Daphne Brooker, 1927-2012

March 1, 2012

Described by former students as a "one-woman dynasty" and by colleagues as a standard-setter in her discipline, Daphne Brooker had a reputation for driving students to maximise their potential.

After a career as a model (which she found boring) and a spell in costume design, Professor Brooker joined Kingston College of Art as a lecturer in 1962, rising to become head of the School of Fashion. By the time Kingston became a polytechnic in the 1970s, her students had won the Design and Live international student fashion competition in Switzerland four years in a row - and were barred from entering to stop them monopolising the prize.

Named a professor by Kingston in 1981, she broke new ground by holding graduate fashion shows in venues outside the university, including the Royal Academy and the National Portrait Gallery. She also made annual talent-spotting visits to the foundation department to select students to apply for the bachelor's honours course. Helen Storey, now professor of fashion and science at the London College of Fashion, was one of the chosen few.

"There have been a few women who at key moments have shaped my future in lasting ways, and Daphne was one," Professor Storey said. "What they all had in common on first meeting was that they engendered fairly high levels of fear in me. She could be very tough, she absolutely said it as she saw it, and several fell in her path. But what she should be remembered for is her dedication to absolute excellence and professionalism in her students."

Professor Brooker forged industry links that gave students practical as well as theoretical experience, and the relationships she built with Swiss and Italian textile manufacturers kept Kingston's materials cupboard stocked with high-quality fabrics. In 1986, Gordon Richardson, now design director at Topman, was judging a student clothing project for an Italian fabric company when Professor Brooker persuaded him to join Kingston's teaching staff: he was principal lecturer in fashion for a decade.

She enjoyed travelling with students and made many trips to Italy to tour factories and galleries. Mr Richardson, who often accompanied her, recalled: "Food was one of her passions, and thanks to her the only Italian I know is how to read and understand an Italian menu. Never one to seek out the most fashionable places, Daphne always managed to nose out the small trattorias off a back street."

Professor Brooker retired in 1992, the year Kingston became a university. Mr Richardson said: "She was a fashion missionary, someone who passionately believed that, through education and acquired knowledge and craftsmanship, the world would be a better place creatively."

She died on 2 February after a long illness and is survived by her daughter and two grandchildren.


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