Mere excess is not. Pure prettiness certainly isn’t. At this year’s Met Gala, guests did one or the other, with many quite clearly mistaking cliché for camp, flimsy for fantastic, Barbie for Barbarella
Pretty in pink pleats: Gisele (in Dior) probably thought she was attending a high school prom without Carrie White attending
The Met Gala itself has always been camp. Sure, the event may have increasingly lost a sense of irony and a dollop of wit, but the idea of a bunch of fashion’s who’s who—and who’s not—rubbing sequinned shoulders in a celebration of clothes is quintessentially camp. Last year’s ode to Catholicism influencing fashion design was, in fact, prelude to this year’s semi-intellectual theme, Camp: Notes on Fashion. Already lame last first Monday of May, this time, camp, as it turns out, is so wide by definition that no one is able to really put a finger on it the way they could parody a pontiff or re-imagine a rose window.
When it is time to really camp it up, most of the attendees really chickened out. Without doubt, they piled on whatever they could, but more is not more camp. Many articles leading up to this year’s Met Gala were published, pointing out to camp’s inherent excesses (not to be confused with exuberance), as if those obliged to follow the gala’s dress code would not understand what they signed up for. Perhaps the most enlightening—and delightful—came from an unlikely source: dictionary.com. It succinctly explained that “Being camp is more than just being over the top”. And it added that camp is “something that provides sophisticated, knowing amusement, as by virtue of it being artlessly mannered or stylized, self-consciously artificial and extravagant, or teasingly ingenuous and sentimental.” In a word, er, name: Kumar!
This year, dictionary.com saw it fit to explain to the attendees of the 2019 Met Gala what camp isn’t
Indeed our funnyman Kumar should have been invited to the Met Gala. We can imagine him rocking a sari next to Aquaria with more aplomb that Michael Urie in the epicene Christian Siriano number, which is more a joke than a treatise on camp. Half-drag, already popular in Thailand for many years, is only now catching on at the Met Gala, but with half-baked cleverness. Interestingly, while the male guests were willing to try female forms of dress, none of the woman took the Marlene Dietrich route/look—a style that has variously been described as camp.
The thing is, camp is insufficient if it’s only outward form. For camp to be convincing, you’d need to be campy, which is an attitude, not appearance. Madonna (unfortunately, absent this year) is the personification of camp because she is downright campy, or, as is often said of her, a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. Her recent Billboard Music Awards performance and the latest music video, Medellin, in which she romped in bed in a cloud of a blue dress by Erdem, was unadulterated camp!
What is truly preferred at the Met Gala is prettiness—a beauty entrenched in girlhood. A less-attractive woman looking pretty is camp, a pretty woman looking prettier is not. Maria Callas was camp, Jackie Kennedy not. A Tony Duquette dress, if he ever made one, would be camp, an Edith Head not. Ostrich feathers are camp, marabou, since they left the showgirl, not. Many—especially actresses—adopt looks that are, to be sure, high drama, but they are hardly, indeed, far from camp.
Feathers are not camp!
Birds of a feather flock together. Clockwise from top left: Anna Wintour (in Chanel), Taylor Hill (in Ralph Lauren), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (in Oscar de la Renta), Kylie Jenner (in Versace), Kendal Jenner (in Versace), Naomi Campbell (in Valentino Couture)
When feathers, especially marabou, have become commonplace, so much so that they form the walls along the stairway of the pink carpet (that is quite camp until you realise the entire exhibition area is in the same shade) of the event, you know it has lost its status in camp-dom. Anyway, who wants to look like or match a wall?
And to that, may we also say pink is not camp!
Tiered ruffles are not camp!
Not-the-top tier: Emma Roberts (in Giambattista Valli), Kerry Washington (in Tory Burch), Ella Balinska (in Tory Burch), Julianne Moore (in Valentino Couture), Joan Collins (in Valentino Couture), Penelope Cruz (in Chanel)
If you need to wear a wedding cake as a dress, then wear one. Layers of tulle or lamé that appear to require Mammy’s dexterous hands to put on is perhaps best left to those who want an Ashley Wilkes, but, in the end, got Rhett Butler.
A light source is not camp!
Katy Perry (in Moschino) not quite the bright spark of the Med Gala
The line between wacky and ridiculous is often a shared one. Katy Perry has worn some outrageous dresses to the Med Gala, but this one is quite literally the chandelier up there in the ballroom. It seems, Ms Perry has a dream: to get a part next to Lumiere in the next live-action Beauty and the Beast by crashing into a lighting shop in Balestier Road.
A nightgown is not camp!
Gwyneth Paltrow (in Chloe) is about to go to bed in the likes of Longbourn House
It is not clear where in the book of camp does it say that “artificial extravagance” is dressing like you are about to take the test to determine if you are a princess by sleeping on top of a pile of mattresses under which a tiny pea is buried at the lowest layer. You, Ms Goop, are not Carol Burnett in Once Upon a Mattress!
Laziness is not camp!
Salah at the gala: poor Karlie Kloss (in Gucci X Dapper Dan) went to the wrong party
Sometimes you simply can’t be bothered. Costume requires time and effort. Karlie Kloss knows that, so she turns up looking like she did not want to do any heavy lifting except with those deflated lanterns she used, sadly, as sleeves. Lackadaisical, yes; camp, no. Twitter, take over.
Looking like Barbie is not camp!
Deepika Padukone (in Zac Posen): you can take the girl away from the doll, but you can’t take the doll out of the girl
Barbie has her camp moments, but not when she’s dressed in her princess/pageant best. Deepika Padukone, a recent serial Met Gala attendee, channels the Barbie that makes it to Toys R Us, not the shelves of the collectors’ cupboard.
Trying to outdo Rihanna is not camp!
Cardi B (in Thom Brown) is
That train is shaped like Rihanna’s omelette from 2015, only Cardi B’s look like an oversized bathroom mat that doubles as a quilt used in a love hotel. Sometimes what stands between two stars getting ahead in the fashion firmament is simply something called taste.
Macabre is not camp!
Jared Leto (in, what else, Gucci) must have thought camp to be the damned
Did Jared Leto nick something from his own likeness at Madame Tussaud’s before going to the Met Gala? Does he feel that a red velvet gown and crystal body jewellery that would do any Indian bride proud are not enough? Is a body-less double “self-consciously extravagant”? Do tell us.
Photos: Getty Images/Vogue