The theme was “Camp” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibit this year and, as predicted, not all red carpet attendees were really sure what it entails. While the origins of the word can be traced back to the reign of the French King Louis XIV, the contemporary take on the aesthetic was solidified in American critic Susan Sontag’s Notes on Camp, a 58-point treatise that brought word and idea into the mainstream. She wrote:
It’s love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration… In matters sexual, Camp goes against the grain, cherishing either the androgynous, swoony girl-boys and boy-girls of pre-Raphaelite painting or the plangent supersexiness of Jayne Mansfield or Victor Mature. In art, Camp’s exaggeration must proceed from passion and naiveté.
Does it matter if our favourite celebrities pored over Sontag’s seminal essay? Probably not, because camp is a very slippery concept. If you think it stabbed at the idea of artifice and exaggeration, you’re probably half right. Is it frivolity? Irony? Perhaps. But camp is, ultimately, a “you can bring a queen to the ball, but you can’t make her vogue” kind of proposition. Not everyone will get it,” says Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute and the effective arbiter of all things campy.
Dr David Russell, author and associate professor in English at Corpus Christi, Oxford also mentioned in The Guardian, “To define camp is to kill it. Camp can’t be canonised – if it is, then it dies.”
The Internet has kindly assembled all the looks from the night so you can decide for yourself who got it right. For starters, here are a few we thought stood out from the pack.
Lady Gaga: The real-life Russian doll
One of the co-hosts of the night, Gaga arrived at the Met Gala in a massive hot pink Brandon Maxwell gown, complete with a cascading train and a giant matching bow on her head. According to Vogue, makeup artist Sarah Tanno was inspired by her favorite fashion book: Backstage Dior by photographer Roxanne Lowit. And because Mother Monster never disappoints, she out-camped herself with three more live outfit changes on the red carpet like a flirty striptease, hauling a wagon full of champagnes and umbrellas behind her. At one point, she held up a giant black cell phone bag by Judith Leiber – probably to call 911 for setting the red carpet on fire.
Billy Porter: (Golden) Man of the hour
Talk about making an entrance. Inspired by a sun deity, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra and Bob Mackie’s iconic costumes for Cher, Porter arrived on a litter, carried by six shirtless men on a pharaoh’s throne. Like the red-carpet royalty he is, his regal, opulent look from the Blonds consisted of an embellished catsuit, 10-ft wings, a 24-karat gold headpiece as well as custom gold-leaf Giuseppe Zanotti shoes and fine jewels by Andreoli and Oscar Heyman.
“What I love about having it at the Met Gala, and contextualising camp, is it brings honour to a word and genre that can be discounted very often, or thought of as cheesy. When it’s done properly, it’s one of the highest forms of fashion and art,” Porter told Vogue.
Jared Leto: The head-turner
Leto, clad in a design by Alessandro Michele for Gucci, paid tribute to the maison in the truest way possible – by nodding to a viral fashion moment Gucci ignited last year: the head-as-a-handbag look. The singer-actor seemed perfectly at ease, carrying a replica of his own head (as one does), and it even had his flowing locks down pat. Who needs blings when you can be your own accessory?
Janelle Monae: Blink of an eye, not.
A balloon-hipped number with a motorised blinking eye over one breast reveals Monae’s professed love of science fiction and one of her favourite artists, Picasso. “I am camp. It’s embedded in my DNA... Particularly, I wanted to highlight Picasso’s African Period in the early 1900s,” she said, referencing the years when the painter took inspiration from tribal masks to create his famously fragmented portraits.
Ezra Miller: It’s a face-off.
They say it’s rude to stare but the question here is where? Striding down in a Burberry suit, jewelled corset and diamond encrusted oxfords, Miller hid behind a mask before revealing his face which appeared to have seven eyes. The actor collaborated with Burberry creative director Riccardo Tisci for the look who said, “Miller saw the masked look partly as "this death... like this ultimate transformation that we all have to do at least once. The celebration of camp is almost funereal... It's almost like it dies as it walks in the room. But I think it consumes the other as well. You know? I think it's like fire and oxygen."
Cardi B: Traffic-stopping. Literally.
Though the singer went for something much more reserved than her plunging neckline and daring leg reveal look last year, she showed up in an elaborate piece, covered head to toe in oxblood custom Thom Browne gown that extends outward for about ten feet. The hand-embroidered dress took 35 people and more than 2,000 hours to put together, and it’s finished off with a bugle-bead headpiece that Browne made in collaboration with Stephen Jones.
“I designed this dress for Cardi specifically because she has the ultimate beauty in a woman’s body, and that is what the dress is about for me: taking advantage of that beauty,” the designer said.