Molly Goddard — the woman behind the coolest dresses in fashion

Molly Goddard  (ES composite)
Molly Goddard (ES composite)

As honours go, having your portrait painted by David Hockney is a rare one. While Molly Goddard hasn’t been immortalised by Britain’s greatest living painter, one of her designs has. When Harry Styles rocked up to sit for Hockney last May, the singer wore an orange and yellow striped cardigan from the designer’s SS22 collection, cementing its woolly charm for all eternity.

Goddard only learned of her garment’s fame at the same time as the rest of us. “It was a total surprise,” she smiles. “It’s great, quite mad. I guess [Harry] just owns stuff. A lot of the celebrity stuff was a surprise. It’s always been organic. We’ve never pushed it. We don’t do gifting or anything like that. The Rihanna stuff was a surprise, too.”

Goddard might not be as frequently worn as Chanel or Dior, but when high profile people do wear her, they’re the best sort, at the most impactful times. Rihanna has been a fan since 2016, wearing Goddard’s distinctive tulle gowns on numerous occasions; other fans include Adwoa Aboah, Zendaya and Agyness Deyn, whose wedding dress she designed in 2015.

More recently, she designed Margaret Qualley’s wedding dress: the actress married musician Jack Antonoff last month, watched on by friends including Taylor Swift, Cara Delevingne and Lana Del Rey. Qualley herself was reassuringly low key. “The brides that come to us are quite easygoing, so the process has always been easy. People normally know what they want.”

Goddard’s crayon box colour palette of lilac, red and fluorescent green is almost as distinctive as her designs themselves. When we meet in her studio in Bethnal Green, the rails are packed with her signature tulle creations, their skirts wreathed in ruffles and tiers. She’s far too modest to admit the influence her dresses have had, but if you’ve ever wondered why there’s been so much volume in the shops in recent seasons, Goddard is a large part of the reason.

David Hockney paints Harry Styles wearing a Molly Goddard cardi (PA)
David Hockney paints Harry Styles wearing a Molly Goddard cardi (PA)

When Jodie Comer wore Goddard’s diaphanous pink tulle gown in Killing Eve, Villanelle’s dress became as much of a talking point as the plot. The publicity was priceless, if not without its drawbacks. “People who wouldn’t have known or paid attention before, like my friend’s dad, suddenly knew it was my dress. That was interesting.” But the following season, the high street groaned with cheap nylon abominations in a bid to help fans get the look for £39.99. “The high street copies things all the time, which is infuriating. It’s very damaging, but even legally, there’s not a lot you can do. It just makes you do better.”

Right now, the 34-year old designer has more important things to think about than copycats: such as her imminent show on Saturday and the birth of her second child. “I feel very pregnant, suddenly. I’m nearly eight months now. And it’s all just happening at once. My son started nursery last week, and it’s a lot.” She looks momentarily tired, then rallies. “But I’m actually quite organised — so organised that I’m going to have a massage later. The next three days are going to be so full-on. Don’t want to burn out.”

While her studio is in E2, she still lives in the same west London neighbourhood that she did as a child. She says she’s delighted that her clothes are worn by “a nice mix of ages and body shapes”, and says her customer really varies. She’s proud to offer extended sizing, from size 6 to 18. Frustratingly, not all retailers order the bigger sizes. “But when we’ve pushed the buyers to buy them, they sell out instantly. We also do a lot of made to order, plus we have our own ecommerce [site] now. If we don’t have something in your size, we’ll make it for no extra cost.”

Diaphanous and beautifully made as her dresses are, Goddard doesn’t see them as rarefied garments that can only be worn to a party. When designing, her main priority isn’t glamour, but comfort. “There’s nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable. In the studio, we always talk about feeling ‘comfortably overdressed’”. Her dresses are also more low maintenance than the casual eye might observe. “Some of the taffeta is practically wipe clean. Others things you can put in the washing machine. They’re feminine, but not in a delicate way. They’ve got a toughness to them.”

As has Goddard. She launched in 2014 (anyone in two minds about going to uni might like to note that dropping out of her knitwear course at Central St Martins didn’t stop her cardigan eventually being painted by Hockney), and has remained independent, an incredible achievement for a British designer in these tough times. How has she managed it?

Backstage final touches at Molly Goddard (Molly Goddard)
Backstage final touches at Molly Goddard (Molly Goddard)

“Well, I work with my best friend, Tessa, who is our managing director, and looks after the money. She’s very good at running a business sustainably. She cares about our staff [she has a team of 14], and paying people properly. We’re both practical and realistic. Fabric waste is not something we really do. We don’t overdevelop the collection — we never have 300 pieces on a rail and then cut half, which is what most people do. We also work locally. Most of our production is in London and the UK, so we’re not shipping stuff back and forth.”

Has anyone tried to buy her? “We’ve had a few conversations,” she says, but won’t expand. “It’s a hard time at the moment. Harder than ever.” Brexit hasn’t helped. “The extra admin, paperwork, shipping, going to Paris for sales — apparently it’s going to get harder. It’s all boring and pointless.” The pandemic didn’t help either. “Covid f***ed us because everyone behaved terribly and cancelled orders. We lost a lot. We didn’t furlough anyone; we kept going because it just felt like the right thing to do. Plus the industry is changing. It hasn’t slowed down as people said it would. It’s amped up. People want more, and faster.”

After electing to show in her studio last season (“I wanted to rein it in and refocus”), Saturday’s show will be a grander affair, held at Christie’s. “They’re the one opportunity you get to collaborate with other people, and put out what you want to put out.” Whether blissed out on pregnancy hormones or the knowledge of a job well done, she’s certainly the most relaxed designer I’ve ever interviewed 72 hours before a show. “I feel quite calm this season,” she smiles. “This collection is a lot of the things I really love. Hopefully, it will bring a bit of joy, frivolity and fun.” Things we could all do with more of — and London Fashion Week’s best qualities in a nutshell.