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Louise Wilson: a fashion talent whose influence cannot be overstated

Fashion is a world where effusiveness comes as standard. But Louise Wilson’s contribution to British fashion is that rare thing – a fact that can’t be overstated. The head of the MA fashion course at Central Saint Martins and design director at Donna Karan for five years, she was a fundamental influence to a group of London designers who now form the capital’s fashion establishment – Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Jonathan Saunders and Roksanda Ilincic. Her course has also long provided designers for global brands including Lanvin, Louis Vuitton and Acne, all of whom Wilson had good relationships with. And then there are the names once on her register who have changed the way we dress: Phoebe Philo and Alexander McQueen are among her former students.

Alexander McQueen, one of her protégées, after a show.
Photograph: Cavan Pawson/Evening Standard

Wilson was exceptional because she was able to draw the best out of fledgling talents over 20 years of CSM’s intakes of fashion students. In that time, her methods became notorious throughout the industry – Wilson was not a woman to mince her words, with snappy one-liners the frequent way to feed back on students’ work. Alistair O’Neill, the fashion history and theory pathway leader at CSM and a colleague of Wilson, recalled a favourite in his obituary of Wilson: “It looks like a Halloween costume made by a drunk mother one wet night in October.”

But this tough love got results, time and time again. While her OBE acknowledged this in an official manner, Wilson probably appreciated the more personal tributes that were less explicit. Many of her former students remained close to Wilson after graduating, including Kane and Saunders. She was a regular on the front row along with her partner Timmi Aggrey, recognisable for her architectural layers of black and neat, side-swooped auburn hair. And her influence didn’t fade. Craig Green, London menswear’s undisputed new star, studied under Wilson, as did the duo Marques Almeida, the label that arguably kickstarted the current denim revolution.

Wilson’s modus operandi was encouraging her students’ individual voices. Her successes differed wildly in terms of aesthetics, from McQueen’s dark, razor-sharp tailoring to Katrantzou’s vibrant, photo-real printed dresses. While the CSM MA will no doubt continue to produce top talent under Wilson’s former colleague Fabio Piras, her quest and hunger for the new, and her appreciation of young voices over established ones, is something that will be hugely missed in fashion. And that, again, is something that can’t be overstated.

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