Celebrating Campiness: Notes on Met Gala
Updated: May 6, 2020
When Vogue and the Metropolitan Museum announced this year’s Met Gala theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion”, no one seems to be truly understand it. Anna Wintour herself agreed on the confusion it might have caused on her interview with Jenna Bush Hager at Good Morning America “People thought right away about hiking boots”, and no, it has nothing to do about getting down and dirty in the wilderness.
I myself woke up in the morning (I live 11 hours ahead of New York) with messages from friends “Can you explain to me what this year’s theme is about???”
[Katy Perry wearing Moschino at the 2019 Met Gala]
My understanding of it refers back the word “campy”. I often heard it growing up watching American Idol or another competition TV show like Project Runway. Whenever a theme was given, sometimes on an Avant-Garde challenge or conventional material challenge, designers would came up with a rather theatrical, borderline tacky look, and Michael Kors or Nina Garcia would say “it’s campy!” without no hesitation at all. That’s how i sort of had the idea about what Camp truly means.
So let’s look at Wikipedia’s definition of it (My high school and college professors would kill me for referencing definitions from Wiki but hey, we need something that can be easily understood by many). It defines Camp as an aesthetic style and sensibility that regards something as appealing because of its bad taste and ironic value.
Susan Sontag’s very own definition, however, stated that the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. To me it sounds like Camp meant to mimic something else and exaggerate it.
I would simply put this Met Gala theme to be “A bit of theater, a touch of tackiness, and a dash of couture”, and boy, the stars truly turned out and were not afraid to be a little extra.
If being “campy” is bad, then why, out of everything, Vogue and the Metropolitan Museum had to use that as a theme? Well, the reason is simply because they are paying homage to a popular 1960s essay by writer Susan Sontag “Notes on Camp”. Inside the exhibition, various points of the essay is being represented through various garments that embody each particular point. Moreover, the exhibition also showcases the sensibility of Camp, and tracing it back to Louis XIV of France in Versailles, who was known to be a liiiiittle over-the-top.
In the essay, Susan Sontag also pointed out that “bad taste” is not necessarily equal to Camp. Bad taste, in fact, appears when one does not go all out on one’s intention, it’s a result of mediocrity. Well, on that note, now we should all be able to distinguish which celebrity embraces camp, or just simply badly dressed on the Met Gala red carpet.
Camp and Fashion
Another reason why Camp is chosen as the theme is, perhaps, due to it being inevitable in fashion. Campy fashion is very much present these days. Fashion designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Thierry Mugler, and Avant-Gardiste queen Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons have known to put out extravagant pieces. Today, Jeremy Scott’s vision for Moschino since he took over the creative director position, is today's example of the relevance of camp. It is campy as fuck, and the industry people love it.
[Thierry Mugler Spring/Summer 1992]
[Moschino Spring Summer 2018 by Jeremy Scott]
[Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring 2004 by John Galliano]
Pop culture icons from Cher, Elton John, Lady Gaga, to Madonna, were some of the performers who are embracing camp as part of their DNA as an artist, another reason that Camp is more significant than one might think. Cher is even billed as the performer of the night at this year's Met Gala.
Met Gala and Camp
Met Gala itself is a Camp heaven. The Met Gala is an annual fundraising event to benefit the Costume Institute, usually held along with the opening of an exhibition. Former Vogue Editor-in-Chief and legendary fashion icon Diana Vreeland turned the event into a glamorous event, and one of her successors, Anna Wintour turned it into the Met Gala that we know today; where American high society rub elbows with celebrities and fashion designers; and one of the most anticipated red carpet events of the year.
With various theme being given out every year, in sync with the exhibition subject, certainly guests would have to be more ‘extra’ in order to fully respect the dress code. Not to mention, this is the Instagram era, people! Peacocking on the red carpet would get instant publicity within seconds, all over the world. Some people, and even already famous people, would not miss a chance for extra spotlight.
Andrew Bolton, curator of the Met and one of the key people of the exhibition, agreed to a comment by a performance and queer studies professor that last year’s theme, “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, was straight-out Camp. When you take something serious such as religion and you turn it into a “performance” attire, that’s Camp.
[Rihanna at the 2018 Met Gala red carpet]
Camp is a part of a performance, that’s how i see it. I was a performer myself when i was in high school so to me- yaaas- bring a bit of Campiness in! However, as someone who works in fashion and is expected to be a commander of pure good taste, i might have grown out of it.
Anyway, this year’s Met Gala is a reminder that Camp is playful without any limit. Yes, sometimes fashion needs take itself less seriously and Campy collections are there during fashion week to, perhaps, act as a comic relief.
Going back to Susan Sontag, point number 55 of the essay described it very well:
55. Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation—not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy.
Let’s enjoy Camp, shall we?
[Cardi B in Thom Browne]
[Celine Dion in Oscar de La Renta]
[Jared Leto in Gucci by Alessandro Michele]
[Janelle Monae in Christian Siriano]
[Ezra Miller in Jean Paul Gaultier]
[Anna Wintour in Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld]
[Cara Delevigne in Dior]
[Diane Von Furstenberg in Diane Von Furstenberg]
[Lady Gaga in Brandon Maxwell. See her FULL red carpet performance below]