It is the most anticipated fashion event of the year, it is the meeting between art and style, it is the creativity’s red carpet: we are talking about the Met Gala, which yearly celebrates the opening of a fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York with an event full of crazy looks and artistic inspirations.
After having analyzed the relationship between fashion and religion last year, we are now ready for May 6th, when exaggeration will be the protagonist of an evening and of an unprecedented exhibition titled, “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” The theme of the Met Gala 2019, in fact, investigates how excesses, irony, artifice, and theatricality have met and influenced fashion through the years, up to this day.
But why this theme? How has this relationship developed over the years? And what should we expect in terms of looks? Here’s everything you need to know about the Met Gala 2019!
MET GALA 2019
First of all: What does ‘camp’ mean? Susan Sontag, American writer, in her essay “Camp: Notes on Fashion” (1964), which constitutes the manifesto of this exhibition, defined it as, “a vision of the world in terms of style, but of a particular style. It is, in fact, the love for exaggeration.” With this essay, Sontag introduces readers to sensitivity for the exaggerated, which in the contemporary is often seen as synonymous with “kitsch” or “extravagant,” while the definition of Sontag is much more nuanced, as it is considered esoteric, a sort of private code and individual identification.
To further explain her idea, Sontag wrote a list of 58 notes useful to identify Camp in everyday life. For the writer, it can be found for example in Tiffany’s lamps, in the old comics by Flash Gordon and the “Swan Lake.” Not by chance, her 25th note says, “Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.”
Other famous notes about camp are the following ones:
38. Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of “style” over “content,” “aesthetics” over “morality,” “irony” over “tragedy.”
41. The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious.” One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.
27. What is extravagant in an inconsistent or unpassionate way is not Camp. Without passion, one gets pseudo-Camp, which is merely decorative, safe; in a word, chic.
Especially in the ’60s, after the publication of the essay, the term was associated with the LGBT community with a negative connotation, as it was used to refer to the feminine mannerisms of some men. Sontag, instead, saw homosexuals as the new bearers of aristocratic taste, an improvised class of self-elected that is illustrative of this extravaganza.
How did they come up with this theme? Andrew Bolton, the visionary curator of the latest exhibitions at the Met Museum, and Vogue, partner of the event, wanted to celebrate its true meaning, its many nuances, and its rich history. “People have a definite idea of what camp is— that it’s superficial, about gay men and transvestites,” Andrew said to Vogue US. “And it is that, but it’s many other things too. (…) Susan wasn’t writing about camp as a political phenomenon, or as a gay phenomenon, she was writing about it as an aesthetic.”
And, if we talk about aesthetic, we can’t but mention fashion or, in this case, exaggerated fashion.
MET GALA 2019
The Evolution of “Camp” through Years and its Relationship with Fashion
Camp aesthetic can be traced back throughout the centuries. The first appearance of the term in the dictionary appeared in the XX century, and it was defined as, “Actions and gestures of exaggerated emphasis,” given its liquid meaning which is impossible to structure, as Sontag underlined.
In terms of style, the first evidence of camp, among over 200 objects that will be exhibited at the Met Museum, can be found at the Versailles of Louis XIV: the Sun King loved to surround himself (and to wear) pomp and excesses of all kinds, from furnishing to clothing and accessories. The baroque elements of this era mark, in fact, the birth of the ornamental excesses.
We move on, then, to the end of ‘800 and to the Victorian London, more precisely in 1870, when the trans men Frederick Park (“Fanny”) and Ernest Boulton (“Stella Boulton” or “Star Clinton”) were the protagonists of a famous process after having been arrested for dressing up as women. They were released due to lack of evidence, but the episode marks one of the earliest sign of clear perception of the existence of homosexuality.
Related to this event, the word has always focused on the queer community and the drag queens: with their extravagant and colorful style, they are a clear example of camp, whose immediate reference is RuPaul, his theatrical outfits and his TV show dedicated to drag queens. Other famous camp icons of the XX century are Cher, with her scenic outfits (which will be on display at the Met Museum) and Bjork, the all-tulle and unusual colors singer that shocked the world by wearing a swan dress by Marjan Pejoski on the Oscar red carpet in 2001.
Designers have played an important role in the diffusion of the camp aesthetics, especially from the XX Century on, proposing shocking looks to express a sense of identification, or with a humoristic meaning. One of the first to sense the potential of camp in the ’30s was Elsa Schiaparelli, inventor of the shocking pink and creator of surrealists looks even in collaboration with some exponents of the movement such as Salvador Dalí.
However, it is with the ‘70s that there was a real domination of camp in fashion, thanks also to the cultural moment which lead to a greater freedom of expression: in this period, we find, for example, Franco Moschino, master of desecration and irreverence who demonstrated how fashion was not only a serious topic but also entertainment and, sometimes, immoral.
In the ’80s, Jean-Paul Gaultier shocked the concept of style using unconventional models for his collections, also subverting the idea of gender: he made men wear skirts on the runway several times, for example. The ’90s, instead, represent the golden moment of two camp fashion icons, such as John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. The first, with his sensual and mystical creations, has brought a theatrical touch first to Dior and then to Maison Margiela, while the second, with his shocking, transgressive and provocative fashion shows (not only in terms of look but also of location), was the greatest representative of the bizarre style.
In the contemporary, camp finds a wide vent between questionable footwear, streetwear looks, unusual accessories and unlikely collaborations between brands and artists who have certainly redefined the aesthetic canons. A huge example is the work of Alessandro Michele at Gucci who, with his kitsch style, brought great novelties into the Italian brand that, before him, had never reached this kind of creativity. Just think about the models with the reproductions of their heads on the runway, or the Gothic/medieval Cruise collection held at the cemetery of Arles. Not by chance, Michele will be one of the chairmen of this Met Gala, and several of his creations will be included in the exhibition catalog.
If the extravagance of Gucci is evident thanks to the colorful prints and the rich combinations, the strength of a more mundane style, such as streetwear, that is still able to surprise us with camp choices, can be found in designers such as Demna Gvasalia (Balenciaga), with his comic prints and the platform Crocs, and Virgil Abloh (OFF-White) with his aesthetic looks, which are sporty, ironic and opposed to any kind of classic.
Going on, the dark excesses of Rick Owens, the extravagance of Comme des Garçons and the success of Japanese designers, such as Junya Watanabe and Rei Kawakubo, are just some of the voices that influenced and expanded the camp sensibility in recent years, claiming the need to be subversive and shocking in a political age that, unfortunately, limits more and more people from daring. Although it is impossible to give a unique definition of camp, what is certain is that its strength lies in its liquid aesthetics, adaptable to our personalities and needs: drag queens, designers, sociologists, and artists… They are different expressions of the same courage, the one that you put into practice when you want to express your essence, with all its excesses and its architects.
MET GALA 2019
The Possibile Looks
If, as we have seen, camp represents the “sensitivity of beyond”, what better place to flaunt this kind of style than the red carpet? Never like this year, the guests of the Met Gala could surprise us with creations able to redefine theatricality. While we wait to find out in which and how many ways they will amaze us, here are some possible looks from the last season’s runways which are representative of the ‘camp’ style.
Let the most exaggerated countdown ever begin!