RIP Louise Wilson

I flipped open Facebook on Saturday morning while eating my scrambled eggs and the Vogue newsfeed showed a face shot of Louise Wilson. The very sight halted the journey of the fork from my plate to my mouth. Her face, always so pale and placid and plump as a baby’s bottom, still leaves me ferklempt. Then I noticed the simple words above the picture: Louise Wilson Dies.

Not ferklempt, stunned. I sat still, only my eyes moving over the words. I felt a bit of  blow to the stomach. That was it, a blow.

Louise Wilson doesn’t die. She yells and screams and eats and curses and belly laughs in a fat person way and taunts and dates only black men and orders and points and belittles and asks obnoxious questions and  makes assumptions about your sex life and booms and stares with one glass eye that seems to express more than her real one and wears her badge of political incorrectness with as much pride as her OBE, and guesses the color of your underwear and smokes and slams the phone…but what she doesn’t do is die. Her students might. But she carries on carrying on.Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 4.32.34 PM

‘The red beret’ is a phrase she used to describe the accomplishment of completing her two-year Masters in Fashion programme at Central St Martin’s and in describing her relationship with her students, she said, ‘We’ve been through something together and we all recognise what we went through and it does create a bond. It doesn’t mean we all have to love each other but there’s a camaraderie.’

As many of you know, I refer often to my time at St Martin’s and how it shaped me both professionally and personally and left me misshapen at the same time. Even in this recent post, I recall it. Most people speak of mentors in honeyed tones with an affectionate smile and a wistful look in their eye. But is it possible to have mentors who gave you such a battering that you might cross the street if they were coming towards you all these years later?

My husband tried to make a comparison to the hypothetical death of one of his favorite professors back in Beloit. But is Professor O’Bryan internationally regarded as the best in his field, an unorthodox genius, a maverick that been honored by the Queen for his service? I ask. Nope, thought not. Is he responsible for fueling the industry with behind the scenes talent as well as marquee names? Will history books cite him? Is his name known globally throughout every layer of the industry he operates within? Alright then.

My husband is a screenwriter. If she was a director, she would be Steven Spielberg, I tell him. She makes the Mark Zuckerburgs of fashion, I tell him. She is the president of the NFL, I tell him. Commissioner, he corrects.

Today the world seems divided between those who know who Louise Wilson is and those who think it might have been the name of their old bible studies teacher or babysitter or schoolfriend’s married name or the pianist that played at their wedding…No, the Louise Wilson. There will only ever be one. I’ve been texting a few of my old St Martin’s buddies and noticed the xos at the end of their messages. It must be that bond she referred to. This is a landmark day for us and we are united in confused emotions. We are all forced to reflect on how we were back in London in our early 20s when we were vulnerable and adorably naive, new recruits just trying to earn our stripes, getting knocked about, returning to the barracks covered in dirt, escaping nightly into our pints of cheap tap lager. And then we examine where we are now in relation to then. And then we go back to the three words: Louise Wilson Dies.

Vintage Louise Wilson care of Self Service Magazine

Vintage Louise Wilson care of Self Service Magazine

Maybe it is a fashion designer’s wont to predict movements and new beginnings, but I can’t help hovering around that well-used phrase end of an era. Alexander McQueen is gone; John Galliano imploded, Louise Wilson is dead. Only two years after St Martin’s much-publicised move from its historic Charing Cross Road location. She reportedly didn’t like the new dazzling headquarters much. From a middle-upper class background she had that typical love of squalor. What will the transplanted students do without her in their shiny new display case?

Louise Wilson Dies. It’s the closing of a chapter. For me, anyway.

My novel, some of which is set in St Martins, the rest in the fashion industry at large, is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here



  1. Wow, Jackie, I had never known who Louise Wilson was but after reading your beautiful article I Googled her to find out more. How tragic that she passed so young – it is clear she made quite a mark during her time here. Thank you for your post, it is moving indeed.

    Peace, friend, – Allison xo

    • She was a formidable force in the fashion industry. As well as a key figure in my life. The news knocked me for six, that’s for sure. Made me very reflective and emotional this weekend. I think when someone is that powerful, or appears to be, they seem infallible. Which, of course, none of us are.
      Thanks for checking in XO!

  2. Death is never easy, but anyone passing before their time is a tragedy. So much to live for. Really informative post.about someone I knew nothing. This is a tribute to her in itself.

  3. Does she live on through your teaching? Probably, yes. That is the gift from a teacher — a gift to a student that keeps on giving.
    For you, too, my girl.
    You, too.

    • Well, I can only hope to have the knack of nurturing as much talent as she did. But my teaching is definitely more Louise Lite. Which is just as well as I wouldn’t be able to deal with the hate mail! Some of my students would set their brothers on me and I’d never be heard of again! 🙂

  4. Mat

    I discovered the news through your Facebook post and my physical reaction of shallow breathing, a tightening of my airwaves and almost the release of a tear have surprised me. She was immense, in every sense of the word and I guess my feelings are down to the loss of a such a key figure from such a special time in my life. Louise, the St Martins building, the downstairs bar across the road (what was it called?) where we all laughed and talked and felt so pumped full of St Martins importance, yourself, Jerry, Stacey, Peter and 18 months of unequalled experiences, friendships and growth …..just wow thank you all for being there x

  5. I didn’t go to St Martin’s but anyone who worked in fashion knew who Louise Wilson was. Such sad news but her legacy will live on in you and each and every one of the students whose lives she touched. xxx

    • You’re right, it’s definitely a blow for the industry as a whole. It will be difficult for the current students to return this Monday morning and for the school to bounce back. The juggernaut of fashion will continue undaunted, of course, but a lot of people will be hit personally by her death.
      Have a great week xo

  6. Dear Jackie,
    What a shock!! How death can bite…
    My first introduction to Louise Wilson was not long ago, through the fictional character Eloise via your novel…
    and the magnitude of her personality and influence was felt on our first introduction and now even more so!
    A wise person, whom I know well and has their PHD in grief counseling, has taught me that most people die as they live {live life}…
    and that those who live life “large and loud” will leave a “large and loud” gaping hole in the lives of those they knew.
    But this same person also reminds me that whether their influence was negative or positive, whether they existed to build others up or tear them apart, whether they were loved or were despised…
    the mark {bruise, injury, scar} they leave on our lives helps us heal and grow stronger, a concept that can be difficult to wrap one’s head and emotions around, but one that has proved to be true in my life.
    So today dear Jackie as you continue to grieve the loss and sudden shock of such a potent personality…
    may the life and death of Louise Wilson do the same for you and all those who knew her~ xo
    Sending lots of warm thoughts and tender hugs your way ♥

    • I love the wisdom you leave in your comments.
      It’s true her death has left me a little gobsmacked this weekend–dredging up lots of emotions and making me very reflective–and her time in my life shaped me, and shaped my career. And as you say, both these experiences will indeed make me stronger. I do feel a door closing on something. And hopefully that’s in preparation for something new…You’ll be the first to know!
      Have a great week!

  7. A beautiful tribute to a formidable soul! I am honoured to have made Ms Wilson’s acquaintance through you Jackie.More XOs your way…

  8. I had now idea who Louise Wilson was – but she must have been a very lively person, according to your lovely description, gone far too early!
    Big hug to you on the other side of the ocean xo 🙂

  9. I also didn’t know who Louise Wilson was, but your incredible tribute makes me wish I had known her. Your words are bittersweet with a humor that can only come from the pain of loss. My sympathies to you and all who knew her. *hugs*

    • You’re right there is indeed a lot of humour in the situation when I look back now. And all the events seem as fresh as if they were yesterday.Yes,her death has brought its share of mixed emotions…
      Thanks for the hugs 🙂

  10. So even formidable forces cannot escape. It tis a harsh, mixed-up world..I hear you and think her presence will last for many years to come. I have a fondness for battle axes if it is their passion that drives them rather than their egos xxxxxx

  11. Lovely way to put it. Battle axe is a word I don’t use enough! 🙂

  12. Pingback: Why do you Write? | Maison Bentley Style

  13. ‘ello luv..I’ve tagged you in a blog hop that explores the writing process. Hope you have the time to do it as I for one am keen to read your answers! XXXXX

  14. You bet I do and I thank you indeed. If you’re doing it, Kate, I’m in! Where you lead, I follow 🙂

  15. I’m another who wasn’t familiar with her before, but you’ve really got us to understand who she was (not just her CV) and I’m sorry for your loss – and ours. And of course those close to her as well.

  16. This is a beautifully written tribute to Louise Wilson, who seems like one very incredible lady and mentor. My sincere condolences to you Jackie XO

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