CAMP: The Metro.Style Primer On The Met Gala 2019
“As in summer camp?” asked my niece, who actually graduated from a degree in Fashion from one of our better schools. The topic at our Sunday dinner had been whether there was time for K-Pop supergroup BTS to attend this year’s Met Ball, when the theme came up.
“No, camp! As in drag queens, bad taste,” I attempted to elucidate, and she absent-mindedly nodded. A stylist friend who comes over every week to join in the mayhem that tends to ensue over our family dinners piped in, “Or Moschino. Some pop art, too!"
And, well, coming from the gravitas and splendor of last year’s Heavenly Creatures, it was high time for the Met Gala to crash right back into pop culture. So, what is camp anyway? Let’s let feminist scholar, Susan Sontag explain herself, in the seminal essay "Notes on Camp" which is the inspiration for the theme.
Gucci S/S 2019 Photo: vogue.com
“Indeed, the essence of Camp (Sontag consistently capitalizes the word, much like the Renaissance or Modernism) is its love of the unnatural, or artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric—something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques. To talk about Camp is to betray it.”
"Much like Fight Club, the first rule of Camp, is you do not talk about Camp."
Why not? Because Camp is not elegance. It is not Establishment. It is not conformist. It is not conventional. There’s something underground about it and to elevate it to a scholarly topic gave Sontag her enduring tag of intellectual controversy. By making Camp a topic of academe and debate, she herself violated the very code she defined.
Moschino Spring 1991 RTW Photo: vogue.com
And that is what we can expect from this year’s celebration, a kind of self mockery with a knowing wink. Just as Lady Gaga uses fashion to flash the finger at the haters, or how Harry Styles uses “tacky“ suits to bend gender stereotypes, or how Alessandro Michele will use brocade and velvet in a radical and dress down to dress up deconstruction, Camp uses bad taste to create a new kind of “good taste”.
Moschino F/W 2019 RTW Photo: vogue.com
Just think of this year’s co-hosts and sponsors: Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, and Gucci, but not Tom Ford’s Gucci, or even further back, the equestrian bourgeois Gucci, but the eccentric, artsy Gucci of Alessandro Michele, of the clashing patterns, granny glasses and politically incorrect animal skins.
In recent videos, Anna Wintour has been asked about what she thinks Harry Styles and RuPaul will wear. Anna lets her inner fangirl fly and goes into giddy schoolgirl mode, “He reminds me so much of a young Mick Jagger. So no doubt, it will be daring, fearless, and no doubt it will be Gucci.” But the Queen of the Met Ball knows when to bow to another Queen. “I would never presume to tell RuPaul what to wear.”
Fittingly, Baz Luhrmann will once again be part of the Met Ball, and if we go by Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby, Baz just GETS: “artifice and exaggeration.”
A closer reading of Camp doesn’t just dwell on the present but takes such lofty works as all of Art Nouveau, Tiffany lamps and the Tschaikovsky classic Swan Lake as part of the canon of Camp. And while some may label Camp as ironic, Sontag clarifies: “Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as ‘a camp’ they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling. The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful.”
Gucci Fall 2019 RTW Photo: vogue.com
All this talk of artifice and enjoyment brings me to the high achievement of Filipino camp, Temptation Island, in which hapless beauty queens, hunky love interests and a theatrical pageant organizer all have to survive on a desert island after a yacht goes up in flames and now a certified cult classic. In an interview about this camp classic, director and visionaire Joey Gosiengfiao was asked about the “campiness” of the movie, and he asked back, “Ano yung camp?"
Lead photos from Gucci runways, via vogue.com