The theme of this year’s Met Gala was “Camp: Notes on Fashion”. The stars were correspondingly imaginative. But not everyone understood the essence of Camp.The Met-Gala, the first monday in May, is the most important fashion event of the year. At best, the theme of the exhibition that opens it picks up on the spirit of the times and at the same time inspires the future. When this year’s theme “Camp: Notes on Fashion” was announced, only a few people knew what to do with it.
In short, Camp is a term that attempts to put into words the phenomenon of love for the eccentric and the artificial. Is Kim Kardashian-West Camp in this sense? And how. Probably more than anyone else today.
Kim Kardashian-West with corset and crystals
For the Met Gala, whose motto at the Costume Institute this year is “Camp: Notes on Fashion”, based on a 1964 Susan Sunday essay, she came in a design that Thierry Mugler had designed for her. Exactly, the Thierry Mugler who hasn’t designed a single dress for anyone in 20 years. A knee-length design, buttoned at the front, with an extreme corset on the inside and countless crystals on the outside. It was supposed to evoke the feeling of a “California girl just rising out of the sea,” she said.
Kardashian-West gave it a modern siren, like from a legendary movie scene that doesn’t exist at all. Besides Kanye West in an ensemble of Dickies, which cost less than 50 dollars. Brilliant. “Camp is disruptive,” explained Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute of the Met Museum and thus the mastermind of the exhibition. Camp is what you make of it. Camp writes its own rules.
“Camp: Notes on Fashion” – what does that mean?
Celine Dion (who came in a glittering fringe dress from Oscar de la Renta) admitted: “At first I thought we were all going camping here together.” We couldn’t be further away from a summer camp in nature with “Camp: Notes on Fashion”. “The essence of Camp is his love of the unnatural,” is one of the first, most concise sentences of Susan Sontag’s essay.
Five extra eyes on the face
The Met-Gala 2019 thus became a great performance feat, its guests a performer of themselves. Those who were clever used this to turn themselves into works of art – such as musician Janelle Monae, whose look designed by designer Christian Siriano was living surrealism, or actor Ezra Miller, who took his love of make-up to the extreme by having five additional eyes painted in his face.
Actress Lena Waithe made it clear who Camp goes back to for her: “Black Drag Queens invented Camp”, it was said on the back of her satin pinstripe suit by Pyer Moss.
Does the democratization of Camp destroy the subcultures?
Being loud is camp, paying tribute and celebrating things without clumsy cultural appropriation – and the latter is especially important today. Especially as some cultural practitioners are concerned that too popular a pop-cultural celebration and democratization of Camp will destroy the subcultures that have spawned and sustain this mindset.
But one does not exclude the other. The American “Vogue”, which traditionally hosts the gala, has understood the importance of authenticity. She hosted her pre-met party at the Stonewall Inn, the famous gay bar, which is much more than that – a symbol of freedom, a safe space.
At the gala itself, Cher appeared, perhaps the gay icon par excellence, and her legitimate successor Lady Gaga gave a 16-minute performance on the Red Carpet, taking her from a dramatic pink robe by Brandon Maxwell to her typical “platform boots plus fishnet pantyhose plus glitter bra” suit, assisted by six umbrella straps.
“Talking about Camp means cheating on Camp.”
It was topped only by actor Billy Porter, who let himself be carried in on a sedan chair in a golden look by The Blondes and became a kind of Shakespeare figure in it.
But that’s not exactly what we should call it when it comes to Susan Sontag. “Talking about Camp means cheating Camp,” continues her essay. So it’s about a feeling, about a moment. Camp invents the natural through the unnatural, meaning that everyone can create their own world. And when was that more possible than today?
Feathers and Swarovski crystals
Besides Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, among others, moderated the event – she wore Nike sneakers on the red carpet to her Versace robe. This is Camp! Next to her were Kendall and Kylie Jenner wearing Versace – loud robes with feathers and Swarovski crystals – and of course Donatella Versace, who declared herself divine on her dress.
Apart from Versace, the strongest camp looks were those of Moschino and Gucci. Gucci designer Alessandro Michele co-hosted the evening alongside Anna Wintour. Wintour himself wore Chanel – probably a tribute to Karl Lagerfeld, who “would have loved the exhibition,” as she certainly said at a preview.
Head under arm
Actor Jared Leto wore his own head to his Gucci robe (as we saw on the runway at Gucci Models in February 2018).
And of course it was Jeremy Scott for Moschino who had designed Katy Perry’s chandelier dress, as well as Tracee Ellis Ross’ robe, whose neckline was a picture frame.
Statements as loud as they are quiet
It can be gestures like that that that turn camp into camp. In the exhibition in the Met-Museum (besides countless runway looks from Valentino to Erdem) you can find pieces like a showerhead-shaped chain, which Karl Lagerfeld once designed for Chloé, or the Plateau-Crocs, which Demna Gvasalia conceived as creative director for the fashion house Balenciaga in 2017. The glittering “Vogue” catsuit by Versace from 1991 can be seen there as well as Andy Warhol’s “Souper Dress” from 1966.
On the red carpet, loud statements shone as much as softer ones. Expressive was musician Cardi B, for example, who in her robe of Thom Browne herself became the embodiment of the red carpet.
Mysterious and no less full of character was model Kate Moss in her silver dress by Marc Jacobs, which had a cape. Camp is: to make oneself something. “You can bring a queen to a ball, but you can’t necessarily make her ‘Vogue’ because of it,” said Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s the power of the imagination that not everyone has. “Not everyone will or must understand that,” he said.
Missing the motto
Simply wearing a dress with an exalted silhouette, like Miley Cyrus, or a poison green feather coat like Amber Valetta, is not enough. Just as little as a clumsy statement, as it could be seen on Lena Dunham. “Rubberist” was written on her shift dress by Christopher Kane. Also just a bit confused: the dress by Carey Mulligan, which looks as if it has been put together but is not spontaneously expressive. Camp must live.
On the verge of bad taste
More camp is there to move at the border to bad taste – like pop junior Zendaya, whose Tommy Hilfiger robe was clearly an interpretation of Disney Cinderella.
Or model Emily Ratajkoswki, whose Dundas robe was inspired by Cher in the early 1970s, but who didn’t necessarily need feather headdress. But who are we to judge? “Camp is a question mark that can’t be pressed into an exclamation mark itself,” Bolton says. And Anna Wintour herself wanted her guests to enjoy her outfits first and foremost.