"NOTES ON FASHION" AND THE FRIVOLOUSNESS OF CAMP
The first Monday in May holds significance for many. For some, it can represent the true start to spring. To others, it represents fashion’s biggest night - the Oscar’s of the fashion industry - the Met Gala. Now even if you don’t care about fashion, people still tend to pay attention to the Met Gala, as it is not only packed with the biggest names in the fashion industry, but also the biggest names in almost every other A-list industry.
Although the Met Gala is continuously celebrated for the spectacle that it is, the event, and it’s participants, can often be the centre of online controversy. Whether it be from scandalous themes, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, or from outrageous or improper outfits. The 2015 theme of China: Through the Looking Glass, had many attendants tiptoeing around cultural appropriation. This year's theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion, derives from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay where she argued that the concept of ‘Camp’ is all about artifice, exaggeration, and superficial style over content, all the while it continues to be “dead serious.” While Camp is much easier to identify than describe, Sontag noted that "Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon." In her essay she claims that the concept of camp can date all the way back to the 1600s, yet the use of the word “Camp” wasn’t brought about until the 1900s when it appeared in “homosexual slang”.
The concept of Camp is rooted in queerness. While on the *pink* carpet, when asked about the inspiration behind her look, Laverne Cox commented that as she was “obsessed” with Susan Sontag’s essay as she was in college. The idea of surfaces and the sensibility that is historically very queer, excited her to no end, “Camp is this thing that is sort of exaggerated and making fun of and commenting on, but that can reveal something that's very truthful about our culture, our society, about humanity." And not one to shy away from making a statement on the Met Gala carpet, Lena Waithe wore a Pyer Moss pinstripe blue suit with the pinstripes actually being the lyrics to "I’m Coming Out" by Diana Ross and Sylvester’s "Mighty Real" with the words “Black Drag Queens Invented Camp” emblazoned across the back, drawing on the fact that Camp is a tool for queer and other marginalized groups to challenge many cultural norms.
With a theme that holds many definitions, it is not a surprise that there were multiple interpretations, and with that came a few common trends on the carpet. Some went all camped out, truly holding nothing back. Gala co-chair Lady Gaga left no one unsatisfied as she pulled four different Brandon Maxwell looks out on the pink carpet - all of which had everyone’s jaw dropped. Other standouts included Zendaya and Law Roach's LCD Cinderella moment, Kacey Musgraves dressed as a life sized barbie doll in Jeremy Scott for Moschino, Ezra Miller’s masquerade eyes for days in Burberry look, Katy Perry coming dressed as a literal chandelier (then later a diamond-encrusted cheeseburger), Lupita Nyong'o and Cara Delevingne as technicolor daydreams, and a winged Billy Porter arriving in head to toe in gold while being carried on a velvet throne.
As Gucci sponsored the event, it’s not shocking that a prominent and oh-so-cool Gucci Gang was present for the event. This included - but was not limited to: co-chairs Harry Styles, who was decked out in black sheer lace, one pearl earring and heeled patent boots, and Creative Director Alessandro Michele ,who was in a full pink voluminous ensemble, as well as Jared Leto (and Jared Leto’s fake head), Saoirse Ronan serving Mammy of Dragons energy, Florence Welch dressed in an ethereal mermaid like cape, and Dakota Johnson and her bleeding heart. Everyone loves them and everyone wants to be them.
Cher's influence was also present in many areas of the gala. Not only was she the musical performer for the night, she was also the inspiration for many celebrities’ Camp outfits. Whether it be in Elle Fanning’s ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ ponytail, Emily Ratajkowski stomach baring ensemble, Kendall Jenner's Fanta Orange number, Celine Dion's fringe and headdress pairning, or the other 100 feather showgirl inspired looks present on the carpet - Cher was with us all.
It’s hard to fully sum up what exactly happened on this first Monday in May but as Andrew Bolton, the head curator of the Costume Institute, remarked; “Trying to define camp is like attempting to sit in the corner of a circular room.”
"Camp: Notes On Fashion" is on at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 9th until September 8, 2019.