The London-based designer doesn’t pay attention to noise – instead she prefers to create volume.
By Rahim Attarzadeh
Portrait by Lee Whittaker
Film by Tegen Williams
The London-based designer doesn’t pay attention to noise – instead she prefers to create volume.
“I would never consider one of my shows to be particularly on-trend. I don’t really know what that means because I don’t know who it is that defines the trends,” Molly Goddard tells System. Over the past eight years, the designer’s collections have played host to a series of color-coded tulle silhouettes, fabulous frocks and seditious takes on traditional knitwear that all in-turn reveal a perfect flurry of color, good humor and sheer exuberance. To put it shrewdly, Molly Goddard’s models march to the beat of their own drum.
Fast-forward to present day and Goddard has established herself as one of London’s most promisingly propitious and humble designers. Her Autumn/Winter 2022 collection saw her take on an aesthetic crossover between Marilyn Monroe and Mick Jones of The Clash – all in an artistic adulation of London’s post-punk scene surrounding DIY rookery and Molly’s backyard, Portobello Market. If her last collection revealed a more singular vision tapping into a conscious collective of Cool Britannia, the mission statement for Goddard’s Spring/Summer 2023 offering was simple: color clash, texture clash, or better that, clad clash.
Models criss-crossed each other through the gymnasium sporting a contrasted mix of prismatic and obsidian tulle dresses and skirts. The show was divided into four phases, with each series of looks exhibiting a riotous increase in Goddard’s silhouetted variety and the multifariousness of her revered body of work. Her calico dresses were an echoed homage to her tulle-dressed roots paired with kaleidoscopic cowboy boots. The pink gowns were cut in jersey and intrepid torso combinations revealed the relationship between the designer’s silhouettes and fabrics. Daring neon color-combinations were also met with Goddard’s more stripped back and noir looks. Her menswear endeavor since its inception in 2020 continues to endure her auteur approach to design, with a series of telescoped tailoring accompanied by atypical Molly Goddard frills, a comely high-waisted British military green bomber and a full-length pinstripe skirt.
System caught up with Goddard ahead of her Spring/Summer 2023 show to discuss the power of letting her work do the talking, why her dresses most certainly aren’t ‘frou-frou’ and how she is simply too quick off the mark to indulge in ‘fast-fashion’.
Let’s start in the present. Can you talk me through your upcoming collection? The references, the themes, the motifs? There’s a beautiful consistency within your work, which you’re able to expand on and add specific elements to collection-after-collection.
Molly Goddard: I’m still working out exactly how to feel about it! I find it hard to find the right kind of vocabulary or confidence to sum up the collection whilst making perfect sense. For me, there are always a lot of references. I’ll do hours of research that come from many different places, so to pinpoint the collection in any way is always impossible for me.
One of the main points of reference was looking at red carpet images from the pre-internet or Instagram age. Back when everyone just looked like they were having a good time! They were much less self-conscious. There was more ease to ‘going out’. People dressed up but dressed down simultaneously. That’s a big part of this collection. I focused on being able to push the fabrics to their maximum; combined with those juxtaposing pieces. We’ve got ball gowns in cotton and evening dresses made out of jersey. It goes back to that feeling of ease when dressing up and feeling special. The 70s, 80s, and early 90s red carpet pictures really sum up the concept.
Speaking of the pre internet age, how do you feel it has changed people’s view towards fashion nowadays? The forever-expanding relationship between Instagram and fashion. Is that something that you pay much attention to? Or do you just find yourself going deep in your own world whilst blocking all of that out?
Molly Goddard: I block it out. It’s not something I’m into. I have never taken a selfie before. I’m not that kind of person. I’m not anti social media – it’s just not something I take into consideration. For me, the shows are about wearing clothes and being in the moment, not for a photograph or any other reason. I think fashion has become a much more challenging industry because people constantly expect new imagery and newness. What we do is not fast fashion. It’s careful and it’s considered. It’s old school but it’s practical.
‘I block it out. It’s not something I’m into. I have never taken a selfie before. I’m not that kind of person.’
The past is something that’s been a driving force behind a Molly Goddard collection. You just mentioned how this season was heavily influenced by old red carpet imagery. Your Autumn/Winter 2022 collection was influenced by London’s subcultural scene around Portobello Market, post-punk and new romantics in their 90s heyday. That sense of getting wearability out of clothing and embodying timelessness is a fundamental part of your work. How important has the past been in defining your outlook on fashion today?
Molly Goddard: I spent more time focusing on shoes last season than I ever have before! For each collection I get immersed in a world and for Autumn/Winter 2022 I became obsessed with what people were wearing and the street style photos I found around Portobello Market. I know that’s what I bang on about all the time, but I did work there, it’s a part of me, and I still think it has a charm. I know people feel differently about it nowadays but there is still an interesting and creative energy surrounding the market. Some of the pieces you’re able to find on a Friday morning at 9am are amazing. You still get people who dress interestingly over there, maybe not as much as before but it’s there if you know what you’re looking for.
‘That’s really important to me – that you don’t see someone wanting to buy the full runway look. There’s more of a fluid approach to understanding the clothes before instantly shopping for them.’
You mentioned that for this season you are working with a lot of different fabrics. In previous interviews, you’ve often said that you prefer to use what you call simple fabrics. Does the simplicity in design reflect how you want your clothes to be versatile? Also the feeling of ‘wearing in’ your clothes so they appear less precious?
Molly Goddard: For me, it’s never been about that French or Italian element in creating the ‘perfect’ jacket or using a specific woven wool, or anything like that. I’m more excited about fabrics like cotton as it’s really bouncy and papery. It’s something that looks great when manipulated whereas when you’re faced with a stunning jacquard, there’s not really a lot you can do with it. That really bores me! I love technical fabrics and I also want my clothing to be durable. I want you to be able to put my dresses in the washing machine. That’s why I love using tulle. You can pack it up in a suitcase and when you take it out, it pops back into its original shape. I think it’s very important not to feel too precious about clothing. I want my clothes to be kept forever and treasured. More importantly, I really want my dresses to be worn over and over again in the same way you should wear jeans and a t-shirt.
Would you say that buying a Molly Goddard dress is more about buying less, but buying an investment? It’s anti the seemingly apparent system of fast-fashion and hyper-consumerism. The less is more approach?
Molly Goddard: I don’t think anything we do is particularly trend-driven. I would never consider one of my shows to be particularly on-trend. I don’t really know what that means because I don’t know who it is that defines the trends. For me, it’s about combining current and previous seasons. Wearing less dresses, but ones that you really love and ones that make you feel special.
I remember watching a video you did with the V&A back in 2017 about how Cristóbal Balenciaga and his bold silhouettes have been a major source of inspiration within your own unique approach to dressmaking. Do you often find yourself delving deeper into the past and looking at those types of designers as opposed to anything current? Was there a particular body of work you looked at for this season?
Molly Goddard: Cristóbal Balenciaga is one of my absolute favorites. For this collection, I don’t know if I should even say it but Charles James has always been a massive source of inspiration. The way he went about creating total perfection, which ironically I’m not necessarily about. There’s a clumsiness to my silhouettes which may not be very Charles James but I always admired his approach in creating shapes on the body - as I do with Cristobal’s work. Pushing fabrics to their real extreme and letting the fabric do the work is what drove me further this season.
The term ‘frou-frou’ has often been attributed to some of your collections. Critics have said something along the lines of ‘at first glance, her clothes may look frou-frou…’ Do you find that the industry, at least at first, did not really understand how to perceive your clothes?
Molly Goddard: I hate the term! You can look at a pink frilly dress and think it’s princessy but then you can also take my pieces and style them in a way that is the exact opposite of that. It’s frustrating to hear it but I realize that I have to relinquish control at some point. Once the dresses are out there, they’re out there for anyone to do whatever they want with them. I can’t control everything – just what comes down the runway. People can go to a store and buy my dresses and do a whole awful princess shoot if they want. As long as my customers understand, which they do. Not everyone will but that’s life. The majority get it. I never wanted my pieces to make people feel different. I think they’re always made to work with that person and their specific style. That’s really important to me – that you don’t see someone wanting to buy the full runway look. There’s more of a fluid approach to understanding the clothes before instantly shopping for them.
‘It’s only after it’s happened and you’re being interviewed backstage when you suddenly think, ‘Oh shit, that’s what we just did!’ The show is the only opportunity the team and I have to show the collection in the way that we really want to show it.’
So, the show is the main part of the collection process where you feel like you have complete control over people’s perception? Do you pay any attention to your pop culture success? Your dresses have been worn on the red carpet by the likes of Rihanna. You’ve had celebrity models and muses such as Edie Campbell take on your biggest and loudest gowns. Obviously your work with the Met and their Camp Collection. Let’s not forget Jodie Comer on the award-winning show Killing Eve. Now that there’s this world of Molly Goddard dresses starting to form, does that bring in a sense of self-consciousness that perhaps wasn’t there before? Now that you can see yourself through other people’s eyes? Or do you simply switch your computer off after a show?
Molly Goddard: There’s always self-consciousness. I just learn to live with it. I never intended to build a brand under my own name. That was never my dream. I’m grateful it has happened. But I never wanted it to be about me. With the Spring/Summer 2023 show, I have to block out the fact that I’ve invited a few hundred people to come and actually see a Molly Goddard show. I can’t even consider it because it feels too revealing and scary. It’s only after it’s happened and you’re being interviewed backstage when you suddenly think, ‘Oh shit, that’s what we just did!’ The show is the only opportunity the team and I have to show the collection in the way that we really want to show it. I will always feel self-conscious.
I want to finish on a quote by Yohji Yamamoto about individuality. He once said: ‘I never wanted to walk on the main street of fashion. I have been walking the sidewalks of fashion from the very beginning.’ Is that an ideology that you have unknowingly emulated?
Molly Goddard: Yeah. I don’t always love doing press stuff, but I understand that it comes with the territory. More recently than in the past, I just want my work to be about my clothes and nothing to do with me. So yes, I keep in the background.