Professor Louise Wilson OBE was a true fashion legend. Everyone who crossed her path has a story – she had a profound impact on everyone she met, most notably her students at Central Saint Martins. Wilson was opinionated, aggressive, sharp-tongued, yet fiercely loyal, protective, and a mother figure to many. She was always dressed in black.
Wilson was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in 1962 and grew up in Jedburgh on the Scottish Borders where she would read copies of Vogue and make her own clothes. She graduated from Preston Polytechnic in 1984 with a first class honours degree, and in 1986 gained an MA in Fashion with distinction from Saint Martin's School of Art. She worked for various designers including Gianfranco Ferré before becoming an associate lecturer at St Martins in the early 1990s and in 1992, she succeeded fashion illustrator Bobby Hillson as the course director of the MA degree programme in Fashion Design. She moved to New York in 1997 to become creative director for Donna Karan, but after two years returned to Central Saint Martins.
Wilson passed away on Friday evening, aged just 52, during her sleep. Former student and Louis Vuitton menswear style director Kim Jones said Wilson was "so strong, I thought she would always be around" – a thought shared by many who knew her. She is survived by her partner, Timmi Aggrey, and her son, Tim (TJ).
Here, Susannah Frankel, Alister Mackie and Kim Jones share their personal tributes.
Susannah Frankel, Fashion Features Director, AnOther Magazine:
"I can't think of anyone I’ve ever met who cared more about their work than Louise. She was a great and passionate educator, prepared to do anything and everything to help students she believed in. Her success rate was unprecedented. She was – famously – one of the few people brave enough to always say exactly what she thought, however hard that was for her to do or for the person on the receiving end to hear. Even when things were difficult, professionally challenging or personally sad, she was so funny she regularly made colleagues and friends cry with laughter.
Louise bitterly regretted the lack of funding for education, the lack of a grant system, the bureaucratic hoops she and her team were forced to jump through on a regular basis and she was not afraid to speak out about it. In a world where, increasingly, that is not the safest of paths, she refused to compromise her ideals. Louise was about as far from people pleasing as it is possible to imagine and that seems all the more remarkable given that she loved people and, like all of us, wanted to be loved back – just never to the point where she would pander to niceties. Louise was an incredibly kind, warm, loving and generous person on so many levels. She will be terribly missed by everyone who knew her and never forgotten."
"Everyone who was taught by Louise was incredibly lucky; she was a lone voice of reason and truth, constantly battling for her students" — Alister Mackie
Alister Mackie, Creative Director, Another Man:
"Louise's passing is a huge loss to the entire fashion industry. Her name was synonymous with Saint Martins and British talent – she became an institution in her own right. Everyone who was taught by Louise was incredibly lucky; she was a lone voice of reason and truth, constantly battling for her students.
At my Saint Martins interview, she accepted me there and then and, on the spot, changed my life forever. She helped me get a bursary, enabling me to move to London. She was my greatest friend at Saint Martins. I spent much of my time lurking in her office, smoking and absorbing her brilliance, mesmerised by her outspoken genius – always delivered with the sharpest, most outrageous humour. Twenty years later, she remained a beloved friend and mentor. I will miss her terribly."
Kim Jones, Style Director, Louis Vuitton Menswear:
"Louise was the first person in fashion to believe in me and encourage me to do exactly what I wanted. I think I'm probably one of the very few students who wasn't shouted at. Instead, I was the student who shouted at a teacher in the first term, for them never to return – something I think Louise enjoyed. She was a very loyal person and especially to Central Saint Martins, fighting for students and funding, calling everyone she knew to help those who deserved her help to get through college and recently working on helping kids who couldn't afford the huge amount college costs nowadays to enter the MA course.
"In tough situations I always think, 'what would Louise do?'" — Kim Jones
She really believed and she really cared. I have several notes she wrote to my year stored at home which are some of the funniest things I've ever seen and we used to sit around in hysterics, reading them out in her famous booming voice. Louise was incredibly funny and last summer in Bali we were laughing about all the clothes she had gathered whilst slamming doors on students and how she once managed to punch apart a student's collection in frustration. The one thing with Louise is she was always there. In tough situations I always think, 'what would Louise do?' She was so strong, I thought she would always be around.
Louise, thank you for everything. I will miss your words of wisdom and friendship immensely."
Louise Wilson, OBE (23 February 1962 – 16 May 2014)