An Exploration of Camp: Next Year’s Met Gala Theme Explained


When the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that 2019’s Costume Institute exhibition would be about Camp, you might’ve thought about roasted marshmallows and pitched tents. But, the Spring unveiling has more to do with our current cultural climate than campfire songs.

Inspired by an essay written by Susan Sontag titled Notes on “Camp,” 58 definitions were penned in 1964 to explain just what Andrew Bolton, the museum’s curator in charge of the Costume Institute, has chosen as the most relevant fashion movement of the year.

The exhibition will be launched with fashion’s largest celebration at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on Monday, May 6th, marking the event’s 71st anniversary. This year, the Gala co-chairs will be Lady Gaga, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, Harry Styles, and Serena Williams. As with previous years, there will be a dinner, performances, and a tour of the exhibit for the guests.

Beginning with the ostentatious King Louis XIV in the French courts (think lavish Versailles and royal ballets to represent opulence) and culminating on the runway in current collections, Camp has officially trickled into modern fashion. To get a better understanding of Camp, look no further than Sontag’s notes:

5. Camp taste has an affinity for certain arts rather than others. Clothes, furniture, all the elements of visual d├ęcor, for instance, make up a large part of Camp.
7. All Camp objects, and persons, contain a large element of artifice. Nothing in nature can be campy . . . Rural Camp is still man-made, and most campy objects are urban.
10. Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman.”
19. The pure examples of Camp are unintentional; they are dead serious.
24. When something is just bad (rather than Camp), it’s often because it is too mediocre in its ambition. The artist hasn’t attempted to do anything really outlandish.
25. The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.
54. The experiences of Camp are based on the great discovery that the sensibility of high culture has no monopoly upon refinement.

The Met’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion” will include over 200 fashion objects, as well as paintings, sculptures and drawings from the 17th century onwards. Through the more historical pieces, the exhibition will explore the proliferation of Camp at Versailles, as well as the emergence of subcultures in Europe and America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The work of designers featured in the exhibition include John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld, Rei Kawakubo, Mugler, and Alexander McQueen. These designers, along with the others contributing their work, exemplify aspects of Camp in their collections, putting theatricality, irony, and humor on the runway.

As the exhibition is made possible by Gucci’s sponsorship, there are sure to be plentiful examples from their archives that capture the splendor of Camp. When sent models down the runway carrying replicas of their own heads, it was not only outlandish, but a celebration of Camp. For the notion of a “woman walking around in a dress made from three million feathers,” look to Gucci’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection, in which fringed frocks took the runway.

A now infamous example of Camp in pop culture, Lady Gaga has continued to explore the definition and sit squarely in the middle of all that Camp should be. When she entered the 53rd Grammy Awards in 2011 in an egg-shaped vessel, claiming to have spent 72 hours inside, the star was buying into the ideals of camp. And earlier, at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, Lady Gaga wore a dress of raw meat. The constant use of media perception and camp skyrocketed her persona to new heights.

No designer has recently embraced the metaphorical and ironic implications of Camp like Virgil Abloh for Off-White, a fashion label “rooted in current culture at a taste-level particular to now.” Abloh is among the designers confirmed to be featured in the exhibition. The brand and collections are laden with quotation marks, inflicting the idea of camp on seemingly innate objects. As Sontag says, “Camp sees everything in quotation marks.”

Viktor & Rolf also played with ironic slogans in its Spring/Summer Haute Couture 2019 collection, emblazoning sayings like “Less is more” and “No photos please” on grand, voluminous gowns. Several of these dresses, which are now engrained into pop culture through the numerous memes made from images of them, will be on display in the Met’s exhibition.

A specific designer noted for playing with the concept of “good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed, a good taste of bad taste,” is Jeremy Scott. With rural roots in Kansas City, Scott was drawn to grandeur of the man-made since a young age. His first collection for Moschino exemplified the border between the kitschy and the bad. Emblazoned with logos from McDonalds, cartoons like SpongeBob Squarepants, and ballgowns of cereal box nutrition labels, the 2011 collection assembled an extravagant spirit.

There are countless more examples of Camp throughout fashion history, and undoubtedly in our immediate future. If there is one thing that the Costume Exhibit has a knack for, it’s highlighting a theme that we unconsciously knew existed, but didn’t consciously consider.

Consider Camp considered.


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