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According to Molly Goddard, in Order to Design, the Eye Has to Travel

By Guan Tan

 
Molly Goddard

Molly Goddard once threw an informal party for her debut collection, but today, she’s stocked at MatchesFashion, which is present in over 176 countries.

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Molly Goddard

Although Goddard’s big tulle dresses appear intimidating at first sight, off the runway, she thinks that they are easy, everyday pieces

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Molly Goddard

Goddard concluded her Fall/ Winter ’19 show with this dramatic, tulle dress in fuchsia.

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The Grand Hyatt Seoul is a sprawling hotel perched on a hill in the Itaewon area of Seoul. Its lobby, an imposing and stately alcove is a massive space, where countless guests and visitors gather. By chance, Molly Goddard, the British fashion designer who was in town to present her collection at the local presentation of MatchesFashion’s Fall/Winter ’19, happened to walk by. 

When I approached Goddard at the lobby, she briefly mentioned that she’d just landed in Seoul, was feeling the brunt of an eight-hour jet-lag, but was headed out in search of local cuisine. The next afternoon, we met again for an afternoon tea and walkabout of her installation at the Fall/ Winter ’19 presentation. She’s a reticent figure — extremely soft-spoken, appears to sit comfortably in silence, and has few words to offer. Yet, her eyes appear to sparkle with curiosity; her eyes darting around intently, observing and imbibing in all the action around her, even as she’s quietly standing to the side. It is that keen curiosity that forms the bedrock of Goddard’s creations. 

Goddard is 31 this year. She studied at Central Saint Martins under the tutelage of the legendary late professor, Louise Wilson. In 2014, Goddard debuted with a small collection of smocked tulle and taffeta frocks — or what she had dubbed party dresses — during London Fashion Week, but her collection was shown off-schedule, in a church hall. It was an instant hit — Dover Street Market London picked up her dresses, Dazed & Confused ran her collection on their site, and Women's Wear Daily marked her as the designer to watch. The rest, as they say, is history. 

She has since released 11 collections and amassed a potpourri of stockists spanning the United Kingdom, North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Nigeria. 

She’s an easy traveller, she shares. When abroad, she prefers to keep her luggage light and her plans simple. And she prefers to amble around with no particular destination in mind. Less is more, it appears, with Goddard — but it’s a very ironic philosophy considering the unbridled use of colours and tulle in her clothes. But perhaps, it’s this clarity of mind that enables her to fetter coherence in what would otherwise be a very chaotic collection of blouses, skirts, and dresses. 

“I find [that] if everything is planned and everything is [programmed], sometimes you’re disappointed. My life is very busy the rest of the time... With travelling, it’s quite nice to just see what happens,” says Goddard. “I think you find out more.” 

Goddard inherited this leisurely outlook from her parents. Travelling was a huge part of her childhood. “We used to go away a lot — to Spain, Greece, and France... often swimming and relaxing,” says Goddard. These trips shaped her appetite for travelling.

“I don’t think you have to travel the entire world to be a good designer, I suppose. But I think you need to see things and you need to absorb information,” says Goddard. “You can go to museums and books — anything.” If there’s a line she agrees with, it’s Diana Vreeland’s: The eye has to travel. 

So, back home in London, Goddard doesn’t work on the weekends. You’ll find her, instead, at “the Victoria and Albert Museum, National Portrait Gallery, [and] Tate Modern — all of them.” That aside, she frequents independent galleries in Mayfair and Soho, the libraries and Portobello Road Market (in the vicinity of her Ladbroke Grove home). 

“I grew up around there so I know that area very well,” she says, adding that she only goes there on Fridays for the vintage offerings — either on her own, with her sister, or a friend. “Friday is the proper vintage market.” 

She also frequents vintage markets in Madrid — where she travelled to last summer and chanced upon a vintage market spilling over with flamenco dresses. “That was very inspiring,” she says with a half-smile. “I’m going [again] in the weekend,” she continues, her face lighting up briefly. “I love the kind of craft element of Spain — you know, those amazing textiles and lace-making.” 

Those words from Goddard are “so her” and they remind of the time when she handmade all 80 dresses in her first order from Dover Street Market — and smocking is a traditional technique, which demands time. “You do it by hand and do this process of rolling the fabric onto the threads. It’s quite labour-intensive. It takes a long time,” Goddard explains. “There are no machines that do it so it’s all done by hand.” Today, it remains that way, but Goddard has managed to find a factory, and trained its seamstresses to do it. 

Speaking of her smocked dresses, Goddard is, too, avidly looking at how others are wearing it. She’s riveted by how a single dress could acclimatise to the most disparate personalities. “I always love seeing people wear it, because people can wear it in very different ways — which I always like,” she says. “There’s a lot of room for your own personality or style with it.” And Goddard prefers to observe from afar. “Sometimes I get embarrassed,” she says shyly. “If I’m close, I normally say, ‘You look nice.’ ”