Met Gala: Who Will Get 'Camp' Right?

The Costume Institute spring exhibition "Camp: Notes on Fashion" press event - 2019
Courtesy of Getty Images

The annual fashion extravaganza’s "camp" theme has proved to be challenging for some, while effortless for others. “If anyone has any doubt, just think to yourself, ‘WWEJD’ (What would Elton John do?),” says fashion designer August Getty.

Monday night’s 71st annual Met Gala, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute fundraiser, is pretty much the Super Bowl of the fashion world.

Fashion’s big night out, held on the first Monday in May and helmed by Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, kicks off the museum’s annual show — this year, “Camp: Notes on Fashion," based on Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp.”

The gala's co-chairs include Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, Lady Gaga, Serena Williams and Harry Styles. And onlookers are expecting the bold and the beautiful from a guest list that includes Rihanna (who showed up last year in a pope ensemble) to Cher (who donned the first “naked” dress with strategically placed sparkle in 1974) along with Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian West, Sarah Jessica Parker, Emma Roberts, Jared Leto and Tracee Ellis Ross.






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So how exactly does Sontag define “camp?” “The essence of camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration,” she writes. “The hallmark of camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of 3 million feathers.”

All well and good until one tries to marry that with the wish of many Hollywood peeps to look pretty rather than over-the-top theatrical. Word is that many have bowed out for that very reason and that anxiety levels are running high. The trick is how to interpret the theme in a fashion that proves to be cleverly on point and camera-worthy, without looking silly.

(There has been chatter this year that certain members of the fashion camp — particularly on other continents — initially translated the concept as “camping,” as in wearable sleeping bags and tent-like garb as the theme was lost in translation). “I’m going to be a camp counselor,” Chrissy Teigen jokingly posted in a nod to the double entendre on her Instagram Stories over the weekend. 

The Gucci gang, including Jared Leto, is bound to ace the look, given Michele’s maximalist approach to fashion. Arguably the West Coast king of camp, L.A.-based fashion designer Jeremy Scott (also the creative director of Italian fashion house Moschino) is dressing about a dozen people in custom Moschino for tonight’s event and told The Hollywood Reporter: “Camp to me is about embracing joy and that, for me, is effortless!”

New York-based fashion designer Zac Posen, also dressing a dozen guests, teased: “What people might not know about me is that I have a very deep interest in science and engineering, and I also follow the tech market very closely. So what you’re going to see is influenced by those ideas, employing some highly advanced technology.”

“My definition of ‘camp’ was drawn from gay and pop culture history, trail blazers who were bigger than life, burned bright and made their mark on history,” says Hollywood stylist Michael Fisher, whose clients include James Corden and Alexander Skarsgard. “I drew inspiration from Quentin Crisp, Victor Victoria and the Golden Age of Hollywood, the 1920's. Capes, carnations, shawl collars & strong shoulders!”

Italian fashion designer Giambattista Valli, whose gowns are a red carpet favorite, also weighed in: “For me 'camp' is the art of experimenting, pushing the boundaries of the acceptably excessive to the extreme, without falling into the territory of 'cheap' and 'trash.' Camp is arty, it is a mental position of not having the limits of good and bad taste."

Expect brands traditionally associated with more timeless aesthetics to roll out their wild side. Asked how she planned to camp up her outfit to fit the Met Gala theme, Mary-Kate Olsen, who helms the fashion label The Row with her sister Ashley, said: “We’re going to surprise everyone!” Ashley added, “We always do our own thing anyway.”

And then there are first-timers, such as fashion designer Paul Andrew, recently appointed creative director of the Italian luxury house Salvatore Ferragamo, who will be taking the brand on its first Met Gala outing tonight.

Stylist Zadrian Smith, who is dressing at least one star tonight, said, “Over the last few weeks, we've been privy to many different interpretations of exactly how to define and interpret 'camp' through the prism of fashion. It seems the immediate trend is to place 'camp' in the category of tacky, awful or even anti-fashion. However, for me, 'camp' is actually incredibly optimistic. It's ahead of the times, extremely contemporary, rebellious, daring, bold, self-assured and independent." 

Noting his Southern upbringing, Smith continued: “'Camp' in Savannah, Georgia, was decadence, flavor, big hair, the drunken characters of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade, and the iconic Lady Chablis at Club One. There's a little bit of 'camp' in all of us and that's why I'm very excited to see all the different variants of 'Camp' hit the red carpet tonight at the Met Gala!”





Category is #CAMP #METGala2019 #WaitforIt #JohnGallianoforDior

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L.A.-based philanthropist and fashion designer August Getty of August Getty Atelier, told THR: “Everyone has been saying that this year’s MET Gala theme is hard to interpret. Not for me! The first time I heard of anyone being ‘camp,’ I was eight years old and my grandmother dressed up as Dame Edna [the character created by Australian comedian Barry Humphries] and it wasn’t even Halloween! I had never seen anyone look so fabulous, and thus started my love affair with camp.”

He summed things up: “To me, camp means fully embracing who you are and showcasing yourself in the most glorious and over-the-top way. It’s all about excess and exaggeration, but of course making it fashion. In incorporating this theme into my work, I would add over-the-top glamour, proportions and crystals. With camp, if anyone has any doubt, just think to yourself, ‘WWEJD’ (What would Elton John do?)”