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Tickled Pink

Molly Goddard’s frothy, fabulous confections have an inherent rebelliousness that has won her plenty of admirers.

Molly Goddard

It isn’t easy to pinpoint the moment when Molly Goddard became the London’s it-girl outfitter of choice.

It might have the 2019 collection where 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 1970s-style mohawk.

It could have been when Rihanna, a long-time Goddard girl, turned the designer’s body-swamping tulle dresses into her super-sexy red-carpet outfits of choice, complete with Nikes, micro sunglasses and a volley of paparazzi lights.

Villanelle wearing Molly Goddard in Killing Eve

But most likely, it was Villanelle, the delightfully psychotic fictional assassin in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hit television show Killing Eve. In what has become of one of the most memorable scenes in the show, Villanelle waits in her Paris apartment for her handler while ensconced in gauzy, hot-pink Molly Goddard, and then runs through a deserted Place Vendome, with the dress trailing behind her in the wind.

Plenty of women are drawn to the inherent rebelliousness in Goddard’s frothy, fabulous confections. As well as Rihanna, Cindy Sherman, Rei Kawakubo, Alexa Chung and Adwoa Aboah are fans, and her show has become one of the most hotly anticipated of London Fashion Week.

Possibly because Goddard is often described as a very British designer (a concept that has become loaded with meaning since 2016, when Brexit forced its citizens to confront what Britishness meant to them). But if Goddard, who voted Remain and has lived in London all her life, encapsulates the creativity of the UK, it is thanks to her love of all things unconventional.

“England definitely means a lot to me, although it is sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that attracts me,” she says, when we meet on a crisp day in her colourful studio in Bethnal Green, in east London. “Maybe it’s a rejection of anything too perfect. I don’t make clothes that are too obviously beautiful. I like things that have an oddness to them, and an attraction you have to look for.”


Molly Goddard SS20 runway show

When Molly Goddard’s dresses and skirts exploded onto the scene, they represented an entirely new aesthetic: all fairy-tale-pink tulle, mint-green lace and ice-cream-coloured smocking. But what really made the fashion press sit up and pay attention was the inherent subversiveness of her creations: they look deliciously pretty at first glance, but then they don’t.

Combined with a biker boot, unwashed hair and a cigarette, they nod to the very English tradition of behaving badly in an innocent dress, a phenomenon that has its roots in punk, which took conventional femininity — the petticoats and the eyeliner — and exploded them. 

Whether a label such as this would have found traction in any of the other fashion capitals is debatable. As a rule, London, unlike Milan or New York, likes clothes that are slightly transgressive, and always idolises its muses with dirty shoes and bitten-down nails. You just know that the Goddard girl will stain her tulle dress with a splash of tequila and fall asleep at dawn with the smell of nicotine on her fingers.

Hence why Goddard’s shows feel like a party you really want to get invited to. Where other designers spend millions of dollars transforming museums and churches into snow-filled ski resorts, Japanese gardens or fancy cruise-liners, Goddard has her models laughing and chatting as they sashay down the catwalk barefoot. Sometimes they even stop for a glass of wine half-way through.

“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.”

Molly Goddard SS20 runway show

In one of her shows last year, held in the pomp and ceremony of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, a model closed the show in a dark-pink dress, the size and cut of which was almost reminiscent of Elizabethan times. That kind of huge silhouette only works because Goddard knows how to play it off against the simple elegance of a scraped-back bun and a pair of flat shoes. As a result, watching the show feels like immersing oneself in the innocent, unselfconscious childhood pleasure of dressing up.

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 seven years ago and was persuaded by her boyfriend (a bassist for indie band Spector) to make one last-ditch attempt at creating a label. Her sister Alice styled it, her parents helped pay for it, and she only made the clothes she loved: oversized tulle dresses in neon orange and pink. The iconic British department store Dover Street Market was in the house and placed an order the very next day. 

“Some of my signature came about because I was actually quite tight with money,” she says with a rueful grin. “Tulle was a lot cheaper than organza and my budget was pretty small, so I went for it. I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened. I guess elements of my show were very familiar to people, but not in a way they had seen before. The moment I started working with tulle, I realised how much I loved it; and I guess it turns out other people did too.”

Coronavirus is, of course, hurting fashion designers around the globe, who are having to cast aside entire collections and shut down their boutiques for what looks like most of the summer. But once this crisis is over, Molly Goddard’s deliciously frothy designs will be back. And luckily, as Rihanna, Edie Campbell and even Villanelle, our favourite fictional psychopathic killer, all know, it’s impossible not to feel hopeful in candy-floss-coloured tulle.