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.
‘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.
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