The Met Gala, directed by “Vogue” Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, can be confidently referred to as the superbowl of the fashion world. Each year, surrounding the benefit event, the most famous individuals in showbiz walk across the red carpet in front of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art – dressed in custom-made or archival designs by the most influential international fashion houses.
Hypothetically, the big event is an elaborate vernissage, where the attendees get an exclusive look into the new exhibit of the Metropolitan Costume Institute prior to the dinner. In practice, however, the exhibition is of particular interest for one reason: The theme of the exhibit is at the same time the theme which sets the dress code of the celebrities on the red carpet. After punk, superheroes and Catholic aesthetics – approved by the Vatican – in previous years, this year’s exhibition is about camp.
Camp is an aesthetic concept that can be challenging to pin down. Essentially the most well known definition is given by Susan Sontag in her “Notes on Camp“, which includes as many as 58 expositions of the term. Probably the most characteristic aspect of camp, as outlined by Sontag, is its affinity with the artificial, the unnatural exaggeration. camp puts things in quotes, camp is an exuberant so-doing-as, camp is vulgar, camp is the love of exaggerated characters, camp says it is dead serious with the frivolous and brims even in the highest self-parody even with self-love. The style is closely linked to performativity, which is why it is particularly common in fashion, film and the performing arts.
In her cultural examination, Sontag goes back in time and names, among others, the Sun King Louis XIV, who institutionalized the most ludicrous ceremonies at his court, as a trailblazing figure of camp. The founder of Versailles, along with his pompous affectation, exhibited an overall look that went contrary to the gender roles of his time.
This queer play with gender attributions and role models runs through the history of the camp and was repeatedly used by marginalized subcultures as an instrument of self-empowerment. The drag and ballroom scenes are just as camp-like as the designs of fashion designer Dapper Dan, who designed sweat suits and bomber jackets with Gucci and Louis Vuitton prints decades before streetwear hit the mainstream.
Even so the idea of camp is purposefully vague and means different things to different people, one thing is for certain: Attendees used the theme as an excuse to throw caution to the wind, take risks, get a little silly and go crazy with color, texture, volume and graphic prints.
Have a look at some of the very camp looks from the Met Gala 2019!