One could argue that The Met Gala, this year celebrating all things camp, is indeed itself a giant annual display of camp. The 2019 Costume Institute’s exhibit, “Camp: Notes on Fashion”, is inspired by Susan Sontag’s famous 1964 essay that attempts to define the camp aesthetic across 58 bullet points.
The definition of camp is expansive – it’s high culture meeting low culture, it’s silliness meeting seriousness, it’s whimsy with a wink. And it’s a brilliant idea for the Met Gala – an event that has seen Rihanna looking divine as a sexy pope; Lupita Nyong’o cosplaying as a flapper, and Sarah Jessica Parker as a glamorous Scottish lass. The best looks from the Met Gala have always erred on the side of camp: extreme, whimsical, irreverent, and over the top. While most stars will go with custom looks (and in all likelihood, a lot of vintage), here are my fantasy stylist pics for “the first Monday in May”.
Few designers love “the exaggerated” more than Viktor and Rolf. Their Spring 2019 Couture collection brought Millenial aphorisms together with exuberant, tulle heavy design to create looks perfect for this year’s Gala.
I love the idea of camp as a form of tromp l’oeil – a sartorial mind trick that plays with your expectations and is never quite what it seems. These designs from Thom Browne, Christian Cowan, Iris van Herpen, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Moschino, and Schiaparelli all play with the eye – whether through actual tromp l’oeil, or mimicry of flowers, flamingos, and even a pair of dressmaking scissors.
Most often, when we think of camp, we think of precisely these ideas: of being “too much”; of playfulness; of the polar opposite of the drab sincerity and seriousness much of fashion falls prey to. There are a lot of designers who do over-the-top well, from well known houses like Dolce and Gabbana, Moschino, Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs, and Schiaparelli, to relative newcomers like Off-White, Mary Katrantzou, and Tomo Koizumi.
Schiaparelli, Spring 2019, 2017, and 2016 Couture
Moschino, Fall and Spring 2019 and 2018 RTW
As Sontag notes in her essay, camp is a modern form of dandyism borne largely out of the early-mid 20th century’s gay communities. I would love to see some folks play to this origin story with modern takes on male suiting, over-the-top depictions of the female image, or rainbow homages to camp’s queer past. I found some phenomenally campy options from many of the previously mentioned long-time purveyors of camp, as well as from less expected designers like Alexander Mcqueen, Novis, Halpern, Milly, and Peter Pilotto.
And finally, of course, camp is awful. It’s EXTRA, over-the-top, terribly tacky, and laughably in-your-face. As always, I want the stars walking the red carpet tomorrow to go there, to go to that extra place. In a normal year, the Met Gala is the best annual celebration of excess – this year, I hope everyone takes it to the next sartorial level!