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Louise Wilson

Fashion professor

Fashion professor

Born: February 23, 1962; Died: May 17, 2014

Louise Wilson, who has died aged 52, was the straight-talking fashion mentor whose candid, uncompromising approach incubated the careers of many of today's most successful designers.

Widely regarded as one of the fashion industry's most influential figures, her no-nonsense autocratic teaching style, tough love and rapier wit were both feared and revered but produced the desired effect in those with substance and talent.

Among her students at Central St Martins College of Art and Design in London were Christopher Kane, the late Alexander McQueen, Jonathan Saunders and Roksanda llincic. And after she was headhunted by Donna Karan as her design director, the New York designer admitted: "It was like going back to school myself. Louise trains and develops the best."

A member of the British Fashion Council, Wilson's contribution to the industry was recognised with an OBE for services to fashion and education in 2008, with the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator in 2012 and most recently she was named by The Lady magazine as one of the 125 most intelligent, empowered and inspirational women.

The roots of her creative career can be traced back to the Scottish Borders where, though she reportedly grew up thinking she would become a professional horse rider, she also exhibited an innate artistic ability.

Born in Cambridge, she was raised in Scotland, where her father William Wilson farmed, and spent much of her childhood riding competitively at points-to-points, gymkhanas etc. But at school in Jedburgh she emerged as a talented artist and left the Borders and the equestrian world behind when she headed south to study. She gained a first class BA honours from Preston Polytechnic in 1984 and then went on to the then Saint Martins School of Art, where her tutors included designer Ossie Clarke. Saint Martins in the 1970s, she said, was like an exclusive club of like-minded people and she fitted in there like a round peg in a round hole.

After graduating with distinction with an MA Fashion two years later she worked for a number of designers and, since 1992, had been at her alma mater, by then known as Central Saint Martins (CSM), as director of its MA fashion course.

Five years later she was off to New York, to work for Donna Karan, with whom she remained associated until 2002, but by 1999 was back at Saint Martins resuming her role as an exceptional teacher whose highly-critical style simply served to galvanise her students into working harder, pushing them to produce the best they possibly could.

Yet while they produced some exquisite pieces, their mentor preferred to fade into the background, her large curvaceous figure clad in an anonymous trademark black uniform, of which she had several identical versions, which she thought enabled her to dissolve - a feat that was unlikely to happen, given her stellar list of former students and her own undeniable aura of success.

Her style as a teacher was tough and the process difficult for students. Interviewed in Vogue recently, she called the classes brutal and like "waking people from a coma".

"Every day is chaotic here," she said. "You never think you're good, you never think that the work the students are producing is good, and I think that's healthy. I don't know any other way than stress. It's the dynamic of going over the trenches with them rather than directing them from the operations room. You live it with the students."

Paying tribute, Saint Martins said: "She has taught a huge proportion of the world's leading fashion designers and her course continues to produce talented ground-breaking graduates. Her commitment to her students and passion for creative excellence are legendary. Her deep understanding of fashion and her drive for funding for bursaries, facilities and opportunities are part of what made her such an extraordinary educator.

"Louise's legacy will live on at CSM through her former students and current teaching colleagues who were so close to her. Central Saint Martins is grateful to have been able to enjoy the fruits of Louise's great talent for educating for the last 22 years."

Alexandra Shulman, the UK editor of Vogue magazine, said Wilson had played a remarkable role in making the British fashion scene successful and relevant.

"Her teaching and influence made a mark on so many of our leading designers," said Shulman. "I will miss her outspoken views and her clever and often very funny observations."

Christopher Kane said he had never met a person quite like Wilson. Her message, he said, was that you have to work your guts out to be successful in the fashion industry.

Something of a workaholic - she reportedly continued to work while receiving treatment for breast cancer - she habitually put in long hours, ignored lunchbreaks, although she loved food, and adored the industry, despite the hard slog it entailed.

In Who's Who, she listed her profession as one of her recreations, along with eating, sleeping and voicing one's opinion. "Not necessarily the right opinion," she once said "but it's mine."

She is survived by her partner Timmi Aggrey and son Tim.

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