Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has framed his spring exhibition, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” round Susan Sontag’s seminal 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp.’ ” Sontag’s essay added the situation—which she described as the “love of the unnatural . . . Style at the expense of content material”—into the cultural mainstream, where, after the Stonewall riots of 1969, it flourished.
The exhibition—which runs from May 9 through September 8—is designed by using the theater scenographer Jan Versweyveld, companion of the modern director Ivo van Hove, with whom he has collaborated on such resolutely un-camp productions as Network, David Bowie’s Lazarus, and the Tony Award-winning A View from the Bridge. The garments showcased in the exhibition—via designers running the gamut from Christian Dior and Cristóbal Balenciaga to Franco Moschino, Bob Mackie, Jeremy Scott, and Donatella Versace—are obviously camp enough to stand alone.
Sontag observed camp in Busby Berkeley films and inside the he-man actor Victor Mature, in Mae West and General Charles de Gaulle, in Garbo and Swan Lake, Flash Gordon comics and Caravaggio, chinoiserie and a whole lot of the Art Nouveau movement.
“Camp taste has an affinity for positive arts instead of others,” she referred to, with fashion in the former class. She referred to “ladies’ clothes of the Twenties (feather boas, fringed and beaded clothes and so forth.)” and “a girl taking walks around in a get dressed fabricated from three million feathers.” Women’s Wear Daily took up the gauntlet in 1965, bringing up Yves Saint Laurent’s “Baba” wedding ceremony get dressed for instance, and a year later The Village Voice’s Vivian Gornick dubbed Rudi Gernreich’s topless bathing healthy “an especially scrumptious instance of a camper’s satisfaction.” (If you need a visual image of camp in 2019, but, look no similarly than Cardi B’s crimson-carpet posturings at the Grammy Awards, dressed in a 1995 purple-satin-and-black-velvet shell dress from the documents of the übercamp clothier Thierry Mugler— visible on this tale on version Edie Campbell.)
To shape the exhibition, Bolton has explored the factors that Sontag identifies as camp—with artifice, extra, extravagance, irony, nostalgia, démodé, innocence, and surplus amongst them—as they appear themselves in fashion. Think of the irony of Virgil Abloh’s little black dress revealed with the legend “little black dress” in quotation marks, as an instance, or the voluminous dimensions of young British fashion designer Molly Goddard’s net ruffles—or her compatriot Richard Quinn’s collages of Fifties floral prints. Bolton additionally reveals a camp excellent in examples of “failed seriousness,” including the paintings of the intensely extreme couturiers Charles James and Balenciaga, inclusive of the latter’s 1966 evening gown for the decorative-arts gourmet Jayne Wrightsman, a get dressed bristling with individually carried out ostrich-feather tendrils. “You emerge as seeing camp anywhere!” Bolton jokes, mentioning the state-of-the-art pop-cultural and historical references of Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs, and Karl Lagerfeld.
Although Sontag ventured that camp changed into “something of a non-public code, a badge of identification,” she did now not reside on its very particularly queer origins. The first written usage appears to were in a letter dated 1869, sent through Frederick Park, a cross-cloth cabinet referred to as Fanny, to his lover Lord Arthur Clinton. “My campus undertakings are not at gift assembly with the success they deserve,” Park notes. “Whatever I do appears to get me into warm water.” “Fanny” and his accomplice in cross-dressing, Ernest Boulton (called Stella), were indeed sent to the courts for gross indecency however were in the end cleared of wrongdoing, to the delight of the crowds. Their tale inspired Erdem Moralioglu a lot that he based his spring 2019 collection on them.
Aristocratic seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, too, obsessed as it turned into with aesthetics and floor, noticed a flowering of camp, and Bolton strains the phrase itself returned to the French verb se camper, meaning “to face company,” as one does while putting an exaggerated pose—something exemplified through the swaggering portrait of Louis XIV in his astounding coronation robes, painted in 1701 by means of Hyacinthe Rigaud. (Although the portrait became commissioned for the Sun King’s grandson Philip V of Spain, the useless king couldn’t endure to component with it and hung it at Versailles, from which it travels to set the tone for this exhibition.)
The Sun King consolidated his electricity with the aid of compelling the French the Aristocracy to abandon their united states of America strongholds and acquire at Versailles, in which the complicated protocol and demands of dress pressured them to squander vast sums to actually hold up appearances. At Versailles, the entirety was pose and overall performance: Louis XIV’s effeminate brother Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, turned into deliberately raised in this sort of way that he might by no means prove a danger to his brother’s rule (as many testosterone-charged siblings had in France’s belligerent history), and was in lots of approaches the paradigm of camp. Monsieur, as he was officially recognized, became obsessed with garb and jewelry and a long way less inquisitive about his 2nd spouse, the German-born Princess Elizabeth Charlotte, Madame Palatine (called Liselotte), than in his male favorites. “You’re welcome to nibble his peas,” his wife, certainly fairly camp herself, instructed them, “for I don’t take care of them myself.”