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Molly Goddard AW16
Molly Goddard AW16Photography Chris Rhodes

In an age of fast fashion, Molly Goddard takes it slow

With an AW16 presentation that saw a gang of frizzy-haired muses just hanging out, the Dazed 100 designer remains set on doing things her way

This is one of four features on the Dazed 100 designers who showed their AW16 collections at London Fashion Week. Vote for Molly Goddard in the Dazed 100 here, and stay tuned for pieces on Richard Malone, Claire Barrow, and Ashley Williams

In a season where labels are increasingly pitted on either side of an ongoing nostalgia debate – baldly recycling the 70s and 80s, or working out their anxieties about the future – Molly Goddard is delightfully idiosyncratic. “I don’t know if nostalgia and the past are the same thing,” she muses. “I’m not saying let’s go back to Victorian times. I just mean things that happened 10 years ago or 30 years ago or 100 years ago. They could all be important things to reference. Or even just when you were a kid... I always look at things that excited me at the time.”

We’re upstairs at The French House, the Soho pub where Francis Bacon and Dylan Thomas have been known to nurse pints and brandish fags and lock themselves in deep conversation after-hours. That a room so steeped in memories both personal and communal also serves as Molly’s showroom today seems fitting to an AW16 collection that played with the markers of fashion’s history. Having said that, the presence of hundreds of yards-worth of the girliest, frilliest, most delicate of dresses in black, orange, mint green, aqua and pink might seem a little odd.

Of all of London’s young design talent to be excited about right now, Molly Goddard is a testament to doing things differently, and doing it well. This Saturday, she showed her fourth collection at London Fashion Week – a presentation, sponsored by the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN programme, that saw nineteen frizzy-haired girls take over Tate Britain’s Clore Gallery for a no-boys-allowed evening soiree. 

The presentation, which closed with the girls infectiously dancing and twirling to a spot of rave after the tinkling piano of earlier in the evening, felt like a nod back to the spiked punch and balloons of the ‘Fun Molly Party’ where it all truly began, some two years ago. When Goddard showed her SS15 collection through hosting a party instead of an on-schedule presentation, it was partly out of necessity – having left the pressured environment of a Central Saint Martins MA, she wanted an opportunity to showcase her garments with a limited budget. Now, after her increasing on-schedule success, she will have a permanent space in Dover Street Market’s new Haymarket store.

But the DIY spirit of those early days has remained a constant, whether that’s through street-casting models with the help of her stylist sister and fellow Dazed 100-er Alice, or creating settings for presentations where the models actually have something to do other than stand around. “My sister casts the girls and she really gets the kind of people I want. We had some people come who were very perfect, and drama school-ish, and we were both just like, ‘Oh no… too much!’ We don’t even have to say it, we just know who’s got the right attitude and who doesn’t for the show straight away,” she says, adding with a grin, “Maybe that’s a sisterly bond, I don’t know!” Goddard’s real girls – slightly self-conscious, but confident on their own terms – shine with a kind of bright individuality rarely seen among the po-faced models at other presentations. “Alice found amazing people this time,” says Goddard of the on-stage girl gang, who she says became fast friends before the night was through. “They all swapped numbers and went out afterwards!”

Apart from the set’s all-white columns and piano referencing the surreal visuals of Japanese yakuza film Tokyo Drifter (1966), this season Goddard preferred to let her creations do the talking, contrasting with previous seasons’ concepts – a depressing sandwich factory for SS16 (inspired, partly, by “bleak English summers”) and AW15’s boarding school life drawing class. “You don’t want it to become gimmicky, I think that’s always a fear,” she says. “It is about the clothes, although still thinking about the idea of the whole girl.”

“I do think a lot of what we do is a kind of couture. It is all hand-made and hand-sewn and hand-gathered! That’s what couture is really isn’t it? It’s completely unaffordable but it’s inspiring and exciting and fun and glamorous” – Molly Goddard

For Goddard, the pared back setting was reflective of a new focus. “I was just really interested in fabrics,” she says, “which I always am! But it was exciting, all the different techniques.” In practice, this meant a softer weight tulle (“easier and way quicker to smock”) and mustard corduroy bought from an supplier who had long-since discontinued production (“I was like, shit – I’ve got 400 meters of corduroy before I’ve even made anything!”). Today, the showroom is evidence that it is as much about what’s not in the show as what is in the show: in this case, mesh long-sleeve tops embroidered by a lady in East Sussex, and transparent neon PVC handbags that, originally, Goddard wanted to have the girls carry around Kit Kats in.

Resistant to the practice of designers sharing their references as an instant, scrollable moodboard, Goddard’s world is instead a reflection of a kind of slow-time: that the long, careful process of cutting, sewing and hand-smocking the garments is visible in the finished result is what ultimately makes them so desirable. It’s in this sense that her small London studio might share more with couture houses than other contemporary design start-ups. “I do think a lot of what we do is a kind of couture,” she says. “It is all hand-made and hand-sewn and hand-gathered! That’s what couture is really isn’t it? It’s completely unaffordable but it’s inspiring and exciting and fun and glamorous. It’s easy to just make dresses that people can wear and I wanted to do that – but I also wanted to make things that people might not be able to wear.”

It’s no wonder that Goddard turned to the grand couture showcases of old for her presentation this season – she cites YouTube videos of Thierry Mugler and John Galliano’s epic shows in the 80s and 90s, as well as old salon shows, where “the models take off their coat and then they take off their gloves and they show you every little inch of seaming”, as inspirations. For what other context could call for 40 yards of unabashedly resplendent, glamorous, impractical tulle in a single gown? Apart from sitting around a pub in the early afternoon, of course. In Goddard’s world, opulent luxury never veers too far from wearability, nor farflung memories from modern life.