Met Gala: Billy Porter, Tom Ford Talk Camp Looks on Red Carpet

Dia Dipasupil/FilmMagic
Billy Porter

On the scene as Katy Perry arrived looking like a glowing chandelier, Lady Gaga made her four costume changes and Anna Wintour looked on with a smile.

Lady Gaga was into the third of her four costume changes on the red carpet at Monday night’s Met Gala when journalists began training their cameras and phones in the opposite direction: Event host and Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour was standing on the top step of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s grand staircase, a big smile on her face as she watched the Oscar winner (and Met Gala co-chair) in a choreographed performance, peeling off layers of Brandon Maxwell gowns while posing for the cameras.

Wintour is typically inside the museum greeting her guests once the red carpet commences, but not at this Met Gala. Here, she was another fan.

“Everybody is in the mood to have fun tonight,” Wintour noted just a few minutes earlier, and as Hollywood’s hottest names soon proved, that was an understatement. Gaga’s elegant striptease was followed by Billy Porter, who was dressed head-to-toe courtesy of The Blonds as a golden Egyptian god and carried in on a platform held aloft by six bare-chested men in matching gold pants.

Given Gaga’s entrance, it’s fortunate that Porter didn’t go with the original idea suggested to him. “Ryan Murphy said I should do all five looks from Diana Ross in Mahogany,” Porter told The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought that sounded like too much work, but out of that came the idea to do Egyptian.” (Murphy likewise embraced the night’s joyful vibe, wearing a pearl-encrusted cape inspired by Liberace and designed by Christian Siriano.)

Porter’s look took roughly six weeks to craft and required three fittings, but he said it was worth it to suit the night’s theme, based on “Camp: Notes on Fashion, “ the Costume Institute exhibition that opens to the public on Thursday. “Camp is the art of being extra in its finest and highest form,” Porter said. “ I’m glad we get to reclaim that word and make it a positive again, because it’s been a negative and a pejorative for too long.”

Based on Susan Sontag’s seminal 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp,” the exhibition explores the role camp has played in both fashion and society, from the court of Louis XIV to present day. Designers represented include Cristobal Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier, Stephen Jones, Vivienne Westwood and Jeremy Scott, from both his eponymous collection and his work for Moschino.

“It’s overwhelming to think that I came here as a student and would draw the clothes in the vitrines, or I would put on white gloves and go backstage to view the beautiful works of art and fashion – to be included is an incredible feeling,” said Scott, who outfitted Gwen Stefani as a glamorous showgirl and created a custom oversized chandelier, complete with glowing bulbs and featuring 7,000 Swarovski crystals, for Katy Perry.

Baz Luhrmann was among the few Met Gala guests who already had viewed “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” which was previewed to journalists and museum VIPs on Monday morning. “Just when you think [curator] Andrew Bolton can’t do it better, he does,” the director of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby told The Hollywood Reporter. “What I think is so great is that he started with very serious, dealing with very serious issues, but in a way that felt frivolous and ironic and fun. That’s a wonderful kind of trick, really. So much of the exhibit is silly and fun and in your face and a bit too much, but if it’s done well, there’s a great point to it.”

If there’s one word that didn’t apply to camp on Monday night, it would have to be ease. Meticulously planned theatrics tend to be far from effortless, and for the Met Gala red carpet that translated to costumes that required careful negotiation of the museum steps and a higher-than-usual number of profoundly long trains, from Maxwell’s grand fuchsia coat for Lady Gaga to Cardi B’s raspberry-hued Thom Browne gown and Kerry Washington’s tiered custom Tory Burch ballgown skirt, embroidered with “Negativity is Noise.” “It’s all about positive messaging,” Burch told THR of the gown’s inspiration.

For many guests, Hollywood and entertainment also served as the key inspiration. Zendaya was an enchanted Cinderella in a blue Tommy Hilfiger dress that lit up, while Celine Dion wore a crown of towering feathers with a silver fringed Oscar de la Renta dress that took its cue from the Ziegfeld Follies. Tony award-winning  producer Jordan Roth collaborated with designer Iris Van Herpen, who crafted a cape-like gown with a trompe l’oeil depiction of a theatre proscenium and curtain; when Roth spread his arms, it created an effect of the curtain opening. “I knew that I wanted to make a piece that was both about performance and was a performance in itself,” Roth said.

Tom Ford, meanwhile, designed a crystal-embroidered gown and cape for Gemma Chan and paired the look with an elaborate silver headpiece inspired by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1968 film Boom! Explained Ford, “That to me is one of the highest camp films of all time, because I think camp always should be beautiful.”

Indeed, around the time Perry carefully ascended the steps in her crystal chandelier, it was clear the results were well worth the effort, as the night’s theme gave license to an unprecedented sense of freedom and imagination. And for some, they were happy to simply be a fan, rather than the focus.

“Gucci is always camp, and that’s my attitude for tonight,” said Salma Hayek Pinault of her custom gold and black tulle gown by creative director Alessandro Michele (Gucci is the primary sponsor of “Camp: Notes on Fashion” and dressed 25 guests, including co-chair Harry Styles, Regina Hall and Jared Leto).

“I don’t put too much stress in being the star of the show or something that’s days and hours of production,” Hayek Pinault added. “I’m lucky, because I’ve got a good designer you can’t go wrong with. To me, it’s just fun to watch the crazy.”