Born: December 17, 1970;

Died: December 22, 2020

STELLA Tennant, who has died aged 50, was a model who was the first choice of dozens of leading couture houses to present their newest collections; she was one of a select few who not only excelled in a nebulous but highly visible role, but redefined it.

She was unusual in having begun her career at the relatively late age of 22, and of having maintained her position at the top of the field for almost three decades.

In 1996, she became the face of Chanel, replacing Claudia Schiffer, and muse to its creative director, Karl Lagerfeld; her last catwalk show was in January this year, for Valentino. She fronted campaigns for many of the major fashion bands, including Dior, Calvin Klein, LK Bennett and Burberry, and was latterly the brand ambassador for the gunmaker and country clothing firm Holland & Holland.

This fitted well with her own background: distinctively Scottish, rural and aristocratic, though peppered with unconventional socialites and artists. Her paternal grandfather was the second Lord Glenconner, and her uncle the third in that line, who bought Mustique and set it up as a playground for the rich. On her mother’s side, she was the granddaughter of Andrew, the 11th Duke of Devonshire and his wife “Debo”, youngest of the flamboyant Mitford sisters.

Stella Tennant herself grew up on a sheep farm in the Borders, and trained as a sculptress.When first spotted – as a punky student with a nose-ring, in her early twenties – she thought the fashion world “shallow” and that she “wasn’t really sure if I liked the look of it”.

Yet she was thought to hold the record for appearing in the most catwalk shows – 75 – in a season and, although she attempted to retire when she was about 30, was continually drawn back to promote leading designers.

Along with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, she appeared in the closing ceremony for the London Olympics, representing the British fashion industry. “I haven’t been able to find a better part-time job,” she said, explaining that, though her role was highly visible, it consumed very little of her time.

Stella Tennant was born on December 17, 1970, in London, the youngest of the three children of Tobias Tennant, son of the second Lord Glenconner, and his wife Lady Emma Cavendish, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Her father farmed at Newcastleton, near Hawick in the Borders, and Stella attended the local primary before going on to St Leonards School, near St Andrews, and then sixth form at Marlborough College in Wiltshire.

She had a year out, travelling around Chile, and on her return enrolled in a course at Kingston Polytechnic before studying sculpture at Winchester School of Art, where she added welding to her range of skills.

In 1993, some passport photographs of her came to the attention of the journalist Plum Sykes, who was working as the stylist Isabella Blow’s assistant on Vogue on a feature that called for grungy, unconventional “English roses”.

Tennant was summoned from Scotland, coming down on the sleeper, and was immediately singled out on the shoot, conducted at Spitalfields in the newly fashionable E1 London postcode, by Steven Meisel, who was then, having just photographed Madonna’s book Sex, the fashion world’s hottest ticket.

He booked her for a gig for Vogue’s French edition a few days later, promoting Versace; one of the shots then became the cover of the magazine’s Italian edition.

Her career was launched, spectacularly, and Stella Tennant soon became one of the world’s leading photographic and catwalk models (the latter role being, at that time, the one that brought in the most money). All the same, she had little interest in promoting herself or emulating her successful contemporaries, such as Linda Evangelista or Kate Moss.

With her nose ring, self-cut hair, permanent scowl and gawky, graceless movements on the catwalk, she seemed determined to demonstrate her disinterest in the world of haute couture. She was also reluctant to talk to the press, and never signed up for social media.

This brought her an agent, an apartment in New York, endless bookings and the attention of Lagerfeld, who was then running Chanel. He said: “I don’t see Stella in terms of age, I see her in terms of elegance and modernity.” Backstage at fashion shoots, Tennant worked on needlepoint.

In 1999, she married the photographer David Lasnet, who had been Mario Testino’s deputy, and they soon settled in Berwickshire, where Stella raised chickens and had four children. “I first met Stella in 1990 and was blown away by her quirky style, that mix of good family but decadent exterior”, Testino himself would recall.

The Norwegian photographer Solve Sundsbo, who shot her for i-D magazine and other high-profile campaigns, once declared: “Stella is there to make a picture. She’s not there to stand still and look beautiful. She contributes to the picture, which is very impressive from a model as most are not like that. As soon as she walks in front of the camera, you understand that she is there to help you.”

Tennant became a designer for Holland & Holland, working with her friend, Lady Isabella Cawdor, in 2015, where their ambition was to produce clothing that would survive a climb over a barbed-wire fence. She and her husband separated earlier this year; she is survived by him and their son, Marcel, and daughters Cecily, Jasmine, and Iris.