I never thought I would be writing obituaries on this blog, but as a follower of fashion I could not write about the tragedy that befell the industry yesterday with the loss of Louise Wilson to breast cancer, the professor of fashion at Central Saint Martins in London. A supposedly fearsome lady, the director of the Central Saint Martins master’s programme in fashion trained many of fashion’s most important designers, from Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane to Mary Katrantzou and Jonathan Saunders. While her methods were sometimes deemed harsh or unfair, reducing students to tears, her approach got results. Graduates say Wilson’s teaching crystallised their aesthetic, honed their skills and made the British fashion industry the forefront of the fashion world.
I remember reading the news about Gianni Versace’s murder back in 1997. The death of former pupil of Wilson’s Lee “Alexander” McQueen was a huge loss, especially since I loved his work and was very aware of him as a fashion designer. The loss of someone so influential in any industry makes headlines, but it is far less common for someone so behind the scenes as a university educator to not only affect the mood of the whole fashion but also make mainstream news. I found out about Louise’s passing via the BBC news app. When was the last time an academic had a BBC article upon their death? And, other than Professor Stephen Hawking, I don’t think we will see another. And that is how huge and influential Louise Wilson was. She saw the talent, and she made it real.
Professor Louise Wilson: ‘I’m not rude, I’m just honest’
After graduating herself from Central St Martins with an MA in Fashion she worked for various designers including Les Copains, Gianfranco Ferre and Daniel Hechter before entering academia. She was Wilson featured in the ‘Catalysts’ section of The Business of Fashion 500 last year – ‘people behind the people who work behind the scenes to empower support and promote the talent that drives the industry today and in the future’. Louise was the only British academic featured.
“When they (students) first arrive, really, my eyes bleed!… It’s only when they’re about to leave that they become people you might want to know.”
She was always very proud of her former students without being boastful, even though they are illustrious names such as Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Mary Katrantzou, Jonathan Saunders, Christopher Kane, Giles Deacon, Louise Gray, as well as non-designers making waves in other parts of the industry such as Kim Jones, menswear director at Louis Vuitton, Christopher Lundman at Acne, Frances Howie at Stella McCartney and the new head of Levis. 57.6 per cent of their graduates showed under their own labels at London Fashion Week. Her pupils star at Céline, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton, and 90% of her graduates have gone straight into work. And that is why she is listed in everyone’s 25 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN FASHION.
“I’m just in it. It shouldn’t matter if we never produce a successful person again because that is not our remit, it’s the remit of everything that surrounds us today – blogs, VOGUE.COM, press, whatever. At the end of the day I’m a very boring academic, bogged down with academia and structure and delivering an education.” Professor Louise Wilson OBE, already sorely missed.