What to Expect From the First Monday of May

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“Camp: Notes on Fashion” is this year’s Met Gala theme. Lizzie Wright tells us who and what to expect.

Every year the fashion world looks forward to the first Monday of May, and 2019 is no different. The Costume Institute Gala, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City plays host to a multitude of celebrities, all handpicked by Anna Wintour herself, with only the best receiving a ticket. This year’s co-chairs, Lady Gaga, Harry Styles, and Serena Williams (alongside Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele) were selected to host the theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion. Lady Gaga has been gathering awards at every turn for her leading role in ‘A Star is Born’, Styles was voted fourth in British GQ’s best-dressed men of 2018, and Williams has consistently pushed boundaries on the tennis court with her fashion, namely her later-banned black catsuit and tutu.

Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Costume Institute (which the Gala raises money for) was inspired by Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on “Camp”’ which posed several ways in which the concept of camp could be interpreted. Sontag writes that the essence of camp is ‘It’s good because it’s awful.’ The word ‘camp’ itself is said to originate from the French ‘se camper’- to strike an elaborate pose, directly from the court of King Louis XIV- nicknamed ‘The Sun King’ for a reason. Exhibits will include a Roman sculpture of a young Hercules to illustrate the contrapposto stance (the ideal pose for the Versailles courtiers), and a pair of the king’s red high heels, worn only by those who gained royal favour (and potentially inspired the famous Louboutin red sole).

However, the real exhibits are the attendees themselves. This year’s theme is much more open to interpretation compared to previous years, so expect a mass array of colours, patterns, and shapes. While last year’s theme, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination was dominated by deep reds and metallic tones, camp could go in any direction. But don’t be hoping for Harry Styles in another floral suit- Sontag says anything in nature can never be camp. This isn’t to say that florals are banned (in Spring? Never), but to wear it alone is not camp. To go above, to wear something so gauche that you can’t tear your eyes away- that is true camp.

Image: Fashionista

With Harry Styles as co-chair, 2019 could well be the year in which men take the theme more seriously. Year after year, we are tormented with uninspired black tuxedos, but given the progression society has been making, it would be great to see more diverse male fashion at the gala. Michele’s pre-fall designs for Gucci 2019 feature the models with longer, almost parodic shaped bobs, and androgynous, gaudy shades. The lines between male and female were blurred, with some models wearing makeup (often bold eyeshadow and a stained effect on the lips). Sontag notes that ‘what is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine’. Billy Porter is just one figure who has embraced traditionally feminine fashion recently, with his looks at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes. There is something sexy about a person so comfortable with their identity that they feel free to experiment, to push boundaries (think back to Gaga’s male alter-ego at the 2011 VMAs, Jo Calderone). ‘Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgment.’ Men at the Met Gala this year should feel safe to honour Michele’s work for Gucci and choose pieces accordingly- whether that be a dress, an elaborate costume, or a twist on the classic suit.

‘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.’ There’s no way to sum up the predictions for what we’ll see on this year’s red carpet. For example, Cardi B provided an interesting take on Camp in vintage Thierry Mugler at this year’s Grammys. But Camp can be a myriad of things, too much and yet simple at the same time. The element of surprise is what makes the Met Gala so exciting- it gives celebrities and designers the chance to showcase looks and talent while putting on a fashion show unlike any other. For camp, think Virgil Abloh’s take on the little black dress, Violet Chachki’s 2000s glam. Think anything- and then think bigger.

This year’s Met Gala falls on Monday 6th May. Featuring around 200 fashion and fine art objects, the exhibit will be open to the public from 9th May 2019 – 8th September 2019.