Subverting feminism with pink tulle

sarah edwards in front of her pieces

Sarah Edwards arrives looking effortlessly stylish. She is dressed in black, with a Molly Goddard taffeta dress ballooning over culottes, and under a jumper. A short blonde fringe frames her face with black-lined eyes and a tomato red lipstick, matching the red Adidas trainers on her feet.

The artist and photographer, as well as former art teacher, works for her daughter, fashion designer Molly Goddard. We meet on a crisp and sunny winter morning at the Chelsea Space, where Sarah and Molly’s exhibition: Dress Portrait, Molly Goddard and Sarah Edwards, is showing.

Complimenting her on her outfit, Sarah says: “This goes straight in the washing machine and then back on again, I climb up ladders in it and put a painting apron on top, it is really durable, it is just great.” She explains that despite their level of craftsmanship, Molly’s pieces are also perfect for the everyday, which is what gives the clothes a large appeal. Albeit in the fashion world they are for the quotidian woman, a dress will set you back around £600.

Sarah began by studying fashion, and then continued her career as a practising photographer and artist. While also maintaining income for the family as an art teacher. She tells me photography has always been her main passion, ever since she was given her first camera at the age of 12. 

gallery wall by window

The Dress Portrait: Molly Goddard and Sarah Edwards installation view including photographs by Sarah Edwards [Chelsea Space]

Sarah’s daughter, Molly, has shown at London Fashion Week nine times and has become famed for her theatrical dresses, which are hard to miss in brightly coloured tulle and satin, with ruffles, smocking and outlandish silhouettes. She established her label in 2014, after failing a module in her Masters degree and deciding to drop out from Central St Martins in the same year.

Molly showcased her dresses at a party during London Fashion Week for her friends on an extremely small budget. This was covered by magazines Dazed and i-D, which was then the catalyst for Dover Street Market, the multi-brand store set up by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, to place a large order. Her rise was meteoric and an outstanding feat for a woman of such a young age.

Now aged 31, her label has continued to grow and gain popularity, with recent accolades including the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund award 2018, and Harper’s Bazaar Breakthrough Designer 2017, she was also selected as a finalist in the highly-esteemed 2017 LVMH Prize.

Her dresses are regularly seen on celebrities such as Rihanna. Most recently, the label received a large amount of attention following Jodie Comer’s assassin Villanelle in BBC3’s Killing Eve, wearing a saccharine-pink Molly Goddard dress to her psychiatric evaluation, in episode two of the series.

collection of images from the exhibiton

Given her level of notability, Molly could have employed large industry names, but she has instead kept the label a close family affair. Her younger sister, Alice, styles the collections and mum, Sarah, does all of her sets for the catwalk shows and for their retail space in Dover St Market.

A parent working for their child is a subversion of the norm, especially within the same industry. More often than not in the creative industry, many people rise to success through nepotism. Stella McCartney has admitted that her famous parents had a part to play in the success of her fashion brand. Simone Rocha, who runs a successful label is the daughter of the equally successful designer John Rocha.

Sarah is reluctant to focus on the nature of working for and alongside her daughter, steering the conversation back the photography. However, she does acknowledge the intertwining of a personal and professional relationship she has to deal with when I ask her what the most difficult part of working together is.

Stressing the importance of that boundary: “If she is critical of me I have to take it on the chin and not get emotional about it. We have to know when not to talk about work, when other family are around we can get sidetracked.”

pictures with dress in foreground

She continues to emphasise the great trust between them and tells me that their success lies in the “unspoken language” that they have. If Molly has a vision for the sets for her shows, she can trust that Sarah will interpret it in the way she wants, “I know what is and isn’t right for her, we have a similar aesthetic. The things I like are the things she likes and vice versa.”

Although Sarah is a part of Molly’s fashions shows, she understandably slips under the radar, with the spectators often focused on the garments and not the set which Sarah makes, which surround them [the spectators]. So, the exhibition shows their collaborative relationship more evidently.

As you enter the gallery you are met with a bright green wall which has three photographs traditionally mounted in gold frames. The effect is then subverted as you enter the space and discover the rest of the exhibition shows the photographs stuck on the wall as posters and in a random collection. Sarah tells me this is “down to the core of Molly’s work, to avoid the pretty element, it is more about the surprising and the fun.”

sarah edwards in front of green wall

Sarah Edwards in the gallery [Rachel Hagan]

The way the exhibition is curated mirrors the aesthetic of Molly’s work. The extremely feminine garments have been shown at fashion week in sandwich-making factories, life-drawing classes and open-air markets (all sets made by Sarah). As well as models going down the runway clutching champagne and cigarettes.

The blatant decision to do this is quite perverse, giving an opportunity for the usually serious fashion editors to enjoy themselves. And this is what Sarah has captured in the presentation of the work in a non-traditional gallery way.

Continuing to present Molly’s work in an antithetical way to her catwalk shows. Sarah has taken the dresses as still lifes, with very few images involving models and the overall effect of the exhibition being one which focuses on the garments.

Sarah believes that still life photography presents Molly’s dresses exactly “in a way which avoids the ‘pretty’ label.” Which is always what her biggest challenge is, traditionally you would view a pink taffeta or tulle dress with the stereotype of being girly, but that is not what Molly’s intention is. So, Sarah has absolved that by treating the dresses as objects.

Shooting with the model was the most challenging part for Sarah, and she felt it pushed her out of her comfort zone. “There is more control when you’re doing still life. I will start off with one idea and usually what I end up finally shooting will change from what my initial idea was, just because I add more and play around with it.”

The series of images show key pieces from Molly’s past collection’s all the way back to her MA at Central St Martins.  “Although the prime reason for them [the dresses] being here is to be worn. I just see them,” Sarah explains. On the catwalk, models are parading the dresses, and they become full of life and movement. This is further exaggerated because the models are often close friends of Molly’s, and so her shows are celebrated for being vivacious, unlike the often esoteric nature of the fashion industry.  The dresses in the exhibition, however, are alongside water, organic matter, plastic bags and vintage fabric.

Molly goddard and her mum

Molly Goddard and Sarah Edwards [Instagram: Chelsea Space]

One image is wholly covered by a plastic bag and they also appear in the photographs throughout the exhibition.

Sarah explains how she is really interested in their significance despite looking banal, as they are the garment bags from Molly’s studio. “If you spend any time at Molly’s studio, you will see these bags, they reuse them and they sit around the studio. They are part of the whole production process.”

I ask Sarah if she had imagined Molly would follow in her creative footsteps, and she emphasises the importance of supporting creativity, and how that can give someone the confidence. Stressing that is a privilege to be able to do. “But having taught art to children for years, I have no doubt that we are all born creative and if we are given the opportunity and support then what a fantastic opportunity in life!”

When Sarah saw the first collection, she really understood why Molly had made what she did, which was “tulle dresses with band T-shirts and jeans underneath. That says it all really.”

Explaining with a big grin on her face that she would make a lot of Molly and Alice’s clothes and would often dress Molly in a smock dress to go and play football in when she was a child, laughing she says, “she had a lot of fun.”

Sarah believes that the collection was, in part, from Molly understanding the pleasure Sarah took from fashion when she was younger, telling me, “I think she [Molly] wanted to enjoy it too and not take it seriously.”

The relationship between a mother and daughter is unique, complex and ever-evolving. For some, it is is a daily battle, tumultuous and not to be desired. For others, it is a person at the end of the phone every day; guiding and supporting the other through the minutiae and the most important parts of life.

For most, working with their parent would be a challenge too big to even attempt, yet for Molly and Sarah, it is one which thrives. The success of Molly’s recent ‘Fall 19’ collection at London Fashion Week, was without one of Sarah’s sets. With Sarah giving little away regarding their next project, we are left wondering if their previous successes will continue or if their creative direction will part.





Featured image by Rachel Hagan.

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