When the fashion industry shut down in March, designer Molly Goddard thought she “might never make another collection again”. With orders rapidly cancelled as stores closed their doors, Goddard recalls being “on the phone to my accountant every day”. As the first wave receded and the world opened up, she began designing a few “very pared back” pieces. “I was thinking I might make 10 simple white dresses, perhaps.”
Then, as her team became able to spend some time together in the studio, “more and more colour” crept in. In the end the collection is one of Goddard’s most exuberant to date, with traffic-light colours and fizzing explosions of tulle on almost every look.
It is no accident that seven of the 31 outfits in Goddard’s new collection are pink frilly dresses. Pink smocked-tulle dresses are to Goddard’s brand what bouclé tweed jackets are to Chanel. They have given her an instantly recognisable signature look – and one which resonates with alpha women of the moment. Beyoncé wore a frothy, floor-length Molly Goddard dress, accessorised with a matching fuchsia headdress, in this summer’s visual album Black is King. Villanelle, the alpha assassin in Killing Eve, became an on-screen style icon when she wore an earlier, paler and shorter iteration of the same dress in 2018.
Goddard’s obsession with smocking and shirring is ingrained from the dresses her mother, an art teacher, made for the designer and her sister Alice when they were children. As a young unknown designer Goddard began working with tulle simply because smocking and gathering require large volumes of fabric, and nylon tulle is inexpensive.
The distinctive result – an idiosyncratic mix of sweet and brassy – became her calling card. While supply chains were cut this spring, having smocking as a signature became an asset because “I can do what I do with black or white cotton, and where possible we work with factories local to us in London.” A pair of simple black and white ballerina-length cotton sundresses feature in the final collection as a chic, pared-down take on the brand’s trademark look.
After studying at Central Saint Martins, Goddard’s career took off in 2014 when she threw a small show – a party in a church hall with friends wearing her dresses, rather than a catwalk – and found herself with orders from prestigious boutiques for 80 dresses. Her second show was a life drawing class; at her third, the audience watched models making sandwiches. Without a studio, she made all 80 in her parents’ spare room. In 2017 she was a finalist for the LVMH prize, and the following year won the British Fashion Council’s prestigious Vogue Fashion Fund award.
The model Edie Campbell, who wore a pink tulle Molly Goddard dress to 2019’s Met Gala, told Vogue that she liked how Goddard’s work “transforms the wearer into a bigger, better version of themself because they – physically and psychologically – take up space”.