Fantasy Stylist: “Notes on Camp” and the Met Gala

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.

6. Many examples of Camp are things which, from a “serious” point of view, are either bad art or kitsch.

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”.

8. Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style — but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not.

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.

10. Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman.”

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.

26. Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is “too much.”

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.

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

45. Camp is the modern dandyism. Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture.

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.

58. The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful .

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!

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