Gaga's costume changes and entourage reflected the sheer extravagance of Camp Clevver Style, Youtube

This year the Met Gala theme explored Camp sensibility through the lens of Susan Sontag’s essay ‘Notes on Camp’.  Sontag published her essay in 1964, and it was the first attempt in academic writing to capture the properties of this fleeting sensibility. Although her cultural frame of reference is outdated now, it gives an amazing idea of what constitutes camp.

The visual and the performative are camp’s fundamental elements. It explores stylization and exaggeration in an exuberant and life-loving way. Artifice, theatricality, a disregard for content, and the quality of failure are key to camp. Camp can be naïve or self-aware, but it is always the former that is most convincing.

Camp sees everything in quotation marks

The 2019 Met Gala theme encouraged us to look at clothing in a different way. Rather than simple fashion, clothes were used as aesthetic devices to channel Sontag’s ideas in visual form. We’ve picked three celebrities who we think embodied the camp sensibility best and can serve as a contemporary example of what it is to be camp.

Lady Gaga 

Gaga killed it! Most celebrities hardly managed one look and she turned out four. It was not just four looks but four personalities, four acts in one play. With the help of an entourage and multiple props, she transformed the red carpet into a stage. This acknowledged a side of camp beyond the visual, reaching the performative element that Sontag describes as ‘a metaphor of life as a theatre’. Gaga’s props got increasingly extravagant as her looks got increasingly basic. Sontag notes that ‘Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman”.' The phone Gaga uses plays into this culture of deceit. The exaggerated way she held it to her ear questions the reality of the object; a question extended into the way she performs “femininity”.

Gaga was not alone in her use of supporting actors. Billy Porter (who turned out an iconic golden phoenix look) was carried in on a litter by half-naked assistants. Entourages are a new thing for the Met Gala, but show an understanding of camp’s character creation. The escort is also an extension of the celebrity’s look, embodying ‘the spirit of extravagance’: something that is ‘too mediocre in its ambition’ cannot be camp.

Billy Porter, proving that his ambitions are far from mediocreEmpressive, Youtube

Ezra Miller 

No one embodied Sontag’s theory of artifice quite like Ezra Miller. Beneath a masquerade mask was another illusion cunningly rendered through kaleidoscopic makeup. These levels of fantasy question the reality of his personhood, extending into his aloof, thoughtful poses on the red carpet. Just like Gaga he is impersonating impersonality but not through kitsch.

The corporeal signifiers of femininity were highlighted through the dress

His look also incorporated androgynous elements. Whilst this is an obvious interpretation of camp, its surprising how few celebrities dared to combine masculine and feminine elements. Camp is linked to drag culture and cross-dressing, playing with gender boundaries and definitions. A lot of Sontag’s points reference Oscar Wilde and fin-de-siècle Britain, an embodiment of the then nascent queer-culture which was questioning traditional views of gender and rules placed on sexuality. Ezra’s pinstripe suit may be conventionally masculine but it is combined with a train and a bejeweled hourglass corset. Ezra Miller ‘is the triumph of the epicene style’ that Sontag foresaw.

Cardi B 

We are done with Cardi B’s look being compared to a massive menstrual flood. Many of these comparisons and “heavy flow’ comments do not realise the intentionality of her look, purposefully grounded in the sexual and the reproductive. The dress was informed by her body. Each concentric ring of the train echoing the curves of her figure. The corporeal signifiers of femininity were highlighted through the dress. Separate ruby panels inserted brought out the breast, vagina and the tummy-button (a reminder of the link between the mother and the child) in a gesture of celebration and stylisation of the female form and its maternal aspects. Camp has a ‘relish for the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms’. Cardi brought harder than anyone else. She was the Jessica Rabbit of the Met Gala.


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Equally, Cardi B’s dress was markedly impractical in its sheer size and required a whole entourage to carry it. This impracticality embodies what Sontag described as ‘the sensibility of failed seriousness’, ‘a victory of "style" over "content"’. While the dress is informed by the female body it ultimately exploits that for its visual form rather than conceptual connotations. This perfectly illustrates how camp creates a third sensibility of taste: neither moralistic, as high culture is, nor an avant-garde reaction against moralisation, it is ‘wholly aesthetic’.

Camp was definitely not the easiest of themes to address. Anna Wintour set a challenge this year. Although there were some failures that either did not address camp at all (e.g. Kanye West, James Charles) or had a rather superficial reading of it (e.g. Naomi Campbell, Katy Perry), the looks that succeeded truly embodied Sontag’s ideas. The Met Gala this year forced celebrities to think about the way in which they wanted to present themselves, rather than simply wearing another designer they have signed a PR contract with.

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