There’s a meme circulating on the web with a picture of an A-line, boat neck dress from a mass market retail brand, next to ‘The Ditchley portrait’, where Queen Elizabeth I is standing on top of the map of England in a renaissance ruff collar and a massive crinoline dress. Over the two images there’s a text, stating the obvious: ‘What fashion companies try to sell to women / What women actually want’. As we’re watching Molly Goddard’s street casted models walk around to the classic piano music that pours into the grand Tate Britain venue, chatting and dancing with puffy tulle skirts that billow out around them, it’s difficult to get this far-fetched reference out of my head.

“These are amazing party dresses, aren’t they? That’s my immediate reaction, and I’ve only just arrived!” says Willie Walters, Course Director of BA Fashion at Central Saint Martins. “Molly always does something interesting. Like, wrapping sandwiches or something! It’s very pretty, warm-hearted and fun. And I like how the models look kind of ‘real’, they look like young girls who are enjoying themselves.”

As her previous shows have focused on creating events, touching upon themes such as nostalgia with a hint of juvenile play, Goddard always seems to create alluring new angles within the sphere that has come to signify her trademark; like holding life drawing classes with a posing male nude, or hosting an off-schedule presentation as an excuse to throw a party.

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Photography by Jonas McIlwain

In her AW16 presentation, which is her fourth show on London Fashion Week, Molly Goddard showcased 19 looks made in gathered tulle, shiny bold orange taffeta and sheer organza. “I’m always very excited about the fabrics,” she says. The rich textures and intricate hand-craft she displays in her work have followed her ever since her BA graduate collection in 2012, where she patched together crocheted table-cloths and smocked layers of light, transparent nets. Following her interest in children’s clothing, her fascination for fabric manipulation is useful when it comes to creating big, flouncy silhouettes. “We did a lot of textile manipulation and experimentation, like trying to fit 40 yards of fabric into a dress.”

“I must have been running like four miles just since we got here,” says Molly’s sister and partner-in-crime, stylist Alice Goddard. When she finally appears to the audience after stressing around in the nooks and corners of the backstage area at the Tate, dressing frizzy-haired girls in gathered tulle leggings and pointy black flats, she’s happy with the outcome. “It’s better than I thought it would be, actually. It’s not that I wasn’t convinced that it would be amazing, obviously, it’s just that I’m so overwhelmed by how happy I am! It’s always nice working with family. Obviously it gets a bit intense sometimes, but I feel that we communicate much quicker than with other people. We’re on the same channel.”

As friends and family are contributing and supporting Molly Goddard in her work, this time her mother Sarah Edwards is responsible for the set design. With tables covered in heavy white cloths, chairs randomly spread out over the floor and a big white piano wing boasting in the foreground, the surreal setting looked like the ghost of a shut down restaurant. Inspired by the cult yakuza film classic ‘Tokyo Drifter’, they managed to create an abstract world that complements the original venue very well.

As alternative ways of presenting fashion are starting to emerge, Willie Walters agrees with Molly’s decision of having a presentation rather than a show. “This is a really beautiful setting. In this case, I’d say that a presentation format works a lot better than if they would have thrown on a fashion show, definitely. If you imagine the looks coming one by one down the catwalk, it wouldn’t be nearly so effective. Now there’s time for the girls to pose and create attitudes. I like that they’re chatting together, and sit down and stand up and walk a little bit, you see the clothes in movement very well. I love fashion shows, but, I mean, sometimes some of them are a bit boring! Still though,” she continues, “if you’re at a place where you’re about to see someone you’re really excited about, it can create an amazing atmosphere, which you perhaps can’t create at a presentation. You know, when you’re waiting for each one to come out, the feeling of excitement and then the applause at the end! Especially if it’s someone very well-recognized that’s done something very beautiful before that season, or if somebody is new. I definitely felt that during the Fashion East show this morning. That was really exciting.”

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Photography by Simone Steenberg

Without breaking the schedule of the traditional fashion seasons, Goddard’s continuous style and brave investment in hand-crafted techniques could be considered to support an awaited step towards a slower rate in the rapid turnovers of fashion trends. “You know, she’s kept the same handwriting,” says Walters. “Maybe over the years she’ll change, but I think it is nice to reinforce this. As a designer, it’s always good to know what you like.” In an interview with The Guardian, chair of NEWGEN committee Sarah Mower supports Goddard’s trademark aesthetic as being part of a new generation of creators, where young designers are extremely vulnerable to financial factors, and need to find ways to secure their sales. As opposed to well-established brands, she points out, young entrepreneurs benefit from using signature elements, instead of changing visual characteristics each season.

But such a thing as a calculated marketing strategy is nowhere to be seen in the vision of Goddard’s dreamy concept. The excitement, time and skill invested in each garment, mirrors the smart and hard-nosed attitude in each and every girl wearing them. What could be easily mistaken as a naive innocence is in fact a sealed-off universe, a utopia, if you wish. ‘Real’, diverse girls act, play and interact with each other and their setting, and wear just what they want to wear; massive, layered, smocked and beautifully gathered, dreamy fairytale tulle skirts.

Words by Matilda Söderberg

Portrait by Eugene Shishkin

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