Meet Molly Goddard, British fashion’s rising star

With Goddard’s exuberant creations inspired by Tess of the d’Urbervilles on display in London as part of our Art of Literature exhibition, the designer, above left, talks to Christie’s about the diverse influences on her creative journey 

A portrait of fashion designer Molly Goddard, and a dress from her A/W 2019 collection

Portrait of Molly Goddard. Photo: Lee Whittaker. Right, A look from her Autumn/Winter 2019 Collection inspired by Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891). Photo: Courtesy of Molly Goddard

Molly Goddard is one of British fashion’s standout stars. Since launching her eponymous label in 2014, the London-based designer has dressed celebrities ranging from Rihanna and Agyness Deyn to Adwoa Aboah and Killing Eve’s Villanelle (Jodie Comer).

She’s also won high-profile accolades, including the British Emerging Talent Award at the 2016 Fashion Awards, Breakthrough Designer at the Harper’s Bazaar  2017 Women of the Year Awards, and the 2018 BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund. In 2019 she was awarded a BFC Fashion Trust grant. Now, she has her own outlet at Dover Street Market in London and is represented in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

In June, selected looks from Goddard’s archive collections — including her Autumn/Winter 2019 Ready-to-Wear collection, inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles — will be shown in The Art of Literature: Auction Highlights (6-15 June), part of London Now, at Christie’s in King Street.

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Alfred Stevens (1823-1906), Ophélie (Ophelia). Oil on canvas. 79 x 47½ in. (200.6 x 120.6 cm). Estimate: £60,000-100,000. On view at Christie’s The Art of Literature highlights exhibition, 6-15 June 2022. Offered in The Isabel Goldsmith Collection: Selected Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist Art, 30 June-14 July 2022, Online

Look 4 from Molly Goddard’s Spring/Summer 2020 Collection. Photo: Courtesy of Molly Goddard

Curated by specialists Victoria Gramm (Post-War and Contemporary Art), Mark Wiltshire (Books and Manuscripts), and client advisor Annabelle Scholar, the exhibition explores the connections between art and literature over the centuries through a selection of lots from across Christie’s summer season of auctions.

Highlights include Alfred Stevens’s Ophélie (Ophelia), above, one of a series of works depicting Shakespeare’s tragic character painted by the Belgian artist between 1886 and 1891; and Fernand Khnopff’s atypical portrait of Medusa, showing her asleep, with the body of an eagle and a woman’s head (below).

Also on display will be Rodin’s Thinker, originally conceived in 1880 as part of La Porte de l’Enfer, the artist’s monumental gateway representing Dante’s Inferno. At first, Rodin intended the ruminating man to be an image of Dante contemplating his own work, but he then opted to divest the sculpture of any explicit reference. The result is a timeless and universal symbol of reflection and creative genius.

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Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921), La Médusa endormie, c. 1896. Pencil and pastel on paper. 11⅝ x 5⅛ in (29.2 x 13 cm). Estimate: £80,000-120,000. On view at The Art of Literature highlights exhibition, 6-15 June 2022. Offered in The Isabel Goldsmith Collection: Selected Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist Art, 30 June-14 July 2022, Online

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Auguste Rodin (1840-1917),Thinker, Size of the Door called ‘Medium Model’. Bronze with dark brown patina. 71.3 x 42 x 58.3 cm (28⅛ x 16½ x 23 in). Estimate: €9,000,000–14,000,000. Offered in Le Grand Style: An apartment on the Quai d’Orsay designed by Alberto Pinto on 30 June 2022 at Christie’s in Paris

For Annabelle Scholar, Goddard is the embodiment of London Now. ‘In this cross-category exhibition we’re looking at how the written word has inspired artists and creatives to make works of art or bring new meaning to existing works of art,’ she says. ‘We are thrilled to include these wondrous creations by Molly, which were inspired by a classic of English literature and have ushered in a new era in British fashion.’

Goddard has made her name creating fantastical dresses in brightly coloured tulle, taffeta, organdie and silk that are as happily paired with loafers and chunky knits as they are with stilettos and glittering jewels. Though layered and voluminous, they are lightweight and anything but rigid.

‘I want people to feel comfortable and confident,’ says the 33-year-old designer. ‘Dressing up should lift your spirits and make you feel happy: it’s such a fun feeling when a dress takes up physical room in a space.’

A dress from Molly Goddard’s Autumn/Winter 2018 Collection

Look 29 from Molly Goddard’s Autumn/Winter 2018 Collection. Photo: Courtesy of Molly Goddard

But it isn’t all about playing dress up — Goddard is deeply concerned with the art of construction: hand-craft techniques such as smocking, shirring, tatting and crocheting are essential to her aesthetic.

‘I grew up right next to Portobello Road in west London and spent a lot of my youth going to the vintage markets there,’ she says. ‘I loved the care, attention and techniques that went into making vintage clothes. I think it’s incredible that people used to wear garments with precious hand-embroidery and lace as nightwear and underwear.’

Before long, Goddard was making clothes and jewellery for herself and her younger sister, Alice, who now works as a stylist. ‘Every Friday night I would get home from college, make myself a dress and then go out in it,’ she recalls. ‘Then, when I was around 15 or 16, I discovered John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, and I knew that I wanted to go to Central Saint Martins and study under Louise Wilson.’

She did a BA in fashion knit before enrolling in an MA course at Central Saint Martins in 2012 — which she struggled with and failed. Surprisingly, however, she says, ‘It turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.’

A dress from Molly Goddard's A/W 2019 Collection

A look from Molly Goddard’s Autumn/Winter 2019 Collection inspired by Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Photo: Courtesy of Molly Goddard

With London Fashion Week looming, and nothing to show from her course, she decided to create a portfolio of sorts, with the aim of landing a job.

‘I never thought I would start my own brand,’ she admits. ‘But I had this idea with my boyfriend [Tom Shickle] to make around 15 dresses for 15 friends. We rented a church hall in Mayfair and threw a huge party. The whole thing cost about £300.’

The off-schedule presentation in September 2014 was an unexpected hit, drawing influential fashion press, as well as brands and buyers. Since then she has become a regular fixture at London Fashion Week, collaborated with retailers on sell-out collections, and expanded her range of products to include menswear, bags and bridal.

Which brings us back to her 2019 Ready-to-Wear collection.

‘Hardy paints an incredible picture of the English landscape and seasons in Tess of the d’Urbervilles,’ says Goddard. ‘This collection was definitely about being wrapped up against the weather, physically and metaphorically.’

A dress from Molly Goddard's Autumn/Winter 2019 Collection

A look from the Autumn/Winter 2019 Collection. Photo: Courtesy of Molly Goddard

Models sashayed down the catwalk dressed for a storm, protected by balaclavas and sturdy boots. Wind machines installed along the runway caused their dresses to flare and flutter. ‘I wanted their dresses to be bashed and knocked around in the wind,’ says Goddard. ‘This protective element was a nod to Tess’s strength and durability.’

The six dresses coming to Christie’s will be suspended from the ceiling rather than displayed on models or mannequins.

‘What’s lovely about seeing the dresses like this is that it gives visitors the opportunity to look underneath and see their construction,’ she says. ‘I like the structure of the dress to be made from the manipulation of fabric rather than a tutu, underskirt or crinoline. At Christie’s you’ll be able to see all of that really clearly.’

A dress from Molly Goddard's Autumn/Winter 2019 Collection

Look 10 from the Autumn/Winter 2019 Collection. Photo: Courtesy of Molly Goddard

So why these six? ‘They are a very good representation of what we do best,’ she explains. ‘By which I mean taking relatively normal designs and turning them into something totally different, using techniques like shirring and hand-smocking, or by scaling them up and using unexpected fabrics.’

Look 10 (above) is a case in point. Goddard has elevated a simple babydoll silhouette with bunches of small pleats around the waist, a voluminous, elongated skirt and elegant elbow-length sleeves — and, in typical Goddard fashion, paired it with boots and tailored trousers.

The Daria dress, from Molly Goddard’s Autumn/Winter 2019 collection

The Daria, from the Autumn/Winter 2019 Collection. Photo: Courtesy of Molly Goddard

The Daria (above) will also be on display. ‘There will be lots of pink, smocking and tulle,’ she says with a laugh. ‘I don’t think of these pieces as old-season but as being very current to me now.’

Each collection, it transpires, is born out of extensive, immersive research into both real and imaginary worlds. ‘I like to go to the library and scan through books and images, and people-watch and go to markets, and then pull it all together to create a loose theme or imaginary person to serve as a kind of muse,’ she says.

‘I think about what that person might do, and what they might wear, and how and when they might wear it. That kind of immersive approach shapes our shows, too.’

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So how does she feel about the forthcoming Christie’s exhibition? ‘It’s really exciting. I think there’s a real art to how we make our clothes, so it will be lovely to have them presented alongside such special things.’

Exactly which things will only be revealed to Goddard at the opening in June. ‘Seeing my dresses alongside a Henry Moore, a Marc Chagall or a Lucas Cranach will be really amazing,’ she says. ‘I’m honoured to be appreciated in this new kind of setting.’

Dresses from Molly Goddard’s 2018 and 2019 Autumn/Winter, and Spring/Summer 2020 Ready-to-Wear collections will be exhibited from 6 to 15 June 2022 in The Art of Literature, part of Christie’s London Now summer season of exhibitions, events and auctions

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