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Molly Goddard: feminists do wear frills

molly-goddard:-feminists-do-wear-frills

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Asking Molly Goddard if she likes being part of London Fashion Week is a bit like asking Harry Kane if he likes playing in the Champions League. The 31-year-old fashion designer, whose supersized tulle dresses have become a signature for contemporary cool-girl style, takes no time to answer: “I think people get a bit bored of me banging on about it all the time but it really is such an amazing place”. 

We are meeting at her East End studio, a stone’s throw from Bethnal Green station. But Goddard’s heart resides at the other end of the Central line. 

Certainly, the fashion designer’s childhood stomping ground of Portobello Road remains a perennial source of inspiration. The daughter of a graphic designer and a primary school art teacher, she was raised in the area alongside her sister Alice (now her stylist, and long-term collaborator). “My parents were quite cool — they knew lots of cool people,” she says. 

Goddard, who has striking strawberry blonde hair and wears a checked dress from her current collection for our meeting, is following in their footsteps. She is stylish — without trying to be — as well as warm and charismatic. 

Her latest collection, to be unveiled at London Fashion Week tomorrow, is inspired by a photograph of the designer with her father, taken in the Portobello Road area in the late Nineties and immortalised in a book of street style. 

Molly Goddard at the British Fashion Awards 2018 (Mike Marsland/Getty Images)

“I’m inspired by all the places I grew up around, from Kensington Market to Camden, but Portobello was such a creative place to live. I still think it is, but it was so exciting back then. I have so many memories of walking down to the market and always wanting to get dressed up to go”. 

Undoubtedly, it is Goddard’s affection for a look that’s unmistakably “London” that underpins her eponymous fashion line and is the reason women — from models to school teachers to Rihanna — have fallen for its charms. 

“It’s about the clashing of things. Something from a charity shop mixed with your mum’s posh coat,” says Goddard. “You’ve got interesting old clothes that you might have bought and a load of cheap crap but somehow it looks great altogether.” This strong sense of identity has won Goddard praise from the industry. At the Fashion Awards in 2016, just two years after launching her label, she was handed the British Emerging Talent Award, and in 2018, she was announced as the recipient of the Vogue Designer Fashion Fund. 

Her business has also benefited from a host of well-known ambassadors. Among them are west Londoners Edie Campbell — who showcased one of Goddard’s iconic fuchsia gowns when she wore it to the Met Ball last year — and model Adwoa Aboah. Both are friends of the designer. 

Edie Campbell wearing Molly Goddard to the Met Gala (Getty Images for The Met Museum/)

“We didn’t grow up together,” says Goddard, who went to state school in Holland Park. “They’re the posh lot. And I wasn’t in the posh lot at the time. I infiltrated later in life.” 

The designer’s international reputation also benefited from a starring role in the wardrobe of super-assassin Villanelle, who wore a frothy pink Goddard creation in the first season of Killing Eve. 

With all these successes, I’m surprised when she tells me that she flunked the MA at Central Saint Martins (alumni include Christopher Kane and John Galliano). “I was doing all these extra projects and getting like two hours of sleep a night,” she says of her time on the course. “It made me nervous and depressed.” Goddard took some time out and returned a year later — during the same week that Central Saint Martins’ formidable leader Louise Wilson died from breast cancer — to find out she had failed. 

Assasin Villanelle wearing the now-iconic pink Molly Goddard dress in the first season of Killing Eve (Sid Gentle Films/Robert Viglasky)

It’s here that Goddard’s own fashion fairytale begins. With nothing to show for three years of work and with support from her boyfriend Tom, she set to work at her kitchen table on a collection of 15 dresses. The plan was to show them off at a party to be held at a town hall in Mayfair, which they’d rented for £150 — in the hope that it might help her get a job. 

“I never wanted to do my own thing. I think I always saw it as a bit egotistical,” she says. However, in the days after the event, when the phone started ringing with calls from stores — including Dover Street Market, which was among the first to stock her designs — it became clear that the universe had other plans. With orders to fulfil, Goddard squeezed her pattern-cutting table into her mum’s spare room and got down to work. “I’d get there at 8am and leave at midnight,” she tells me. “It was madness.”

These days — like every other established label — she works with factories to create most of the pieces in her collections. But her design ethos remains unchanged. Goddard is not the sort of designer to lurch from trend to trend. Instead her collections, always focused on dresses, are an evolution of what has come before. 

She tells me she is obsessed with vintage children’s clothes, citing her BA collection, for which she created up-scaled versions of dresses she wore as a child, as one of her favourites. But she is reluctant to describe what she does as nostalgic. “I don’t like to be put into a bracket,” she says. She’s not comfortable with “pretty”, either. “I think pretty is prissy and not that interesting. I think a lot about how our dresses will be worn; even if it’s the biggest, frilliest dress I want you to be able to run round the park in it. It’s not twee.” 

A study of the women who are drawn to her clothes confirms Goddard as a pioneer of a new kind of power dressing, which invites women to be fierce and feminine at the same time. “I think our woman is strong and fun and up for a good time. And a sense of humour is important,” she says. “Clothes should not be made to restrict. I think the only thing that is truly sexy is someone who feels comfortable.”

Molly Goddard’s spring/summer 20 collection 

Undoubtedly it’s this quality that has inspired Goddard to be her own best customer. “I’ve ordered 50 pieces from the last collection,” she says. “I need to make room for them”. 

Despite the children’s clothes hiding under her desk, Goddard runs a grown-up operation to match her grown-up brand. “It’s all very proper. We’re living-wage accredited and everyone has a contract,” she says, aware that this sets her business apart from many of her contemporaries running small fashion brands. “I’m really proud of that.”

And yet, despite the professionalism, there’s still a sense that this remains the kitchen-table brand. This is precisely how Goddard likes it. 

“I don’t want to grow too much, or suddenly start doing shows with 80 looks in them and producing hundreds of clothes. I want to keep doing what we’re doing and find other areas of growth.” 

Recent collaborations and capsule collections with stores such as MatchesFashion.com and Dover Street Market are fine examples of how this might manifest. When the time is right, Goddard would also like to add a bespoke element to her business. 

“More than anything, what I really want to do is to make clothes that people will wear forever and ever.” Undeniably, there’s something pretty cool about that. 

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