Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?

Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Love Magazine Spring 2018: Kaia Gerber by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott

Camp: Notes on Fashion – A Discussion on the Recently Announced Met Gala’s Theme

“Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of ‘character.’ Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as ‘a camp’ they’re enjoying it.

Camp is a tender feeling.”

CAMP is also the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s theme for 2019, based on Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp” that can be found in the collection of essays, Against Interpretation.

When Vogue announced “Camp: Notes on Fashion” just after Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019 this light-hearted theme seemed at odds with current events. The aftershock of Phoebe Philo’s absence from Celine was being mourned and with everything going, applying importance to anything fashion related seemed ridiculous.

Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Gucci – Vogue / Photograph: Kevin Tachman 
Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Off White – Vogue / Photograph: Kim Weston Arnold 
Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Paco Rabanne – Dazed Digital / Photograph: Daniele Fummo

From the Romantic and Unexpected to the Bold and Frivolous: Elements of Camp from the Spring/Summer 2019 Collections

Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Chanel – Vogue / Photograph: Ik Aldama
Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Valentino – Vogue / Photograph: Marcus Tondo
Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Simone Roca – Dazed Digital / Photograph: Charlotte O’Shea

The Spring/Summer collections were full of camp, wit and colour. Camp is a vehicle for trends and I am wary of how it will all be translated.

Each year it seems there are more collections than before (e.g. more trends to buy). Maximalism is an idea that has always been a companion to fashion, save for a few years and here. Everyone who I’ve discussed camp with felt that in order to be camp, you have to buy something. Even though camp is an expression of personality, it’s fuel for the fast fashion machine and a diversion to minimalism and sustainability.

I am excited to see what everyone is wearing to the gala, especially the co-chairs: Serena Williams, Harry Styles, Lady Gaga, and Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele—but less so for the exhibition.

There is no doubt that the exhibition will be entertaining—in the same way the Museum of Ice Cream is entertaining. Last year’s “Heavenly Bodies” was the Costume Institute’s most popular exhibition to date, but it wasn’t its best. The garments were incredible, but the exhibition was too literal and too big for its own good.

Simply put, camp is a celebration of personality. It can work as a theme, especially if The Costume Institute represents a variety of aesthetics as Sontag does in “Notes.”

Andrew Bolton, Head Curator of the Costume Institute told the New York Times, “We are going through an extreme camp moment, and it felt very relevant to the cultural conversation to look at what is often dismissed as empty frivolity but can be actually a very sophisticated and powerful political tool, especially for marginalized cultures…”

According to Vogue’s announcement, the exhibition will be loosely based on “Notes” but also the history of camp, and its affect on fashion and culture.

I’m not certain that fashion is the political tool anybody needs right now, or if an art exhibition can contribute to a solution of the divisiveness in America or elsewhere. I do believe that there was a time when that was true.

The great thing about the exhibition is that it Sontag’s work will be introduced to a new audience. If anything, “Notes” inspired me to search for it in those around me, offline.

Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Susan Sontag Photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson for Vogue, July 1974 / Via Vogue’s Pinterest
Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Kate Foley Osterweis is pure camp. Her elegant and bold style is worth a follow at @katefoley / via Style Du Monde
Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Phoebe Philo’s sleek version of Camp, Fall 2018 / via Vogue
Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
From Green Eye Shadow is delightful vulgarity via Vogue / Photo @lovegrace_e

I recently visited Gucci’s flagship on Fifth Avenue. Alessandro Michele is credited for Gucci and camp’s revival. It is definitely camp and also the most successful luxury brand to date. I didn’t understand why until I walked through the store. It’s red, velvet, cheery and unpretentious.  It’s a fascinating mix of people and merchandise. I get the feeling if I wanted to try on a ten thousand dollar dress that I had no intention of buying it would be ok.

I spotted a customer who looked like he could have inspired Alessandro’s mood board. I suspect he has been a customer there for decades and wasn’t there because of Harry Styles’ velvet suits or Petra Collins dreamy photography. He was wearing the sharpest athleisure: sweatpants, sweatshirt, sneakers, and socks all in the whitest white. His accessories were several gold medals.

A Gucci employee that looked like Tom Cruise recognized him as the athlete so and so. They shook hands and talked about boxing and Gucci. It was a surreal and campy moment.

Downtown at Everlane, I met Taylor—a camp dream come true. He was wearing a plaid blazer tucked into high waist denim, white socks and black loafers, while selling minimalist clothing.

“This morning, I thought it all was too much, but I just went for it.” Taylor said.

It wasn’t too much. I never would have thought to tuck my blazer into my jeans. And while it’s something that I wouldn’t do, I can recognize people like him push fashion forward.

The best designers are the ones who are able to incorporate small details that evoke personality. A wink of camp is what made Marc Jacobs’ designs so coveted in the early aughts.

Phoebe Philo is associated with minimalism but it was her camp details such as fur-lined sandals and unexpected colour combinations that created her signature esthetic.

The best fashion editorials have an element of camp. My favorite campy editorial this year is The Love editorial where Kaia Gerber is covered in pink bubble wrap.

It’s Cara Delevingne wearing a tuxedo and top hat to a royal wedding. It’s looking back at Kim Kardashian thirty years from now the way we look at Andy Warhol and his super stars today. (Coincidentally, Andy Warhol made a film in 1965 inspired by Sontag’s list.)

It’s Kate Foley Osterweis’s sartorial choices.

It’s Vogue’s recent story about green eye shadow!  There is something delightfully vulgar about green eye shadow, especially if it is from a Pat McGrath palette!

Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Longtime Hedi Slimane Champion Lady Gaga / Photograph via Vogue

Hedi Slimane’s Debut at Celine Spring 2019
Arts & Culture | Notes on Camp: Forced Fun or Optimistic Outlook?
Hedi Slimane is heavily inspired by youth. Either his approach to design or gaze is outdated because he is unable to evoke the authenticity associated with youth and camp. / Via Hedi Slimane Diary

However, as Sontag writes: “The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful… One can’t always say that.”

Camp isn’t every trend or attempt at opulence or nostalgia. Bella Hadid for True Religion jeans is not camp.

Balenciaga’s $300 air freshener-inspired key chains are not camp. Using an actual air freshener as a key chain is camp.

On my scavenger hunt for camp, I even considered whether Hedi Slimane’s Celine is camp. His approach is camp and his dedication to one aesthetic is admirable, but he hasn’t been able to capture the campy quality from the youth who inspire him nor is he focused on moving his vision forward. And it seems he is trying to emulate personality rather than trying to express it. Perhaps Lady Gaga, the Queen of Camp, and longtime champion and close friend of the designer (and who I suspect will wear Celine to the gala) can show him how.

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