After visiting the Bowes Museum on the opening night of its' new exhibition (Catwalking: The Photography of Chris Moore) there were a handful of dresses on display that really struck me. Sure, the sculptural Comme Des Garcons was impressive from a technical standpoint but didn't excite me - Japanese fashion remains a bit of a mystery to me, I never know how to embrace the avant garde and the minimalist when I could be feasting my eyes of the hand embroidery of Mary Katrantzou and the sumptuous fabrics of Gucci. What truly caught my eye is the dress below, in rich royal blue with a shimmering cascade of silver beads down the back.
I feel I have quite a good eye for matching designers with dresses, and when I saw the following garment, I was certain it would be attributed to Moschino. It had all the hallmarks of the Italian brand - a sense of humour, trompe l'oeuil detailing, intricate embroidery, and as I went to photograph it I was surprised to see it was, in fact, a Karl Lagerfeld for Chloe piece from the 1980s.
The 1983 collection marked his first catwalk showcase outside of Paris, and the event was sponsored by high-end American department store Saks Fifth Avenue, with a philanthropic lilt for the Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. The New York Times reported it as a fanfare for Mr Lagerfeld who looked "very happy with himself" as the final looks were paraded down the catwalk for the finale.
Then followed a deep dive into the fashion archives, finding out more about this collection which to me, seemed a little out of place for the designer. While Lagerfeld has been known to be tongue in cheek, especially with his Chanel accessories and catwalk sets, it was the obviousness of these designs that made them stand out. The inspiration is pulled from toolkits and plumbers' apparatus - with the jewellery pieces being particularly literal.
Taps and jets of water in silver sequins quite literally emblazoned across dresses, with shower-head earrings dangling from models ears' accompanied by power suits shades of bluish grey and black. On some designs, silver sequinned arrows jut down the middle of dresses and sweep down arms, accentuating the female silhouette on an otherwise very classic black dress.
Lagerfeld was the sole designer at Chloe from 1975 and his 1983 collection marked the year he launched his first collection for Chanel. He eventually returned to the house in the early 90s for a couple of collections.
Posing with one of his 'showerhead' dresses that were the signature pieces of this collection.
The dresses from this particular collection have proved to have lasting appeal, with one fetching over £3,000 at auction in 2012 and another fetching £5,000 in an exclusive clothing sale by Christies Auction House in 2012.
It seems that customers and institutions alike see the continuing value of clothing with a sense of humour, that subverts the idea of high fashion and embraces both the sublime and the ridiculous.