The Fashion Industry Gathers to Pay Respects to Louise Wilson

A memorial service for the late Central St. Martins professor brought out everyone from Victoria Beckham to Kanye West.
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A memorial service for the late Central St. Martins professor brought out everyone from Victoria Beckham to Kanye West.
Victoria Beckham exits the service. Photo: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Victoria Beckham exits the service. Photo: Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

The fashion industry turned out in droves Friday morning to celebrate the life of Professor Louise Wilson, revered director of the MA Program at Central St. Martins. For a private ceremony organized by family and friends, there was an enormous turnout. It is a true testament to Louise's legacy that the service retained a personal feel, despite the cavernous setting of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the hundreds of people in attendance.

This was no empty, social tribute; nor was it just another event on the London Fashion Week calendar (despite the arrival of Kanye West, in an inappropriately white blazer). Those who knew Louise spoke frankly yet kindly about her life and work, as well as her love for her husband and son. They spoke fondly of her fierce temper and her encyclopedic knowledge of fashion, both of which helped her become the most legendary teacher in the industry.

Former students Christopher Kane and Simone Rocha led the congregation in a prayer, and Roksanda Ilincic gave a reading. Alber Elbaz gave a wonderful (and typically humorous) talk, beginning with a letter he had written to his late friend. He spoke of Louise as his metaphorical tango partner through life, the one whom he loved the most dearly and relied on professionally. He told us how she would introduce him to one student a year, each time declaring "She's dreadful, but you must have her."

For Louise was not simply a teacher to her students, a handful of candidates selected each year to enroll in the grueling MA Fashion program. She was the connector of designers, hand picking the best of the best to work for houses across the world, kick starting careers and moulding ideas. Her knowledge of fashion history made her the complete authority on ingenuity -- knowing for certain what was original in fashion and what was not. This is how we have ended up with Christopher Kane's consistently fresh collections, and how the world came to know Lee McQueen as Alexander.

 I was in fact reminded of Lee's funeral, where his family are said to have felt alienated by the fashion crowd, as they represented something so different from the life they knew him to live -- there was a complete disconnect from the man they knew, and the work he produced. There was none of that disparity on Friday. Donna Karan, Louise's longtime friend and collaborator, embraced her son T.J. like family. T.J. too spoke of his mother at work, and how she was completely dedicated to the university and her family in equal measures.

As we filed out of the cathedral to attend the first day of London Fashion Week, the lasting words of Wilson's friend John Vial hung in the air — that "future students at St. Martins are going to greatly miss out on Louise's teaching." It makes you wonder how the next generations of designers will be affected by this loss, but we can rest assured that the students she did teach will be influencing the industry for many, many years to come.