It’s a fundraiser, it’s a party, it’s an exhibition and it’s all spearheaded by fashion’s fearless female leader and the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour; it’s the Met Gala, this year fitted with the theme of “Camp: Notes of Fashion.”
Every year, on the first Monday of May, a host of celebrities descend on the Metropolitan Museum of Art to showcase the latest and greatest designs of fashion’s biggest houses and designers. In other words, it’s the fashion world’s Oscars. For everyone not on the highly exclusive guest list, it’s a chance to see the world’s biggest celebrities do what they do best; walk the red carpet dressed by the current pioneers of the fashion industry.
This year’s theme for the Costume Institute Benefit, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” doesn’t hold the meaning one might assume. Inspired by Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp,” camp doesn’t equal camping. Sontag isn’t talking about packing up the family in a Honda Odyssey and taking a weekend trip into the Shenandoah Valley. @LadyGagaNowNet on Twitter put it best, explaining that “camp,” in this sense, is the “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration, style at the expense of content. the triumph of the epicene style.”
Simply put, “camp” at the Met isn’t literally the life of the wild, but a view of the world through the lens of the wild and unnatural, a call for the most daring and ostentatious expressions imaginable and “studied triviality.” It’s a term that describes a celebration of the artificial and, in the words of celebrity stylist Wayman Bannerman, “freedom of self-expression.” Inspired by the mantra “studied triviality,” designers and their muses brought the realm of indulgent extravagance to life. With that in mind, let’s dive into some of the “campest” looks of the night.
What better way to start than with one of the night’s co-hosts and the wearer of one of the most head-turning outfits of the event. Dressed by Gucci in a look designed by the fashion house’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, Styles wore black high-heeled boots, high-waisted and wide-cut black trousers, a corset and a sheer top complete with flowery lace and a silk bow scarf that emanated luxury. For the man whose daily wear of ’70s-inspired looks from fashion houses such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci and Versace, the step into haute couture doesn’t seem to be as big of a leap as it might be for others not already entrenched in the world of designer fashion. Styles and Michele certainly took a risk, but it was a risk well-taken.
The queen of bizarre and extravagant fashion choices — and a co-host of this year’s Met Gala — gave new life to the phrase “pretty in pink.” Wearing an outfit by Brandon Maxwell with accessories by Tiffany and Co., the same brand that dressed her for this year’s Oscars where she wore the famous “Tiffany Diamond,” Gaga’s look went through several stages as the night progressed. Starting with a fuschia gown featuring a massive train, Gaga eventually ditched the train and gown to reveal a black mermaid dress with a hoop skirt anchored only to her left side. For her third look of the night, Gaga changed out of the black dress into a — once-again fuschia — sheath dress. Finally, after a period spent showing off the sheath dress to the press, Gaga took it off to showcase a black lingerie set covered in 7,200 Swarovski crystals and complete with a pair of fishnet tights. It was another bold move, but again, Tiffany and Co. did well. Gaga was a symbol of feminine power with all four of her looks.
Porter turned heads at the Oscars when he wore a black ball gown and tuxedo combination, and he only ramped up the intensity for the Met Gala. Heavily inspired by Egyptian mythology and a look from the 1975 Diana Ross film, “Mahogany,” the New York City-based fashion house The Blonds dressed Porter in a black and gold bodysuit with Giuseppe Zanotti shoes that caught the light at every turn and had him seemingly shining. The real spectacle of the outfit, however, was undoubtedly the set of 10-foot wings — made entirely out of golden feathers — attached to his arms.
With the black and golden clothing, his golden wings and a 24-karat golden Cleopatra Folies Bergère headpiece, Porter was a physical manifestation of the Egyptian goddess, Isis. Though, The Blonds didn’t stop with the extravagant outfit. Porter was carried into the Met on a black litter held up by six shirtless men, all dressed in gold pants and gold headdresses. With the level to which The Blonds took their concept with Porter, it’s no surprise his preparation reportedly took five hours.
Porter wasn’t the only one exuding a shining opulence. Dion took the red carpet in an Oscar de la Renta metallic bodysuit — which reportedly took over 3,000 hours and 52 embroiderers to make — entirely covered in embroidered fringe that glistened in the light. Pairing the bodysuit with a large, feather-covered headdress and Chloe Gosselin pumps, Dion created a look that gave physical form to the power and easy elegance of birds of prey.
If haute couture fashion is about exploring the limits of design, Urie was the striking example of the inquisition of those limits. Designed by Christian Siriano, Urie’s look was actually two outfits in one. On one side, he wore a pinstripe suit. On the other, he wore a strapless, tulle A-line dress. Both had been chopped in half and sewn together in the middle, but the divide didn’t stop there. One half of Urie’s face was shaved while one half wore heavy makeup, he had on both a Doc Marten boot and a stiletto heel – paired with the sides opposite of what would have been expected — and his lips were even two different shades on the left and right.
Looking past the seeming incredulousness of the outfit, Urie and Siriano showcased a powerful statement on the fight for transgender equality in the U.S. By creating a half-and-half piece of a typically masculine outfit and a typically feminine outfit, they displayed the struggle that many transgender individuals face — the inability to fully embrace who they really are due to the constraints enforced by the current societal norms and expectations of American society.
If only the physical clothing on his body were to be taken into account, Miller would appear to have been dressed relatively conservatively; the pinstripe Burberry suit with a flowing train wasn’t too far removed from what one might find in any given runway exhibit. It’s not the suit, however, that was the true spectacle of Miller’s look at the Met. That title goes to his makeup.
Painted by renowned makeup artist Mimi Choi, Miller’s face was covered in seven eyes — two columns of three and one in the center. The design was executed so flawlessly that it was almost hard to discern which set of eyes was real. With the uncanny throwback to Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” Miller truly brought out the “love of the unnatural” aspect of this year’s theme.
Perry is no stranger to strange, and she demonstrated that at the Met. Always one to deliver a show, she stepped out into the room as a human chandelier complete with working lights powered by a hidden battery pack. In an act of full commitment to her concept, Perry donned the 40-pound ensemble — created by Italian fashion house Moschino — held up by an impressively strong corset. At an event known for producing some of the most talked-about looks of the year, Perry went all in and was, quite literally, lit.
Looking like something straight out of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s novel, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Delevingne wore an LGBT rainbow-striped, see-through playsuit and tights combo from Christian Dior. Complete with platform heels covered in rainbow-covered rhinestones, Harry Kotlar and Swarovski jewels and a headdress that was so wildly fantastical it took several looks to make sense of, Delevingne’s outfit brought a touch of childish humor and imagination to “camp.”
If “camp” is about the unusual and unnatural, Thompson nailed it. In a full expression of avant-garde fashion and conceptualization, Thompson’s look — created by Chanel — took the haute couture aspects of the Chanel brand and mixed them with the foremost archetype of the BDSM community: the dominatrix. While the main piece of the outfit is a seemingly normal-for-a-runway pink dress with a tight, pulled-in waist, Thompson donned fingerless leather gloves underneath and thigh-high leather boots, wore a long hair braid covered in leather and held a whip and a riding crop, two mainstays of what’s referred to as “impact play” in the BDSM community.
In addition to being a prime example of avant-garde fashion, Thompson’s BDSM-inspired look is a startling depiction of feminine independence. According to designers Wayman Bannerman and Micah McDonald, Thompson’s attire is entirely conceptual, representing women — especially African-American women — taking back the power and status that has been taken from them by a long-standing patriarchal society. It’s intriguing, interrogative and entirely “camp.”
Finishing up the list is a look that was definitely in the running for the best use of accessories. Ross’s black, spaghetti-strap mermaid dress and black heels were entirely un-noteworthy, but the large gold picture frame she carried around and centered on her face certainly wasn’t. If “camp” is about daring to push boundaries and send strong messages, the Moschino creation Ross wore and carried certainly fit the bill.
In an age of increasing dependence on technology, society has been wrapped up in the “like culture.” Ross’s use of the indulgent gold picture frame demonstrates this, giving physical form to the concept that people’s lives are being captured in pictures instead of moments and memories.
The 2019 Met Gala was a night of experimentation and steps toward a new age of haute couture fashion. This year’s theme of “Camp: Notes on Fashion” encouraged the highest degree of over-the-top and ostentatious expression, and the designers — and the celebrities wearing their clothing — took the challenge to heart, bringing some of the most controversial and shocking looks of the last few years to the public eye. It’s a clear message to the thousands of viewers of the gala’s demonstration: in a society that seeks to encourage normativity, don’t ever abandon the pursuit of self-expression.
Contact Jake Conley at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.