I had the rare privilege of being able to hear Professor Louise Wilson OBE speak at last Monday night’s Design Museum’s talk: “What’s Next for Fashion?” In what was an incredibly laid back conversation, the woman who I had thought a tour de force was suddenly only mere feet away from me. Little did I know, how precious this short, unexpectedly casual seminar would become.
Sharing the stage with one of her former students, Christopher Kane, Louise discussed her thoughts on the fashion industry: how the industry has changed, what trends we can expect moving forward, the impact of emerging technologies and other related topics on the future of the industry. In what was set up as a serious conversation on “the future,” became quickly a surprisingly intimate chat between two of the most respected figures in the industry, in front of a crowd filled of eager students from all levels—from Foundation, to MA.
Going into the event I had heard stories about Louise (like every student at Central Saint Martins), she was the woman who commanded the fashion industry, who everyone feared, but feared out of genuine respect for her brilliance—a master of craft. What I heard was the same; she was tremendously tough, she was brutally honest but she was also a character and was hilarious. From her vast knowledge of hip hop to yelling “work harder you lazy fuckers!” to her nervous MA students regularly; to her sharp wit and undeniable sense of humor; the experience of studying under Louise’s direction was one many dreamt of but few had the privilege to experience.
But at the talk, a different Louise was present–Not the one who sat behind a desk, (shouting directions to her students or lecturing them on their need to have “skills–“) but one more tranquil , one more at ease. Louise began by discussing her concerns with our generation—from our keen ability to discuss ideas but rarely have the skills to execute them to the overwhelming nature of the Information Age. Louise’s concerns were upfront (as always), yet spoken this time to the crowd of students with a sense of understanding, admitting that the financial situation of our times has dented our educational experience.
“There’s immense pressure on students,” Louise said. “Art school is not the way it used to be.”
Louise immediately proceeded to remind us how she was not “anti-youth” clarifying that her unique position as an educator allowed her to be constantly surrounded by youth and that it was nothing short of an immense privilege for her. Louise has said in countless times throughout interviews that the most powerful thing that we as students can offer is our youth—our fresh take on the world. And whether we as students realise this or not, our perspective on the world—the way we generate new ideas and progress our society is the most valuable tool we can offer. One which Louise, like all the educators in our world, strove to help us manifest and realise fully.
During a time when governments throughout the world continue to cut funding towards education, especially within creative fields, Louise reminded the crowd of the severity of the situation, referencing the recent spikes in fees and the potential long-term effects of neglecting to invest in creative talent and potential. Louise spoke seriously about these matters and expressed her hope that something good may come, especially applauding London’s distinct ability (in comparison to other fashion capitals) to create opportunities to support upcoming and emerging designers through funding schemes.
When the talk ended, Louise and Christopher casually hung around to answer personal questions students had. I initially struggled to decide whether or not I was wanted to approach Louise, to the point where I regrettably chose not to muster the courage to talk to her and headed out the building. But when I was nearly outside the front door, a jolt of bravely made me retrace my steps and try to quickly catch Louise before she left.
I hurried back up to the lecture hall to find Louise talking with a student, who though visibly nervous, stumbling over her own words was comforted by Louise’s smiling face, “it’s lovely to meet you,” Louise said, “ I’m glad you spoke to me, I never get to meet students on short courses.”
My fear had disappeared. The woman who I had always thought was too busy to answer my questions—who singlehandedly was the most powerful woman in the British fashion industry–suddenly was the most approachable person in the room.
The student and Louise parted ways and before Louise headed out the door, I approached her, almost cutting her off in her tracks—
“Hi Louise, I just wanted to ask you really quickly—“ I stuttered, taken slightly in surprise to her kind reaction: she stopped, giving me her undivided attention.
“Given that the government continues to cut funding to art school, what do you see as the most pragmatic way to deal with the financial situation?”
Without hesitation she replied back, “more scholarships, more bursaries—it’s the only way.”
She then went onto say that she was incredibly happy with the generosity of the British Fashion Council and how the fashion industry continued to give back to our schools. I thanked her for her time and we parted ways,
“Take care,” she said.
“Thanks, Louise. You as well.”
I proceeded back down the steps of the Design Museum, thinking how shocked I was by the laid back tone of our conversation and how I had just spoken to someone who not only inspired countless students throughout the world, but someone who had guided some of the most brilliant minds in the creative sector.
Louise worked hard to expand opportunities for students. Shortly after the British government tripled uni fees, Louise sprung into action by reaching out to her collegeaues in the industry and creating the 20:20 Fashion Fund, an initiative to ensure that students from all walks of life still had the ability to attend Central Saint Martins, in an effort to prevent it from becoming a privilege to those who could afford it.
Though my one conversation with Louise was incredibly short, her words shed light on direness of our situation and her underlying commitment to the cause of education, making Louise in many ways the ultimate Professor—everyone’s professor. Whether we had the privilege of actually studying under her or not, Louise instilled a belief that we could never settle with ourselves, that we had an ability to fulfill our potential and that we can all strive to better ourselves, always.
The legacy Louise leaves behind will resonate through the students she taught both in her studio and the ones she taught indirectly throughout the rest of the world.
Thank you, Louise for inspiring us and for encouraging us to continually strive to better ourselves.
May you rest in peace.
Leonardo Di Cera
Foundation Student & Vice President Elect of Central Saint Martins