Professor Louise Wilson: Formidable professor of fashion design whose outspoken style inspired some of the industry's brightest figures

A one-off in the world of academia, Louise Wilson, who has died suddenly at the age of 52, was famously outspoken, uncompromising, demanding and incisive. Physically and intellectually, she did not fit the fashion prototype. Described in this newspaper as "the single most well-known fashion educator in this country", she blended deadpan delivery, cutting comments and acid wit in an educational approach she summed up as "always to rock the boat a bit and get people to think for themselves."

Wilson built a formidable international reputation as head of the MA Fashion Design course at Central St Martins, carving a unique niche in an industry which was becoming more corporate and less about raw creativity. "By the time a student comes on the MA they have probably been in education for 20 years, since they were five years old. That's longer than you get in jail for murder," she told Nick Knight's Showstudio. "They only become people you would even like to say hello to when they leave. When they arrive they are nervous, usually morons, quite frankly."

Calling her method of teaching "re-training" and referring to herself as "just a fat fucker who by some fluke gets to teach", she summarised her career as "a tragic non-plan" and the teaching process as "agony". Her alumni often hailed her as a genius.

Born in Cambridgeshire, Wilson spent her childhood in "the "middle of nowhere" in the Scottish Borders. With a father who was a farmer and a mother who bought Vogue, she covered her bedroom walls with pictures of a young Janice Dickinson and pored over pictures of Jerry Hall. As a child she harboured ambitions to be a professional horse rider. Forced to make her own clothes because she couldn't get to a shop, she excelled at art and was advised to do a degree. A slight blip occurred when she suggested to her father that she was going to take business studies in Newcastle. He told her to "put nightclubs and a certain type of man to one side."

Wilson graduated from Preston Polytechnic (later the University of Central Lancashire) in 1984 with a first class honours degree, moving to London in 1986 to study for an MA in Fashion at Saint Martin's School of Art. "There was nothing there," she recalled. "I don't think we had desks. It was about the people. We had grants. Basically you took risks and made mistakes. It was much more art school."

Graduating with a distinction, Wilson embarked on a life in the fashion industry, working for Les Copains, Gianfranco Ferre, Daniel Hechter and Guess Jeans, circling the globe working for denim companies. When her son TJ was born she took up part-time teaching at Central St Martins to enable her to spend more time with him.

From the outset, Wilson's approach to fashion education was hands-on, interactive and no-holds-barred. "She spoke her mind," observed Professor Wendy Dagworthy, who worked with her at Central Saint Martins. "She had a vision. She had a good aesthetic. She had a powerful influence and liked people who stood up to her."

She struck a chord with the student who craved a reality check rather than a fake compliment. Jimmy Stephen-Cran, Head of Fashion & Textiles at Glasgow School of Art, remembered, "She was outrageous but also an absolute genius. She would point out something that you hadn't noticed yourself and you would think, 'Oh God, she's absolutely spot-on.'"

Iain R Webb, Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Art, believes her track record, together with her larger-than-life persona, built her reputation beyond the walls of academia. "She was often portrayed in the press as a harridan but there was a great humour and humanity to her. She understood that the industry wasn't this veneer of glamour."

During the 1980s, a time which Wilson retrospectively summed up as "a seismic change in education", she decried the change in emphasis, when the educational system became all about research. "If you were a doer you were considerably out of favour," she reflected. "I got incredibly angry and incredibly passionate." She was head-hunted by Donna Karan, only to return to Central St Martins two years later to become Course Director.

During her 22-year reign there Wilson endured periods of poor health, including two bouts of cancer. One spell of invasive surgery resulted in the removal of an eye.

Receiving her OBE in 2008, she agreed with her mother's observation that it stood for "Other Buggers' Effort". Tellingly, she did not wax lyrical about the ceremony but instead told Nick Knight's Showstudio about "the really fabulous certificate signed by the Queen in a slightly different colour ink from the Duke. The ink is a divine colour of blue." When The Lady compiled a list of 125 of its most "intelligent, empowered and inspirational" women, Wilson was included.

Wilson's legendary critiques, which often left the student contingent quaking in their boots, produced some of the fashion industry's brightest stars, Alexander McQueen, Sophia Kokosalaki, Peter Jensen, Emma Cook, Jonathan Saunders, Ely Kishimoto, Basso & Brooke, to name just a few. "She was like a Disney Villainess," said Jimmy Stephen-Cran. "She was always performing. It was camp high drama. She was more exaggerated than anything you would see on any parody. It's a complete mystery how she got away with being so politically incorrect."

Louise Wilson, professor of fashion design: born Cambridge 23 February 1962; OBE 2008; partner to Thomas Kwamina Aggrey (one son); died 17 May 2014.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Field Based Sales Surveyor - OTE £40,000

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Based Sales Surveyor is...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI Designer/ User Interface Designer (UI, User Flow, Design)

£6000 - £60000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI De...

Investigo: International Finance Analyst

£270 - £300 per annum: Investigo: An exciting opportunity to join an internati...

Recruitment Genius: CAD / CAM Ladies Cocktail & Eveningwear Gerber Grader

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?