My best teacher

10th January 2003 at 00:00
I get on best with women teachers, and those I remember most were not only good teachers, they also all had style.

There was a certain naughtiness about Miss Watson, who taught piano at Port Regis, the prep school for Bryanston in Dorset. She was great. I loved her. She had lots of different outfits, mostly tailored tweeds, and marvellously pearlised handbags with shoes to match. She used to play the piano every morning in assembly, and as she played she wiggled her bottom. We were all mesmerised.

I can remember playing Chopin and telling her that what I really wanted to learn was syncopated beat because I wanted to be able to play Elvis Presley songs, and she broke off in the middle of the lesson and started playing Elvis. She did it well and obviously enjoyed it. But the Latin master came flying out of the room next door complaining that it wasn't the sort of music you expected to hear in a public school.

I was a shy and portly child and Mrs Baker, who taught art, took me under her wing and encouraged me. You expect teachers to encourage you, but I found that many of them took away my self-confidence. I didn't like boarding, but I didn't have a choice. Nobody asked me if I wanted to go away to school, I was following in the footsteps of my father and older brother, both of whom had been happy there.

When I got to the senior school my favourite teacher was Dr Mash, whom we called Hot Lips because of her very, very red lipstick. She was gorgeous. She had marvellous Renoir-like hair and used to wear low-cut T-shirts, circular skirts with cinched waists and very high heels. She taught biology, which I was absolutely hopeless at, despite her excellent teaching.

Dr Mash's lessons were marvellous. We dissected frogs and cut up worms. But sex education was best of all. She taught it with some aplomb, despite our doing all we could to make her blush. It is a great sadness that, despite her best endeavours, and being really interested in the subject, I failed my biology O-level. I was much more into art, history of art, English and languages. And I always came top of the class in religious studies, which infuriated my father, who was highly atheistic.

Luckily, I have an ability to absorb information and do other things at the same time because I was always doodling. From the age of 13, I was drawing outfits all the time, whatever the lesson. Dr Mash believed in me and encouraged me and she and I came to an arrangement: because I was no good at football, I was allowed to miss games and do the diagrammatic drawings for biology lessons instead, with another boy who also hated sport. But we used to colour in the diagrams, so there must be generations of boys coming out of Bryanston who think that photosynthesis takes place in pink.

We kept in touch, but I didn't see Dr Mash for many years after I left Bryanston until one day we had a marvellous lunch together and caught up with all the gossip.

I went from Bryanston to study art in New York, where my draping teacher, Mrs Gepetta, a very strict, big Italian lady, taught me how to create on a stand. She had worked for Captain Molyneux, the couturier, in Paris, so was steeped in couture, and although we grumbled because we had to stitch everything, all I learned from her has proven to be very useful.

The best days of my life were later as a student in New York. I was not a happy schoolboy. I didn't have a lot in common with my fellow pupils. I was bored and I didn't want to be in Dorset while my family was in London. For me school was like prison, but luckily these ladies made it bearable.

Designer Jasper Conran was talking to Pamela Coleman


1959 Born in London

1972-75 Bryanston school

1975 Parsons School of Art and Design, New York

1978 Launches womenswear collection

1979 Elected to London Designer Collections

1981 Designs his first outfit for Diana, Princess of Wales

1985 Launches menswear collection

1994 Designs Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones's wedding dress

1999 Launches range of crystal glassware

2001 Costumes for Birmingham Royal Ballet's Arthur

2003 Launches range of perfumes, furnishing fabrics and wallpapers

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