Born: London, 11 April 1955. Education: Putney High School, London; Thames Valley Grammar School, London; Wimbledon School of Art; Brighton Polytechnic; Chelsea School of Art. Family: Married Sebastian Conran, 1988; sons: Samuel, Maximillian. Career: Worked as art restorer, illustrator, mannequin maker, freelance designer, late 1970s; designer, Brown's, London and Paris, 1979-80; designer/partner, with Scott Crolla, Crolla menswear boutique, London, 1980-85; women's collection added, 1984; director/sole designer, Georgina Godley Ltd., with own label collections, from 1986; presently lecturer, St. Martin's School of Art and School of Fashion and Textiles; member, British Fashion Council Designer Committee. Collections: Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Bath Costume Museum, Bath, England. Address: 42 Bassett Road, London W10 6JL, England.
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High-minded, serious, and intellectual in her approach to fashion design, Georgina Godley began her fashion career in the early 1980s in partnership with designer Scott Crolla. They emerged in a period when most of the important designers were making unisex, androgynous clothing. Gender barriers were being broken down, as the difference between clothing for men and women seemed old-fashioned and no longer relevant. The media had latched on to this trend with its enthusiastic hyping of role swapping pop stars like Annie Lennox and trendy male/female design partnerships like Bodymap and Rich-mond/Cornejo, who were making clothes that anybody could wear. In opposition Georgina Godley returned to the idea of womanliness and the female form. She used floral-patterned chintz or sections of transparent gauze over breasts and referred to female fertility symbols in her advertising, such as a bridal figure gazing adoringly at the male phallus. She also plundered a traditional female submissiveness and medieval imagery in her research.
In many ways Godley has worked against fashion but, rather than taking an aggressively feminist antifashion stance, she has been aesthetic in her reaction. Her first collection without Crolla was entitled Body and Soul. Featuring a body dress, a soul dress, and a muscle dress, the collection celebrated the female form by exaggerating its proportions. Using fabric to drape, pad, pull, and stretch over the body, the results were often distortive and faintly erotic. The aim was simply to exemplify the beauty of a woman's body.
Never a commercial designer, Godley is primitive yet sophisticated: primitive in that she emphasizes and magnifies the primary female form; sophisticated in the fact that the result is often desexed by a high seriousness. The clothing is usually impractical, designed to be collected rather than worn: a clinging, thin white cotton jersey dress inset with organza panels for maximum bodily exposure and a curved wire hem; shaped underwear dresses in which elements of corsetry distort curvaceousness; a pregnancy dress, padded to make the wearer look pregnant; a pair of hoof-bottomed trousers; and an infamous wedding dress with cutouts for the breasts.
Godley is similar in context to her contemporary, Azzedine Alaïa, but whereas Alaïa's clothes are erotic and sexy in their contouring of the body, Godley's clothes are womanly. Alaïa's clothes create a curvaceous shape by reacting with the body; Godley's often have their exaggerated shapes constructed onto the clothes.
Whether Godley can be termed a fashion designer is arguable because her clothes have often reacted against contemporary trends. Her work is designed for the connoisseur of specialist clothing, rather than mass public acceptance.
When Tom Dixon began directing design at Habitat, a retail chain, in 1998, he formed a team of hot new stylists, including Mathew Hillon, Ross Menuez, and Godley. Their immediate focus was the "Dark & Sexy Home,"an application of art to domestics. Early in 2000, Staffordshire University reported on Godley's switch from fashion design for the likes of Paul Smith and Jasper and Joseph Conran to ceramics. As head of home accessories for Habitat, she critiqued crafts and design at the MA Ceramics Show 2000 in terms of contribution to a style-driven, label-conscious market. In her opinion, "Today's buying public is hungry for quality and design, they now want to invest in something that's good and special."
Key to her career shift is the challenge of British excellence and its global impact on design. Godley noted that she and other artisans were influenced by Jonathan Ive's transformation of Apple computers with a unique blend of function and innovation. She lauded student efforts with the comment that "Almost every item I've seen could go straight into production."
updated by Mary Ellen Snodgrass