ICONIC STYLE: NOTES ON SUSAN SONTAG

May 7, 2019

 

With the buzz of the Met Gala's latest exhibit Camp: Notes On Fashion shining a spotlight on fashion and aesthetic frivolity, so does Susan Sontag re-emerge into the public lexicon (and top Google searches). A contemporary of the likes of Joan Didion, Sontag penned dozens of essays and works, but it is her 1964 essay "Notes On Camp" that secured her as a voice for her generation and inspired this year's Metropolitan Museums exhibition.

 

With "Notes On Camp", Susan became (not only became an it-figure within the New York creative community, but) one of the few writers celebrating gay culture openly, placing the invention of camp itself in the hands of the gay community. "The peculiar relation between Camp taste and homosexuality has to be explained. While it's not true that Camp taste is homosexual taste, there is no doubt a peculiar affinity and overlap... Homosexuals, by and large, constitute the vanguard -- and the most articulate audience -- of Camp." Yet as she was an open advocate for the gay community, she kept her own queer identity private for much of her life. In fact, many major newspapers and publications failed to mention at all that she left behind partner Annie Leibovitz after Sontag's death in 2004 (to further explore this see here).

 

"Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric -- something of a private code, a badge of identity even… a sensibility that, among other things, converts the serious into the frivolous.” 


In life, Sontag herself always wore her "badge of identity". Ever in control of her image, she was classic, intelligent, confidently poised, yet never taking herself too seriously - in true camp fashion. This flowed through her personal style as much as it did her writing. She reached for classic staples - cigarette pants, collared shirts, mocknecks, and knits, though playing with accessories like a leather jacket, triangle sunglasses, and structured overcoats. She also opted for minimal beauty with seemingly not a stitch of makeup, and - in her later years - letting her chestnut hair transition to a platinum gray. 

 

Susan Sontag's life and works are at a crucial moment of renaissance. Over 50 years on, the zeitgeist is finding newfound poignancy in her writings. So as we come down from the sartorial stimulation the Met Gala has brought us, we think it's important to hold close the muse behind the gala, and take a moment to honour her impact as a female voice in history. 

 

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