Why Rihanna, Rei Kawakubo and a psychotic assassin all love ‘very’ British designer Molly Goddard
- Goddard’s designs have a real girlishness underlaid with rebelliousness
- The designer talks about starting out, Brexit and the avoidance of perfection
Molly Goddard is often described as a very British designer – a concept that has become loaded with meaning over the last two years. As the Brexit debate rages through the halls of Westminster, our idea of Britishness has come under intense scrutiny. But if Goddard – an ardent ‘Remainer’ and lifelong Londoner – encapsulates the country she was born in through her clothes, it is due to her attraction to all things unconventional.
“I do love the eccentricity and the craft side of things in England,” she says, when we meet on a sunny autumn day in her studio in East London. “And smocked dresses, which I guess I am known for, are quite an English thing. There are lots of odd things about this country that I find appealing – vegetable fairs and marmalade competitions, and all that. There is a tweeness to it – but it’s not actually that twee, because nothing is quite right. I don’t like things when they’re too nice, then they don’t interest me. I don’t make anything obviously beautiful.”
Goddard’s designs, which are stocked by I.T in Hong Kong, should embody gorgeous girlishness. She is known for making dresses and skirts from marshmallow-pink tulle, pale violet lace and intricate smocking. But if at first glance, her creations look deliciously pretty, the rebellious streak soon bubbles up to the surface.
Case in point: her spring/summer 2019 collection. Edie Campbell opened the show in a gingham housecoat that showed off all the designer’s hallmarks – it was trimmed with frills and cross-stitched with Goddard’s initials, and swung prettily below her knees. But underneath, Campbell was wearing a pair of black hot pants and flip flops, and her hair was scraped up in a ’70s-style mohawk.
Goddard’s shows feel like a party you want to be invited to. Where other designers spend millions of dollars transforming museums and churches into tropical beaches, Buddha gardens or fairgrounds, Goddard has Campbell and other models swigging from glasses of wine as they sashay barefoot down the catwalk.
“Set design is so important,” she says. “But I don’t think it should be about perfection – instead it’s about creating a mood, and I think you can do that quite rustically. It’s such a quick moment, and I don’t like the wastefulness of making everything perfect.”
It is this rejection of the aesthetic ideal that makes Goddard’s work feel particularly British. As a general rule, London – unlike Milan or New York – relishes fashion that is slightly transgressive, and prefers its muses with unwashed hair and bitten down nails. The Goddard girl is one who will stay out until dawn in her pretty pastels and ruin her ivory silk dress with a splash of red wine or an errant cigarette.
Plenty of women are drawn to the inherent rebelliousness in Goddard’s frothy, fabulous confections. Rihanna, Cindy Sherman, Rei Kawakubo, Alexa Chung and Adwoa Aboah are fans – as is Villanelle, the delightfully psychotic fictional assassin in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hit television show, Killing Eve. In what has become one of the most memorable scenes in the show, Villanelle waits in her Paris flat for her handler while ensconced in gauzy, hot-pink Molly Goddard.
“What was amazing was how many people who shouldn’t recognise my clothes did from that show,” she says. “My dad’s friends, for example, were ringing up asking if it was my dress, which was great. It made me realise my clothes are now quite recognisable.”
Goddard’s family and friends have been integral to her ascendancy to the top of the British design industry. She was floundering at the end of her degree at Central Saint Martins five years ago and was persuaded by her boyfriend to make a last-ditch attempt at creating a label. Her sister styled it, her parents staged it and she only made the clothes she loved – oversized tulle dresses in neon orange and pink. Dover Street Market was in the house and placed an order the very next day.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened,” she says, with a grin. “I guess elements of my show were very familiar to people, but not in a way they had seen before. I wanted to make my dresses out of organza, but I was a broke student and couldn’t afford it, so I picked tulle instead. The moment I started working with it, I realised how much I loved it.”
There is a wackiness to Goddard’s designs that brings to mind the joyful way children put together their outfits, driven purely by self-expression and fun. I ask if the inherent joie de vivre in her collections is a way of escaping the current political climate – and like all good Londoners, our conversation turns to Brexit.
“I’m very worried about it – it’s hard not to be when we have no idea what’s going on,” she says. “Although that’s difficult to express in my work. I think politics and fashion are connected in the way any form of escapism is connected to what’s happening in the world at the moment, which is all s***.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to be politically charged and engaged,” she continues, “but it’s only fashion and there’s not that much you can do apart from designing a slogan T-shirt or putting on a sombre show. Personally, I’d much rather create clothes that are about other things – celebrating women and colour and all that.”
But luckily – as Rihanna, Edie Campbell, our favourite fictional psychopathic killer, and Goddard herself all know – it’s impossible not to feel hopeful in marshmallow-pink tulle.