where she should walk. Stella, dressed in dark Chanel jeans with fat turn-ups, and a curvy little black jacket, looked perfectly at ease.

The amount Tennant has been paid by Chanel is the subject of wild rumour. Hair stylists, make-up artists and other models, claim it is somewhere between $1 million and $5 million. For six months. She has, in effect, won the Lottery. "I haven't quite thought about retiring - I'm still young," she says.

What singles Stella out - and probably what attracted Karl to her - is her cool confidence and her strength of character. Amid the madness backstage during the fast-paced show - models running between outfit changes, tights snagging, dressers pulling off tight-fitting military jackets and throwing on gilt, embroidered dresses - Stella remained calm and controlled.

You get the impression that Chanel needs her more than she needs it. The celebrated Ines de la Fressange, who now has a shop of her own on the Avenue Montaigne, was the last contracted face of Chanel fashion, from 1983 to 1987. She, like Stella, had a definite style of her own. She could wear Chanel head to foot, and her personality would still shine through. Stella Tennant is just as forceful, which is why Lagerfeld has been clever to pick her out. When she wears a pair of Chanel's new army fatigue trousers, or the jeans she wore before the show, she gives them an edge, a piece of herself. Just as Eighties Chanel was personified by Ines, Nineties Chanel belongs to Stella