May 6 at the New York Metropolitan Museum Once again, the Met Gala ball will be held, preceding the opening of the Institute of Costume exhibition. The event has become one of the main near-fashion events of the year - you just can't get to it. According to the New York Times, in 2018, tickets for the evening cost $ 30 thousand, and a seat at the table was about 275 thousand. All the money goes to the costume Institute itself - this is the only branch of the Metropolitan Museum in New York that is not funded from the general budget. Despite this, some guests are invited to the event - they are approved by Anna Wintour herself, who has been the hostess of the evening since 1999.
Each year, the exposition is dedicated to a new theme that guests of the Met Gala should reflect in their outfits. So, in 2016, the exhibition talked about fashion in the era of technology, in 2017 - about the Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo, and in 2018 - about the connection between fashion and the "Catholic imagination". This year's theme is camp - the aesthetics of pretentiousness and grotesque, close to many leading brands today.
In addition to Wintour herself, the Met Gala will be represented this time by singer and actress Lady Gaga, designer Alessandro Michele (Gucci, in which he is a creative designer, sponsor of the event), musician Harry Styles and tennis player Serena Williams. We understand what a camp is, how it appeared and how it is reflected today.
Text: Anna Eliseeva
What is a camp
Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton based the new exhibition on a 1964 essay by writer Susan Sontag, which he believes predicted much of modern fashion. The writer calls the camp not even a style or direction, but a taste or a kind of aestheticism, which can be found anywhere - from entire genres of art to individual works and fashionable outfits. The most, perhaps, the quoted statement of Sontag succinctly explains the essence of the phenomenon: "This is love for the unnatural: artificial and exaggerated."
In the essay, she plunges into many nuances, balancing between ideas about this taste: both complementary and mutually exclusive. Camp examples, according to Sontag, are likely to be called kitsch, because it gravitates towards everything theatrical, decorative, spectacular and, at the same time, supposedly meaningless. At the same time, she refuses to consider it "bad taste": the camp adepts take kitsch quite seriously. So bad, that is already good - an even more capacious characteristic of the camp.
Sontag states: “The discovery of good taste in bad taste has a tremendous liberating effect. The essence of the camp is fearless and cheerful hedonism. " She is believed to have written her essay "at a time when the line between elite art and popular culture was breaking down." The writer skillfully contrasted the camp followers with the classic dandies, snobbish about everything “vulgar” and dedicated to fostering “good taste”. The latter were a symbol of a dying past, while camp lovers were a symbol of a seething present. “Dandy wore a scented handkerchief like a tie and was prone to fainting; the camp connoisseur breathes in the stench and takes pride in his strong nerves. The connoisseur of camp finds pleasure not in Latin poetry, rare wines and velvet jackets, but in the roughest, most widespread pleasure, in art for the masses. Camp - dandyism in the age of mass culture - does not distinguish between unique things and things put on stream. Camp overcomes aversion to copy,”writes Sontag.
The topic of borrowing is more relevant than ever in 2019, although Bolton sees a connection with modernity not only in it. In an interview with the New York Times, he notes that the camp today "can be a complex and powerful political tool, especially for marginalized cultures," referring to Donald Trump.The former media fame businessman, surrounded by artsy wealth, celebrity friends, and a society of models, is now renowned for his controversial and mannered behavior. The question of whether to take him seriously remains open, but it is characteristic that he is the one who holds the post of President of the United States today.
Where did he come from
Sontag herself considered the camp to be apolitical, although she admitted that examples of it can be found in entire genres of art and in individual works of "moral and political sense." The writer finds the origins of this taste in the late 17th - early 18th centuries, when quirkiness and picturesqueness were in vogue. She considers the rococo churches in Munich, the compositions of Mozart, the works of the figures of the Victorian era (the painter Burne-Jones, the writer Ruskin, the poet Tennyson and others) to be a camp. A special place in her list is occupied by the personality of Oscar Wilde, who was a paradoxist not only in literature, but also in fashion. The writer combined capes, velvet jackets, wide-brimmed hats and silk scarves in one look, which at that time looked extravagant - and this is another way to define the camp.
However, according to Sontag, this aestheticism is best illustrated by Art Nouveau, which “turns anything into something else”: Tiffany lamp stands were created in the form of flowering plants, the living room appeared in the form of a grotto, and the Parisian metro entrance, made Hector Guimard in the late 1890s, looked like a cast-iron orchid stalk. Isn't this excessive?
Camp can be found in completely unexpected things: Sontag's list includes, for example, the ballet Swan Lake, old comics about Flash Gordon, King Kong, and porn films "seen without lust." Even such works of different content, the writer unites under the flag of the camp, because they are all created with a considerable amount of imagination, passion and naivety. At the same time, neither opera nor ballet can “pay tribute to all the complexity of human nature without effort,” which means that decorativeness in them, as in the works of pop culture, prevails.
In fashion, the principles of this taste are especially noticeable. Sontag's words vividly conjure up the typical camp image: "This is a woman wrapped in a dress of three million feathers." It is not for nothing that Lady Gaga appears among the curators of this year's Met Gala: mannerism, irony, exaggeration, sensuality - all this can be found in the camp from the fashion world.
Sontag admits that sometimes it takes time to figure out what is camp and what is not. So, the outfits of the 20s - dresses with fringes and an embroidered neckline, boas, wide-brimmed hats, long gloves - look pretentious against the backdrop of upcoming fateful events: the Great Depression and the war. In the 60s, conservative fashion was replaced by subcultures, presenting all the variety of styles - and the camp could not but find reflection in them. Flawless sculptural outfits in the spirit of Paco Rabanne, favored by visitors to fashion shows, today look as campy as the abundance of jeans, fringes and suede vests on the hippies, coming off at open-air festivals. In his 1980 memoir POPism, Andy Warhol wrote: "It was fun to see the people of the Museum of Modern Art next to trendy teenagers, amphetamine queens next to fashion editors."
In the 70s and 80s, camp figures dressed according to Sontag: Cher - in translucent dresses with feathers and sequins, complementing the image with wigs and spectacular head decorations, and Elton John - in suits and blouses embroidered with rhinestones and fur, huge glasses and hats, reincarnating either as a guardsman in full dress, or as a nobleman with a powdered face. Madonna performed in tight corsets with tapered bodice cups - an extravagant outfit was created by the bright experimenter of that time Jean-Paul Gaultier. Interestingly, the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum should be designed by theatrical artist Jan Versweiveld, who worked on the video for David Bowie's Lazarus, another camp figure who stands out among rock musicians for his grotesque flamboyant style.
Sontag considered the camp the prerogative of a self-proclaimed aristocracy of the style, which, in her opinion, consisted of gay men. Her point of view is not surprising - in the 60s it was not customary to speak openly about homosexuality, moreover, she was considered a disease. Thus, the authors of Quartzy admit that the camp could become a unique way for the gay community to declare itself. However, to associate this term only with gay culture is to oversimplify it.
Them provides examples of how, starting in the 60s, gay men tried to disown the camp because of its "femininity, allusions to Hollywood divas and excessive demonstration of gender identity." Camp was then viewed as a sign of self-loathing, detrimental to the new political movement for LGBT rights in America. In 1972, the openly gay John Waters' film Pink Flamingos was released - a grotesque comedy designed to poke fun at the difference between "bad" and "good" taste. Today it is called the standard of the camp, although the director himself considers the term hopelessly outdated. It was only in the 80s that this kind of aestheticism began to be accepted as a way of "criticizing and exposing the hypocrisy" of American society, the magazine notes.
Camp is in vogue today
“Camp is a kind of perversion that uses flamboyant demeanor to create a double interpretation; gestures are filled with ambivalence, witty meaning for those who understand and more impersonal for everyone else,”wrote Sontag. It seems that this is what modern brands are following. To create fashion in quotation marks means to look at it ironically and detached - this is how Virgil Abloh, perhaps one of the brightest camp artists of our time, explained his view of design in an interview with 032c magazine. Another characteristic camp adept, Demna Gvasalia, depicts churches and domes in the form of tattoos on Vetements sweaters, dresses models in work clothes and makes them pose in pretentious poses, deliberately stains sneakers, creates long thigh-high boots. And although almost every creation of his is ironic, he treats everyone absolutely sincerely.
Huge sneakers and crocs on the Balenciaga platform, straps for off-white cargo tanks, bag-cakes, drums and floor lamps Dolce & Gabbana, doll dresses and Moschino costumes made in the manner of carnival - all this looks "too", but quickly gains popularity and stands on the stream "for the masses." Hardly any mass-market brand will be able to repeat entire collections of Alessandro Michele for Gucci, but still replicas of his individual extravagant outfits can be found in stores of all price categories. In fact, Michele gives exaggerated forms to already invented things, mixes them in the most unexpected way and spices up impressive decorations on shows. On the one hand, this is a breath of fresh air for modern fashion, on the other, a real camp, described fifty-five years ago.
The camp almost never disappeared from the radar. In the 90s, it can be clearly seen in the collections of Moschino and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac; in the 2000s - in the creations of John Galliano for Christian Dior. For example, in the collection for spring 2002, boudoir dresses and corsets were combined with basketball jerseys and sneakers; and at the 2004 couture show dedicated to Ancient Egypt, the models reincarnated as pharaohs, Cleopatra and gods with queer make-up, taking grotesque poses.
Camp is still used to express individuality, its basic techniques are still exaggerated and theatrical. As before, he encourages to open up to new things and finally get rid of the far-fetched concepts of "good" and "bad" tastes. And the fact that Gucci, Off-White and Balenciaga remain some of the most popular brands of our time, as nothing says about the relevance of the camp.
Over time, only one condition of such aestheticism has changed: it ceased to be naive. Designers are deliberately ironic in their work, putting a camp on the conveyor belt of fashion and culture.Rihanna appears at the Met Gala in a spectacular dress reminiscent of the papal attire, Cardi B comes to court hearings in an impeccable white suit, tight impenetrable glasses and with extended neon nails. Lady Gaga first shocks the audience with an outfit of raw meat, and later transforms into a Hollywood diva, borrowing the style of Grace Kelly. Today, camp adherents make an impression on purpose, which, of course, does not negate their sincere love for the chosen images.
So Serena Williams' appearance as the face of the Met Gala seems quite timely. Whether intentionally or not, she has long aspired to be more than just a legendary athlete. Williams is a role model and style icon: thanks to her collaboration with Off-White and performances on the court, either in a ballet tutu or in a tight-fitting jumpsuit, she regularly not only pushes the boundaries of a gender-based dress code, but also adds “serious” sports to daring ones along the way. the pop culture context is quite camp-like.
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