Let’s start with a guilty confession: we can post quick bursts to our instagram story all about the Met Gala fashion scene but it takes us a legit week to digest everything we’ve seen. This years theme, Camp, was its own riddle as it basically dared the celebrities and fashion designers to go as far afield as their minds could go. Which, for the creative minds behind the big fashion brands, is basically reaching for the stars (pun intended). Here now, a week in the making, is the Ellis Wilson Designs Met Gala Fashion Breakdown, a deep read for your Sunday enjoyment.
What is Camp?
Though the term didn’t originate with her, the essayist Susan Sontag has the most accessible definition in a single quote: “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… the ultimate camp statement: ‘it’s good because it’s awful.’” Camp is like kitsch with self-awareness: where kitsch is lowbrow masquerading as high art, camp is lowbrow challenging conventional wisdom of what highbrow art is by definition. Put simply, an artist aware of the boundaries of conventional good taste creates Camp when she flaunts the widely accepted norms in favor of what is pure fun. Camp is the awful pun of high fashion, the middle finger in the air at “what should be done,” and the casual wink for those in on the joke. At it’s best it elicits a groan and a smile. As we look at the styles below, let’s judge them based on their Camp Aesthetic and not on the conventional norms. Or, as Susan Sontag said: “real art has the capacity to make us nervous.” Don’t be nervous: a Camp is all about the sly smile and laughs.
We’re always so tempted to praise everything we see on the Met Gala pink carpet. It’s all so thought out, so perfectly hand-stitched and in most cases there is beauty to it even if it’s hideous. But every day has its winners and losers, and the internet wouldn’t be the internet if there weren’t hot takes and fashion judgments fired from the comfort of a desk chair far away. We’re making a break from the bloggers who praise everything every celebrity has done and giving an honest critique. In that spirit…
Kylie Jenner is a Camp fail mainly because there’s an underlying elegance to her dress. It fits her form perfectly and she can’t help but be beautiful in it. But we’ve seen similar outfits before: the sheer covering a nude body suit has been around since Cher famously wore it in 1974. It was classic then; it strikes me as lazy now. Adding colorful hair, pompoms and huge leg extensions just has me feeling a yawn coming on. Ironically Kim K paid homage to Cher at the 2015 Met Gala by wearing the same dress. Double homage from a younger sibling? You can do better Kylie.
Celine Dion’s dress is another example of an outfit too perfectly executed for it’s own good. It is elegant and flowing and worthy of the Oscar’s or Grammy’s. But Camp it is not. Much like Kylie’s pompoms, the headdress is an afterthought embellishment to make a case for thematic inclusion but our magnifying glass is too sharply transfixed to allow it. She looks fabulous but Camp she is not.
Jared Leto’s dress is a statement piece but too much so to be true Camp. It’s a conversation starter: is it a commentary on celebrity worship and the paparazzi culture that cuts down celebrities, carrying his own head the representation of celebrity willingness to engage the culture despite the inherent negatives? What about the parallels between Elizabethan England, Belle Epoque France, and present-day America all of which feature an ever-widening wealth gap? Maybe it’s a challenge to historical fashion trends that left little room for the gentlemen to embrace high fashion outside of a well-tailored tuxedo? All of these questions are valid and worthy of discussion, but without the tongue-in-cheek laugh this ensemble isn’t Camp. It’s too highbrow as a statement piece.
Ironically the winners here are not the most elegantly dressed, which speaks to the nature of Camp. Where beauty is present it’s usually subverted by camp in a way that demands attention be paid to the elements of style that are most diametrically opposed to what we like to think of as fashionable. The so-called ‘losers’ are all wearing dresses I’d kill for. The ‘winners’ are in dresses I’d be scared to wear out of the house.
I’m drawn to Billy Porter’s getup like a moth to a flame. The outfit makes me think he is both moth and flame, we are drawn to him just as he is drawn to the ever present eye of the celebrity photographer. The gold sequins are everywhere and they have more of a copper tint that really brings out the cringe-worthy Camp. Look at the faces in the background: they’re in on the joke. The only reaction is awe struck, wtf-is-that admiration. The golden butterfly has landed in all his campy glory.
Jourdan Dunn’s dress is both beautiful and grotesque, which means it’s about as perfect Camp as you can get. Are the rose petals meant to look like tongues? Are all flowers really just one Georgia O’Keefe interpretation from sexual overload? The blending of the sexual and grotesque is pure camp. And what is this dress made of? Aren’t dresses supposed to have some level of comfort? This dress flaunts all the rules and as a bonus it requires no makeup, no headdress, no special shoes. It is the statement and the questions all in one. Grade A camp.
Only Lady Gaga could pull this off. It’s not just because she’s got the body for it. There are no shortages of hot bods at the Met Gala. What sets her apart is that she’s the queen of statement fashion. She is the trendsetter and the front line in pushing modern fashion to its limits. When she arrives she can’t help but say “I am fashion, watch me shine.” Which is why this outfit is so perfectly camp. If Gaga demands serious attention, then the world of fashion must seriously consider a diamond studded bikini with fishnets and platforms as the latest bold move from an innovative mind. This is the essential middle finger up to the style snobs, the blatant sexuality of her body is almost vulgar in a pink carpet setting but because it’s Lady Gaga it must be taken as art. The only other person who could pull this off is Cher. For anyone else it would be a cheap gimmick or a stunt for attention. Because we know what Gaga is capable of, her choice to flaunt convention is epic.