A Girl is a Gun: Molly Goddard Reclaiming Girliness

molly goddard posing with model in molly goddard dresses
(source)

Molly Goddard makes pretty clothes for girls. This is true yet in writing it I feel as though I am short changing Goddard. In saying that the UK designer who creates elaborate, decadent and whimsical creations of tulle and taffeta simply makes pretty clothes feels akin to describing Meryl Streep as someone who “acts good” or that Rick & Morty is a “trippy cartoon”. It’s as if I’ve taken this young woman who cares about diversity and comfort, who gets to call Rei Kawakubo a fan and, has won an LVMH prize, and boxed her into this flat archetype of femininity and, worst of all, girliness. No serious young woman in our society wants to be considered ‘girly’, it implies that we’re superficial, naive and stupid. It implies that we fit so well into the gum popping, pink lip glossed, baby voiced sweet, little girl archetype we were sold as children. It implies weakness and fragility. Yet Goddard makes pretty and girly clothes, but through her innovative manipulation of tulle, exaggerated femininity and styling and casting choices, Goddard imbues a real sense of power and value into the idea of girliness.

And she’s not alone. Recently, fashion designers have been challenging notions that strength and power can only be attained through assimilation into masculinity. Phoebe Philo and Simone Rocha have consistently challenged the idea that a woman can only be taken seriously in blazers and shoulder pads, and that femininity is as equally valid a performance of womanhood as masculinity and androgyny.

Growing up, to be a serious, young woman – you know, the kind who thinks deeply about ‘real’ issues – you had to opt for tailored cigarette pants, neutral palettes and modesty as if a floral, tiered skirt or a particularly soft shade of pink suddenly made you incapable of analysing race relations and their impact on particular brands of feminism. Philo makes a case against the supposed mutual exclusivity of beauty and intelligence through placing ruffling on a traditionally masculine suit, or subverting ‘strong’ textiles like leather with feminine silhouettes like the slip dress. Rocha’s woman announces and proudly celebrates her femininity with puffed sleeves, nipped waists and decadent lace and florals while still being a bad bitch.

SIMONE ROCHA S/S 2017 AND CELINE 2016 AND 2017 SIDE BY SIDE

While important, this brand of femininity leans into the more classic and elegant side of the woman spectrum. We can’t deny the ‘grown up’ feel of their clothing and that in a sense still panders to the idea of having to be a serious young woman.

This is where Goddard’s approach feels most refreshing and freeing. Where Rocha and Philo are more concerned with adulthood, sensuality and elegance, Goddard happily embraces playfulness, youth and fun – another important aspect of womanhood that we’re so often expected to abandon once we start growing up and thinking deeply about things.

Goddard’s first presentation, A/W in 2015 consisted only of dresses, featuring tulle, smocking and ruffles. Each garment was puffy and frilly and the styling choices of stockings and black Docs further enhanced the school girl feel of the collection. The frocks were whimsical and fun and reminiscent of the Kathy and Jane characters from childhood picture books. Yet, presented in a dimly lit warehouse,  with nonchalant, sometimes even bored, looking models Goddard added a real sense of reality to the collection. And one cannot look at Goddard’s creations, styled haphazardly sometimes with messy hair, patterned tights and clogs and not admire the real sense of comfort in the clothing. Stepping away from pandering to the beholder, Goddard’s clothing is all about the wearer and what she wants.

Molly Goddard A/W 2015 (source)
Molly Goddard A/W 2015 (source)

Speaking to Ssense, the designer discusses the negative connotations of “pretty” and “girly” have, “If you do something pink and frilly, it’s almost immediately put in this princess bracket, or fairytale… You can make something pink and it can be tough.” While, at first, a blush pink, baby doll dress with an incredibly full skirt and ruffles spells out five year old birthday princess, Goddard’s clothes are easily applicable on cool, mature and girly girls alike. Any of her tulle creations could easily be placed over a t-shirt, jeans and Vans for a casual day look or styled with sandal stilettos, pearls and outerwear-underwear for a more vampy appeal. In this way, Goddard subverts the ‘princess’ and the ‘girly girl’ into the DNA of the every day woman.

Molly Goddard A/W 2018 (images via Vogue
Even in her most recent, more “grown up” collections – where Goddard has incorporated darker colour palettes, suiting and organza – girliness still reigns. As well as what else can be considered Goddard’s signature: size and shape. Throughout her collections, Goddard has continually played with larger than life proportions; her clothing commands space. Which, of course, means that the girl wearing them demands space too. There is no way to quietly enter a room in a tulle, five tiered and ruffled ballgown skirt. This too adds to the strength of Goddard’s girly girl. How do we erase a woman whose dress takes up half the room? How do we silence someone when the swish-swish of her giant, baby doll dress drowns out the music?  The answer? You don’t and you can’t.
More so, I can’t help but equate Goddard’s emphasis on girlhood and the whimsical to our current political climate – especially where being a womxn and feminism is concerned. Even the idea of a ‘girl’ denotes a transitional, awkward period of adolescence, where you’re neither this or that but wholly exploring what this and that is and could be. This is much in the same way our dialogues in this country (and the globe at large)  regarding identity politics, who gets to speak and why, and what kind of future we’re trying to build as womxn are also transitional. We’re asking not to be boxed in, we’re requiring the validation of every aspect of womxnhood, we’re proactively claiming and making space for ourselves. We’re also not declaring that we have all the answers or all the solutions, either. 
(source)

So, you know what, Molly Goddard does make pretty clothes for girls. And that statement alone should tell you everything you need to know about the strength and versatility of girlhood today.

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