The annual 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art held on May 06, 2019 in New York City. I’ve been too busy with work stuff to write a post about it then but I sure did take some copious notes of my own.
I have heard the word ‘camp’ used before and I sorta kinda knew what it meant but this was an opportunity to find out more. I mean, all of my favourite magazines had something fascinating to say about it. Vogue, Harpers Bazaar. etc etc etc.
Are you surprised that those are my favourite magazines? I guess you expected me to say National Geographic or The Economist or The Harvard Business Review. I have had my flirtations with those too.
I have evolved. I now read Esquire along with Vogue. And I still read car magazines. I followed Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear religiously for many years. Another day another post maybe.
The Met Gala was a delight.
Having read all Susan Sontag et al had to say about camp here is my take on it. Camp is visual reward, glamour and theatricality. It is extravagant, vulgar and yet unpretentious and innocent. Most of all it is playful or failed seriousness as Susan puts it in her excellent exposition Notes On Camp.
Camp is lively, audacious, dynamic, impertinent and challenging. It is the glorification of character – of a person being one very intense thing. Over the top exaggeration. A daring and witty hedonism. Camp has been associated with queer culture and drag, swish, burlesque, dandyism and pantomime.
And with all that in mind here are who I think are the hits and misses at the show.
Judging by the definitions I read Joan Crawford nailed the look with her Cinderella meets Scarlett O’Hara ball gown and excess of feathers and diamonds even though none of the super models who also wore feathers and lots of bling looked camp. Donatella has been doing extra for so long it must be impossible for her to look camp.
Lupita Nyong’o, Ru Paul and Hamish Bowles nailed it perfectly. Lupita took the associations to pantomime and channeled an African Marlene Dietrich. And did you notice the appropriation of Erik culture? Loved it.
Ciara, Janelle Monáe, Katy Perry, and Cara Delevingne managed to look quirky if not quite camp.
French Montana in Dapper Dan Gucci looked like just about any run of the mill Arab. Is that to suggest that they are camp? Oh dear. And I was disappointed in the Hilfiger’s consumes. Someone told me a few days ago that Benedict Cumberbatch has swag. I see what they mean. However, like Anne Wintour he looked too elegant to be camp. Certainly dandy though.
The Misses –
The long trains were boring and cliche. Besides Riri slayed the train with her Chinese inspired Met Gala outfit in 2015. You can’t top that.
The Kardashian-Jenner clan. Was it that they made no effort to actually find out the theme for the night or is it that they are just camp every day and we have so gotten used to that image their 2019 Met Gala looks did not stand out? Their outfits while stunning and intricate just did not stand out. There was something missing.
Naomi, Gisele, Gywnyth, Donatella, Nicki Minaj, Jlo, didn’t seem like they even tried. Isn’t that what they wear everyday? Where was the theatre, the performance, the fantasy?
I’m still not over the fact that they did not invite Cher. I mean, she (and Elton John) literally defined celebrity camp in he 70’s and 80s. Now that’s how to do camp.
According to Susan and some contemporary writers camp is naive or uncontrived bad taste. Camp also re-appropriate culture in an ironic way, bringing back things that were once thought tasteless or in bad taste. Barrie Kosky, an Australian theatre and opera director, said he uses camp to satirise the pretensions, manners and cultural vacuity of Australia’s middle class.
But the Met Gala 2019 award for camp goes to Hamish Bowles and Billy Porter.
More than anybody else they brought to life Susan’s Notes on Camp.
Camp isn’t just extra and playful. Camp is performance. It is the glorification of character according to Sontag and a person being one very intense thing. I now feel able to identify camp. Which is somewhat of a relief. To be able to give a name to all that excess of bad taste one encounters daily especially in Nigeria and Africa.
Chantal Biya the first lady of Cameroon exhibits an abundance of naive over the top bad taste. So do many other matrons and matriarchs of Africa but we will leave them for another day.
Fela was definitely camp. (I’ll be writing a critique of Fela in October during Felabration.)
So is Charly Boy,
Camp is also about breaking gender stereotypes and role playing. According to Susan “What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.” And of course camp has been most closely associated with drag queens but it has roots going way back to Oscar Wilde and dandyism.
My favourite gender bender looks were Harry Stiles in Gucci and Danai Gurira.
But the biggest lesson from the Met Gala Night was my own flirtations with camp and queerness. Melanie Trump pulled the campiest move of the century when she wore THAT coat but I can relate. (The entire Trump family could be the poster children for camp.)
It’s all a performance and theatre. Be your most intense self. I most certainly intend to do just that.