'Camp: Notes on Fashion'- The 2019 Met Gala

Susan Sontag’s seminal 1964 essay provided the theme for this year’s Met Gala.

In it, the sensibility of camp is broken down into fifty eight points, some more evident than others. Her writing does not hold the authority on what ‘camp’ is seeing as though it is a contested notion, although the theme of this Gala was very much based on her conception. While we catch glimpses of campness in photos of the Gala, we must remember that in 1964, the reception to Sontag’s work was not quite so easy and breezy. Certain points in the essay may denote that camp is playful and anti-serious, but alongside the growing civil rights movement and the development of the contraceptive pill, it was viewed in the context of social liberalisation in the 60s. 

The political and social climate has undoubtedly changed since; there is a greater awareness of different sexualities. Of course, much work remains to be done regarding gay rights and critics have pointed out and questioned whether the Gala’s use of camp equates to aestheticising queerness in a way that is insensitive. This year’s theme requires us to think more critically because the theme is so elusive. With this in mind, those who succeeded were the most thoughtful in paying appropriate homage to Sontag’s vision of camp or injecting their looks with an awareness of contemporary camp. 

It is clear that those gracing us with their presence last night managed to fulfil the requirements to varying degrees of success. Arguably, last year’s theme ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’ produced outfits which were more camp and the absence of Rihanna was keenly felt by many. Nevertheless, there were some who managed to capture the theme with a sensitive approach that was both personal and well aware of the historic and cultural implications of camp. 

Joan Collins

Wearing Valentino and dressing as Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan, the character she played in the 1980s soap ‘Dynasty’, Joan Collins made a strong impact. Layers of white feathers and lashings of diamonds came together to complete an outfit which had a very personal and retro take on camp. 

Harry Styles

As co-chair, Styles wowed in Gucci. The high waisted jumpsuit had a sheer and delicate ruffled top. Accessories were kept simple and pared down with a single pearl earring.

Lady Gaga

This was definitely one of the most talked about looks this year. Lady Gaga wore four outfits designed by Brandon Maxwell who was on hand to help her remove each layer of clothing to reveal something new. The concept was highly performative with a personal photographer to capture it all. 

Michael Urie

Michael Urie donned a split gender outfit consisting of a baby pink tulle gown and a pinstripe suit. Accessories included Doc Martens, satin pumps and a clutch bag. The effect was not only striking but also made a clear statement about ideas of gender fluidity in the fashion world. 

Lena Waithe

Lena Waithe’s Pyer Moss ensemble managed to ground this event by reminding us that within the theme there is a potential to erase certain aspects of queer culture. ‘Black Drag Queens Invented Drag’ was emblazoned across the back of her lavender pinstripe suit. The detailing was astounding; each stripe was to be lyrics to popular gay anthems such as Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’. 

Billy Porter

This was Porter’s debut at the Gala and it featured a golden winged bodysuit and a 24 karat headpiece. Porter did not walk down the red carpet but was instead carried in a litter by six shirtless men in a moment which blurred the lines between fashion and performance art. 

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