Art of Style

The designer interview: Molly Goddard

MOLLY GODDARD’s exquisitely crafted collections have allowed us all to indulge in the joy of dressing up – and we just can’t get enough. GILLIAN BRETT meets the designer elevating the fun side of fashion, one glorious dress at a time

Photography Lee WhittakerStyling Marian Nachmia
Molly Goddard, wearing one of her own creations

There is no doubt that what we wear directly affects our mood. For many of us, this became glaringly obvious during lockdown, when the vast majority leaned into leisurewear like a big sartorial security blanket. But after months on end of cozy cashmere, the desire to dress up and rediscover the joy we get from the more fashion-forward pieces in our wardrobe is intensifying. It’s not just the serotonin we’re craving: in many ways, dressing up is a powerful reclamation of our self-expression – and our identity, too.

One designer who deals exclusively in mood-boosting, fantastical fashion is Londoner Molly Goddard. Totally uncompromising in her vision since she launched her eponymous label in 2014, Goddard has taken her rainbow-hued taffeta and tulle dresses to the upper echelons of the British fashion industry. Now considered one of London’s most esteemed designers, her shows are among the city’s hottest tickets, and her inimitable, capacious gowns are catnip for formidable dressers, from Rihanna to Cindy Sherman.

Even in the current Covid climate, Goddard is sticking to her guns. “I’ve not felt very worried about people wearing tracksuits the whole time if they’re working from home; I, and every woman in my team, still wore a dress every day,” explains the 31-year-old designer. “Suddenly thinking about making more laid-back clothing isn’t the thing. In many ways, creating clothes that make people feel really joyful and excited is more the route I think is important – and it’s actually what I think our customer would want.”

Dress, Molly Goddard

Picturing Goddard’s team gliding around her studio in ample, brightly colored gowns is exactly the kind of spirited vision the brand has become synonymous with. But it isn’t all about the frivolity of maximalism – hers is a label deeply rooted in craftsmanship, which ostensibly kept it afloat during an extremely challenging time for the industry at large. “We managed to make a pre-collection in lockdown because we work mainly with manufacturers in Europe. I like working with relatively simple fabrics, and it’s what we do to them that transforms them into something really interesting; whether it’s smocking, shirring, gathering or frills. We’ve built a community of factories and people that we work with in London who we’ve trained to do those techniques, in ways that they maybe weren’t used to before, so it was really interesting knowing that we could still make clothes, even though everything was in lockdown. We couldn’t [do it] the whole time, but it was manageable.” Goddard is also highly conscious of waste. “The way we make garments and manage things is very restrained,” she says. “A lot of design decisions are often made based on not wanting to waste half a roll of fabric because of the way you would have to cut it.”

Working from home, Goddard and her team stepped in as fit models (a testament to her universally flattering silhouettes) and, once they could get back into her east London studio safely, shot the Resort 2021 lookbook in an adjacent, newly acquired gallery space using her house model, Liberty. If this collection is anything to go by, Goddard’s audacious eye and vast creativity hasn’t been hampered by the bleakness of the preceding months: expertly crafted fluoro-pink tiered midi dresses sat alongside elegant teal gowns and coffee-colored knits, as well as plenty of not-so-basic LBDs.

Suddenly thinking about making more laid-back clothing isn’t the thing. In many ways, creating clothes that make people feel really joyful and excited is more the route I think
Dress, Molly Goddard; sandals, Prada

The woman behind this larger-than-life brand is surprisingly softly spoken, level-headed and humble. The founding of her now internationally renowned label was relatively unintentional. After failing her MA in Fashion Knitwear at Central Saint Martins – “I was having such a bad time at it and got very confused and forgot to do certain things; not a good time in my life” – Goddard was worried she had little to present in her portfolio and decided to stage a show at London Fashion Week. “I don’t even know where the confidence to do it came from,” she explains, six years later. Having rallied some friends as models, and with the support of her boyfriend, Tom (who now works in fashion PR), she set to work making 20 dresses in her front room. “I think I spent £300 in total on the whole thing – we rented a church hall, got someone to give us rum, bought some bagels, and just had this guy singing in the corner; it was kind of all hands on deck. It was really fun.” What she hoped would help her get a job ended up bagging Goddard her first stockist. “All of a sudden, I had an order for the collection, which was crazy because I had no business structure or money or anything in place, so that was quite a challenge – but a good one.”

As well as commercial success, her show/party garnered critical acclaim, as fashion editors fell for her wholly unique vision. “No one was doing tulle party dresses, pairing them with sneakers and ratty sweaters and arguing that they should be worn for day until Molly showed up,” says Vogue fashion critic and Molly Goddard aficionado Lynn Yaeger. “I always feel like the prettiest person in the room in my Molly dresses,” she continues, recalling two favorites in particular: an Alice-blue dress from Goddard’s first collection (“which I think she hand-smocked on her kitchen table”) and the voluminous black number she wore to Vogue’s pre-Met party at Stonewall last year (“Paloma Elsesser was wearing the same dress, but I didn’t care!”).

All of a sudden, I had an order for the collection, which was crazy because I had no business structure or money or anything in place, so that was quite a challenge – but a good one
Dress, Molly Goddard; boots, Ann Demeulemeester; sunglasses, Loewe

Goddard’s shows remain Yaeger’s highlight on the London schedule. “I particularly loved one early on, in February 2015, when the set was turned into an art studio and the models were painting from a live model.” Alongside life-drawing classes, Goddard has shown her collections via a lavish candlelit banquet in London’s Tate Modern Tanks and a strobe-lit rave on the runway. Model Edie Campbell – a regular on Goddard’s runways – has equally fond memories of her shows: “There was one show – I think it was the first I did for Molly – and all the models were presented with a glass of champagne beforehand. I was really struck by how Molly had created such a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, both at her show and in her brand. She seemed like she was having a giggle in a potentially stressful moment.” For SS18, Campbell even sashayed onto the runway with a glass of wine in one hand and an e-cigarette dangling from the other, wearing an ethereal, empire-waisted white dress with stompy leather boots, bringing the backstage revelry to the front row.

Campbell, who also makes up Goddard’s eclectic clientele, praises her designs for bestowing their wearer with a physical and psychological presence. “They literally take up space and you feel like you’re wearing a fabulous sculpture, but the big dresses move with a carefree lightness that means they never restrict you,” she explains. “Her clothes can sometimes be misread as being cute or girly in a coy sense, but I think Molly plays with the traditional idea of ‘girliness’ in a subversive and punky way.” Goddard’s designs exude a confident feminist energy; their beauty lies in their literal and figurative layers. “There’s something great about taking up space; it makes you feel big and bold and strong,” agrees Goddard.

Dress, Molly Goddard

The designer enjoys seeing the infinite ways her pieces are styled by her multifaceted admirers. “I love that I can’t really define our customer, or the way people wear things; it’s a real mix. Certain pieces are incredibly simple but have the potential to be layered up and look amazing, like Lynn [Yaeger] does.” Goddard also loves spotting women on the street wearing one of her cotton tops with jeans in a chic and simple way. She herself is a tulle-and-trainers kind of girl, mostly.

This season, Goddard designed a capsule collection that distills her extravagance to elevate the everyday. “I really wanted to make my dream dresses for summer,” she says of the line. “It’s very much using the techniques, silhouettes and fabrics that excite us, but to make something that is just a genuinely good and comfortable dress,” she continues, calling out the oversized cotton shirt dress with a ruffled hem: “You’re sat down and you look like you’re wearing a shirt, then you stand up and you’ve got this enormous A-line gathered skirt attached. There’s still a lot of work in all these pieces; they’re really not that simple in terms of the way they’re made, but they’re definitely a slightly more pared-back version of some of the things we’ve done before.” In fact, they are the perfect hybrid between the kind of everyday clothes we’re transitioning back into and the extra-special, escapist pieces that remind us why we love fashion so much in the first place.

I love that I can’t really define our customer, or the way people wear things; it’s a real mix. Certain pieces are incredibly simple but have the potential to be layered up and look amazing

Next, Goddard has set her sights on bridalwear, having made bespoke designs for a few brides in the past – most famously, British model Agyness Deyn’s ivory and pearly pink puff-sleeved gown for her 2016 Brooklyn Heights nuptials. And, as the fashion world begins its uphill battle to ‘normality’, this designer is looking to the past for stability and hopes to establish a more traditional atelier set-up. “We now have this incredible empty white space that we’re using all the time, but we can totally clear it without it affecting any of our work, so it can become a kind of show space and showroom. [I’ve been] thinking about working in a way that people used to in the old fashion houses… I’d like to start to build that. To have our own space is such a luxury and we’re excited about the opportunity it brings for showcasing, but also because it will allow us to bring customers into the space for made-to-measure and custom pieces, as well as for the bridal project we’re launching later in the year.”

How she’ll be showcasing her Molly magic at London Fashion Week in September is still a little up in the air. “I’ve been quite determined, maybe naively, that we’ll be able to do something physical,” she says. “I think it’s so important to see clothes moving and to really immerse people in that world for a minute, so we’re still planning to do something ‘live’ but are very conscious that we need plan Bs and Cs…”

And though it may be a while until she can throw one of her outrageous show-cum-parties, Goddard’s joyous designs will – emotionally and aesthetically, at least – fill the void for now, and mean we will have something extra-fabulous to wear once real revelry is back in full swing.

Dress, Molly Goddard; hat, Valentino