The 2019 Met Gala will take place on May 6th, with red carpet coverage beginning at 7pm Eastern time. This year’s theme is Camp: Notes on Fashion. When most people think of camp, they think of hot summer nights in cabins and staying up late to make friendship bracelets. Or they think of the sweaty day-camps that so many children go to in the long months of summer, so they can’t bother their parents. But camp actually has another meaning in the world of fashion. Susan Sontag wrote an essay in 1964 on the Camp phenomenon, and it largely inspired this year’s theme. In her essay she wrote, “The essence of camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” So, when one thinks of Camp fashion, one might also think of Lady Gaga’s many ‘extra’ red carpet looks, Elton John’s famous onstage costumes and Louis XIV’s love of luxury and extravagance in 17th century France.
Sontag’s essay goes even more in-depth into the world of camp fashion. She writes, “Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation—not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy,” meaning that the precise wonder of camp fashion is that is about breaking boundaries in order to please one’s own imaginative visions. Camp also has a complex relationship with the idea of seriousness in a way that something that is whimsical and extravagant can also be serious because of what it can stand for. When speaking of this relationship she explains that “The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to ‘the serious.’ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.” She shows here the importance of extravagance, of ‘frivolousness’ and how there can be much more meaning behind it.
Largely based on Sontag’s essay about Camp is the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to be unveiled at the Met Gala per the usual protocol. This exhibit will include over two-hundred pieces of fashion as well as relics, sculptures, dishware and more. The timeline of this show begins around 17th century Versailles, where Louis XIV, le roi de soleil (sun king) became a prominent figure in the camp idea. Of course, it was not called that back then, but current analyses of camp fashion often lead to this time in history, where extravagance and whimsicality were at the forefront of the fashion world. As a part of this curation, one can expect pieces from designers like Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Rei Kawakubo, Mugler, Bob Mackie and Karl Lagerfeld to make an appearance.
As for the Met Gala itself, the hosts, Lady Gaga and Harry Styles, are perfectly suited to represent this concept in fashion. We can anticipate inspiring looks from both of these figures on the red carpet, as they are each known to experiment with the bounds of fashion in a very camp-like way. Other celebrities like Rihanna and Katy Perry are gearing up for their debuts on the red carpet, and from them we can only expect something so camp that we never could have imagined it prior.
Andrew Bolton, curator of the Met’s Costume Institute is definitely looking forward to this year’s theme, as he explained its relevance to the New York Times, “Whether it’s pop camp, queer camp, high camp or political camp—Trump is a very camp figure—I think it’s very timely.” I guess we’ll just have to stay tuned then and see what the imaginations of so many designers and celebrities can do without any limits.