I first met Stella in 1996, back when I lived in New York; then, when I moved to London, we became friends. An absolute individual and highly intelligent, she was the sort of person you felt you wanted to know – and sometimes when you want to know someone, if you’re lucky, you get to.
Tim Walker captures Stella, Isabella Cawdor and their children, all wearing Holland & Holland, for Vogue, July 2016.
© Tim Walker
The thing about Stella was that she was so much more than a model. She is an indelible part of fashion’s vocabulary – she inspired the best designers, the best photographers – but beyond her role on set or on the runways, she was a liberated working mother who had figured out a way to succeed in this business while living in Scotland and holding on to her own identity. She may have been born into privilege, but she stood on her own two feet. Stella was a beacon of something so special, so classy – not because of her background, but because of how she operated in this world. She made who she was; she earned her respect.
Stella in the Steven Meisel shoot that kick-started her career, Vogue, December 1993.
© Steven Meisel
Stella had an artist’s soul: whatever she did, whether it was planting a garden or designing clothes, making furniture or getting dressed in the morning, she did it with an artistic sensibility. And as long as I knew her, she was always humble, always curious. On set, she’d want to speak to everyone from the photographer to the assistants; then, when she was in front of the camera, she would be so open. Even when I was working with her on campaigns for Holland & Holland, for which she designed with Isabella Cawdor, she’d leave it to me to direct what we were doing – and would truly appreciate my perspective. As soon as she put on those clothes, they made complete sense: a hybrid between the stoicism of the British countryside and the elegance of the city, they were meant for her. But it often felt like that with Stella: she had such a strong sense of self that, whatever clothes she put on, they looked as though they belonged to her. She wore them, they never wore her.
I always loved seeing what she would dress in, especially at the Met Gala: she wasn’t an Instagram creation, or a Getty Images magnet, but she was always the most stylish woman there. She inspired designers whose clothes she wore, and she was irreverent about it: her outfits weren’t necessarily fresh off the runway, they were her own composition, and she would look as though she were stepping out of a Cecil Beaton ball. For the year that honoured Rei Kawakubo, she was dressed in an amazing Comme des Garçons look. Julien d’Ys had come to pick her up beforehand, and he had drawn bows on the front of her white shoes with a pen. Everyone else would have spent weeks planning the intricacies of their outfits, but she, with her hand-drawn shoes, looked better than anyone.
A Steven Meisel image of Stella inside the December 2018 issue.
© Steven Meisel
As Stella grew older, she remained entirely true to herself: when her hair started turning grey, she left it; some days she’d turn up on set with soil underneath her fingernails. She was the same woman at home in the Scottish Borders as she was at Paris Fashion Week – but she was made in the great outdoors, and she had such a sense of adventure. I learnt a lot from her in that sense: if we were in Norway, she’d be diving straight into a freezing lake; in Mongolia, she’d be riding off on horseback. She always fearlessly immersed herself in the landscape. In many different regards, if you were lost in the woods, she’s who you’d want to be lost with.
Stella had no PR person, no social media; she never courted headlines nor sought to be a part of the fashion elite. Since her death, there has been such an outpouring of love for her from this industry. I wonder if she knew that she was so beloved – if anyone can ever really know how much they mean to people while they’re alive. Maybe that’s something we learn as we start to lose the people who are important to us, those people we can’t bear to let go of. That, even if they never ask for it, we should always remember to celebrate them while they’re still here.
Stella by Paolo Roversi for Vogue, May 2013.
© Paolo Roversi
Stella played such a great role in my life: the laughs we had and the experiences we shared will always stay with me. Her influence spans three decades – and it would be hard for us to forget someone who worked with the best, who inspired the best, and who brought so much to the table. She will be there in our history books, as a heroine of our times. You don’t forget heroines. They always live on.
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