From Vivienne Westwood to Venus, the garments to see in the Met’s recently opened exhibition Camp: Notes on Fashion, and the stories behind them
The Met Gala might be over for another year, but the exhibition it celebrates opens to the public tomorrow, running until September at the storied New York museum’s Costume Institute. Camp: Notes on Fashion traces the notion of camp back to 17th century France and the verb ‘se camper’, before framing fashion and camp through the definition of the word offered by Susan Sontag in her seminal 1964 essay Notes on Camp. “Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp’; not a woman, but a ‘woman’. To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater,” she wrote, among several other defining declarations (she finishes with: “The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful”).
Beyond the red – correction: pink – carpet, which saw fashion and pop culture royalty don feathers, frills, sequins and more for their takes on camp, the exhibition features a huge number of garments that riff on the idea. From Andy Warhol to 90s designers like Thierry Mugler and Franco Moschino and contemporary names like Tomo Koizumo (who made his debut in New York this February) and queen of tulle Molly Goddard, Camp: Notes on Fashion is an extraordinary look at fashion’s relationship with such flamboyance. Here, we spotlight some of the show’s most unmissable garments.
Franco Moschino Spring/Summer 1991 (above)
“Too much irony!” reads a slogan on the back of a shirt designed by Franco Moschino for his Spring/Summer 1991 collection. The rest of the collection was just as playful and slogan filled as the seemingly simple white shirt (whose slogan was only revealed once the model turned at the end of the runway): Pat Cleveland, for example, modelled a yellow jacket, which on closer inspection was itself fashioned to resemble an airplane-issue life jacket, complete with a whistle, set of instructions and air toggles. It’s the slightly more understated “Too much irony!” shirt that features in the Costume Institute’s show, thanks to the design’s self-conscious irreverence.
Thierry Mugler Autumn/Winter 1995 Couture
Thierry Mugler may have created his first designs in 20 years for Kim Kardashian to wear to the Met Gala and after parties, but some of the designer’s most theatrical work from the 1990s is on display in the exhibition. Autumn/Winter 1995’s couture season saw Mugler present the ‘Birth of Venus’ dress, created in homage to the 15th-century Botticelli painting of the same name. The gown – which was recently worn by Cardi B on this year’s Grammy’s red carpet – creates the illusion of its wearer emerging from a rippling shell of pink satin, covered in pearls flesh-coloured sequins. The original show was one of high drama and many a fabulous (read: camp) fashion moment, staged over an hour in celebration of 20 years of Mugler.
Marjan Pejoski Autumn/Winter 2000
On March 25, 2001, Björk walked the red carpet of the Academy Awards wearing a dress made to look like a swan. The gown, which the Icelandic singer chose because she’s “obsessed with swans”, was designed by Marjan Pejoski, and has gone down as one of the most polarising red carpet looks in pop culture history (thanks in large part to the fact that Björk lifted her skirt to ‘lay an egg’ in the middle of her entrance). Such a display of flamboyance – in both the dress itself and its wearer’s behaviour – makes it a perfect fit for an exploration of camp.
Gucci Autumn/Winter 2016
The house of Gucci under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele has embraced and promoted camp in contemporary fashion, with things like 1970s-esque lamé, bubblegum-pink fur, rhinestones, rainbow-coloured sequins and even the face of Dolly Parton (herself somewhat of a camp icon) painted on the back of a denim jacket. Michele was a co-chair of Monday night’s Met Gala – alongside Harry Styles, Anna Wintour, Lady Gaga and Serena Williams – and walked the red carpet with Styles in a metallic pink ruffled suit, ushering fellow guests in to see pieces of his own design in the exhibition itself, including a mint green trompe l’oeil cape from A/W16, its graphic lines offering the illusion of ruffles and billowing material.
Palomo Spain Spring/Summer 2018
Designer Alejandro Gómez Palomo subverts traditional notions of menswear with his eponymous label Palomo Spain. “Is it gender fluid or is it unisex or is it no gender? Everybody wants to categorise something so they can understand… For me I don’t actually think that much about that when I’m making the clothes. I know how to design for boys and feel really attached to them,” Palomo told AnOther after his debut at New York menswear shows in 2017. “I design for men because it is my fantasy but I think there’s an eroticism about a woman wearing men’s clothes.” Decadent and daring, Palomo’s work carries many of the hallmarks of camp: this wedding look in particular, with its sheer sheath of material and bunches of feathers.
Camp: Notes on Fashion is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, until September 8, 2019.