Remembering Louise Wilson

Read ELLE's 2011 profile

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As Professor Louise Wilson OBE is remembered at a memorial service this London Fashion Week, we take a look back at our interview with her in ELLE May 2011. She was the course director of the fashion MA at London's Central Saint Martins, where she taught some of Britain's most successful design talents, including Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane. In 2007, she was headhunted by Donna Karan and worked for the label in New York for two years. Here, we replicate her profile in full.

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'Memory can distort the past… It’s easy for me to say that the fashion scene was better when I was 19 because of Andy Warhol and the whole club scene, but it would be disparaging. Things were easier then because we were all on student grants, so we could have a bloody good time, meeting like-minded people and taking risks.'

'A true design talent is not always obvious… Most talented people are beset with insecurities and are the most damaged. It’s usually the least talented students who are the fluttering peacocks. Talent takes time to develop. It’s not necessarily about raw ability, either – it can be about luck and time.'

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'If you ask for advice, take it… It riles the hell out of me when my students don’t listen. They’ll come to me with their work and I’ll spend time with them and when they come back they won’t have taken one bit of f*cking advice on board and have the same s*it in front of them, the same lack of conclusion.'

'I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for…  fellow course director Toni Tester, who was here when I was a student. We have terrible confrontations because we’re both bad cops, but she’s incredibly knowledgeable and never gets any credit. Donna Karan was a major influence, too. She taught me how crucial fittings are.'

'Sentimentality is a waste of time… I’d be p*ssed off if I lost my Hermès watch, but I think, "Do I even need it?" I’ve got a trunk of jewellery under the bed that I never look at. If I never saw it again, it would be fine.'

'The things I treasure most… are the photographs people have given me. I must have 250 in my hallway. The artist Julie Verhoeven gave me two marvellous pictures and I have pieces from Will Broome, the illustrator, who’s a friend. I like the fact that they tell a part of my life, a history.'

'I try to keep it a secret… but I have a big book collection. The beauty of books is that you can buy one for £600 and hide it because it’s only a centimetre thick. If I collected Dresden figurines, I’d have cabinets full and everyone would be able to say, "Jesus, you’ve bought another!"'

'My mother always said… "OBE stands for 'other buggers’ efforts'," but when I got mine in 2008, she was so proud. Yes, it was my work but there’s no doubt it was also the students’. I never got married so the OBE was an excuse for a fantastic party – nobody was ligging and the room was full of love.'

'The greatest risk I’ve taken… was leaving my son and partner to work with Donna Karan in New York. It could have gone tits up. They came out to visit me because we worked very long hours, but, thankfully, it all turned out OK.'

'My advice to aspiring designers… is enjoy it, take risks, learn skills and have your own point of view. Make sure you get a little bit dirty – you can’t do it all on a computer in the safety of your bedroom.'

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