When she was a teenager, one of Molly Goddard’s favorite things to do was to visit Dover Street Market, the fashion emporium that was opened in London in 2004 by Adrian Joffe and his wife, Rei Kawakubo, of Comme des Garçons.
“I never had any money, but a friend would buy T-shirts there, so we’d get dressed up and go,” Goddard recalls. “It was like a museum to us. We’d spend hours just looking.”
Ten years later, Goddard’s “little girl” dresses with smocked bodices and billowing skirts made from yards of Day-Glo tulle and tartan taffeta are sold not only at Dover Street Market in London but also at the New York outpost.
“It still seems very surreal for me to be talking to Adrian,” Goddard says. “When he came to the showroom, Rei was with him. Unbelievable.”
Having unveiled her fifth collection, at Tate Modern during London Fashion Week in February, Goddard, 28, her slender medieval face framed by long, pale red hair and choppy bangs, has secured her status as a rising fashion star. In 2016, she received the British Fashion Award for British Emerging Talent and is a favorite of edgy dressers like Rihanna and Björk. “Molly’s collections are refreshing because she’s really enjoying herself,” the photographer Tim Walker says. “Her girl is the art-school eco-warrior raver. It all feels new, diverse, and inclusive.”
Not that Goddard expected any of this—in 2014, she flunked out of the master’s program in fashion at Central Saint Martins. Her boyfriend, Tom Shickle, the bassist in the indie band Spector, encouraged her to show during Fashion Week, nevertheless. “He was like, ‘Just make some dresses, and have a party. It’ll be fun and maybe you’ll get a job,’ ” Goddard says. “So I made the dresses myself at my mum’s house and booked a church hall.”
Goddard’s mother, Sarah Edwards, a former art teacher, conceived the set as a life-drawing class, and Goddard persuaded friends to pose as art students. The next day, orders arrived from Dover Street Market and I.T, a progressive boutique in Hong Kong. For two months, Goddard toiled every day until midnight to fill them.
The label is still very much a family affair. Shickle helps run the business—in their tiny studio beneath an overpass in West London, their adjoining desks are covered in books with titles like Smocking for Pleasure. It is a five-minute walk from Goddard’s childhood home, and across the street from where her parents now live. Goddard shares a nearby apartment with her younger sister, Alice, a cofounder of the indie magazine Hot and Cool, who styles and casts her shows. Edwards still designs the sets, helped by Goddard’s dad, Mark, a graphic designer–turned–sculptor.
“We’re all very resourceful and know one another so well that everything seems quick and fast, though there’s a lot of shouting,” Goddard says, laughing. “I’m very, very lucky to have such a creative family. Our house was always full of beautiful things, and Mum made most of our clothes. Or she’d buy her dream girls’ dresses for us: beautiful French smocks that we’d roll around in the mud in. Now that’s my dream style of dress, too, funnily enough.”
For her shows, she and Alice artfully mess up Goddard’s designs by juxtaposing gingham frills and delicate tulle with grungy T-shirts and shrunken sweaters. They street-cast the models, choosing them for their personalities rather than their looks.
“I don’t like the idea of a girl coming in the night before, after 20 castings, and ending up wearing something she’s not comfortable in,” Goddard says. “One season, we wanted the models to look sullen and a bit sulky. The next season, they had to be confident and outgoing. Knowing them is important.”
Typically, Goddard’s collections begin in the Central Saint Martins library, where she scours art and photography books. She often finds ideas in the real clothes worn by the subjects of artist photographers like Tina Barney, or from museum shows—the Matisse exhibition she saw at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, was particularly inspiring. Goddard still constructs most of the showpieces herself, helped by her four-strong studio team. “We’re all here making, making, making in the weeks before the show. Normally, I have a panic attack the day before, and whip up a crazy showpiece that day. It’s exhausting, but I never want to lose that way of working.”
Her ambition, nonetheless, is to establish a more formal setup. “We’re trying to find new staff, and we need a bigger studio,” Goddard says. “We’re still making mistakes, but we’re learning all the time. And I’m really enjoying figuring it all out.”
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