Featuring Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, and Chanel
It’s easy to get confused about what camp actually is. Is it public toilets? No. Is it George Michael releasing the video for “Outside” shortly after being arrested for soliciting in public toilets? Yes. Is it cosmetic surgery? No. Is it a movie starring Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in which they vie for youth so much they end up both dead and immortal and stuck together forever? Yes.
Camp is context. It’s never one thing, although many people might think it is a sort of a fey, overblown theatricality – when, actually, it’s much more than that. It’s about knowledge and references, and taking high and low culture and twisting them with wit and speed. It’s knowing how to both celebrate and mock all at the same time. It’s the movie Burlesque. It’s Liberace. It’s when Donatella speaks and the gays listen.
It’s hard to recognise what camp is, too – there’s no singular visual text to go by. Instead, it inspires a feeling which bubbles up and makes you feel uncontrollably glorious and seen and like this is what life is all about. It’s Barbara Cartland telling Jackie Collins she’s responsible for all the perverts in Britain on The Terry Wogan Show in the 1980s. It’s all that is said, and all that is left unsaid.
Taking all that into account, then, it goes without saying that those lucky few with a golden ticket to the 2019 Met Ball have a tough task at hand when it comes to their couture tonight. Here, we dig out ten super camp references from the annals of fashion, as part of what you could call a camp crib sheet. Take note Kim, Gigi, Kendall et al: this is camp done good.
MOSCHINO SS15: I’M A BARBIE GIRL, IN A BARBIE WORLD
Moschino is a very camp brand, born, in part, from the desire to mock the very industry of which it’s part. Since taking over the brand, much of what Jeremy Scott has put out have bordered on camp: just take that TV dinner dress from his AW19 collection, or the time he sent an army of Jackie O-inspired aliens down the runway for example. His highest homage to all things camp, though, came in the form of his blonde-wigged Barbies, who marched out at his SS15 show to the strains of iconic 00s band Aqua’s second-best song “Barbie Girl” (“Turn Back Time” is their biggest bop do not @ me).
Here, Scott presented a delightful feast of frippery and silliness – Pink! Mirror Phone Cases! Barbie Doll looks! – all while commenting on what women are often expected to be. It’s this double-entendre, with one foot in seriousness and the other in silliness, that is so often found at the heart of camp – and here, it was executed spectacularly
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER SS91: FORGIVE ME FATHER, FOR I HAVE SINNED
There is nothing more camp than sexualising the Bible. For a book which preaches such chastity, it’s full of gloriously sexual imagery. And of course, when putting together his SS91 collection, France’s naughtiest designer took the apple out of Eve’s hand and bit right from it.
Oiled up girls and boys dressed identically in blue marabou feathers wandered through Gaultier’s debauched Garden of Eden: a place where the ten commandments had been rehashed, and sex and beauty were high on the agenda.
DIOR COUTURE AW07: OH, THE GLAMOUR
Camp is revealing a gloved hand at the top of a stairway and waiting for someone to offer theirs to help you down, which is exactly how the master of camp – John Galliano – opened his astronomically high-budget Dior Couture show back in 2007. As an ode to the ridiculousness of glamour, the theatrical show incorporated opera coats in the most opulent of fabrics, ball gowns crafted from the finest duchess satin, with models walking as if moved by their own fabulousness, dripping in money and a smidgeon of tack. And then, at the end of it all, Galliano appeared to take his bow draped lavishly in a silk brocade matador suit – in a moment that was a chef’s kiss of camp.
CHANEL FW17: SUPERMARKET SWEEP, BUT MAKE IT FASHION
Heading out to do the big shop wearing a full Chanel look is the kind of wink wink nudge nudge that is the beating heart of camp. Of course the women who wear head-to-toe Chanel have never been near any form of tinned food in their life, and so by setting a show in the aisles of a supermarket, Karl Lagerfeld gently mocked his client by putting them in real life situations while wearing fantasy clothes. This tension between the two worlds – like sequins in a puddle, lace on fire, silk covered in blood – is what creates the feeling of camp. Something the legendary designer was all too aware of.
VAQUERA AW17: ELEVATE, ELEVATE, ELEVATE
The New York collective is famed for its copying, but we’re not talking secret, underhanded ‘inspiration’ stolen from archives fashion vigilantes Diet Prada would be falling over themselves to highlight: we’re talking knowingly referencing cultural touchpoints and literally making clothing out of them. As part of the label’s AW17 collection, the felt bag basically every Tiffany purchase comes in became a dress, while a dressing gown was turned into something more suitable for a ball. Having also turned frou-frou, Regency furniture into high fashion, and thrown a Wizard of Oz-themed karaoke-athon, it’s safe to say that designers behind Vaquera have conviction in their camp. And we love it.
THIERRY MUGLER SS92: LIP-SYNC FOR YOUR LIFE
A motorbike, leather, and a lip-sync to a song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show is deeply unfashionable, and yet Mugler made the stage at his German runway presentation the most fashionable moment of madness ever. From the gold dresses and thongs to the two men essentially fucking on a motorbike, it’s this kind of sweat, sex, and femininity which makes a mockery of anyone who takes these things a little too seriously – and that’s camp.
WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK SS96: WILD AND LETHAL TRASH
Van Beriendonck has always explored the fringes of queer sex and culture. In one of his most famous shows, he took scenes from 90s disco and rave culture and recreated them in exquisite extremity – with tight latex, sweating bodies, and sculpted hair. His 1996 show was a psychedelic warehouse party, set to Underworld’s “Born Slippy”, which took things that weren’t deemed fashionable by the masses and made them fashion, exaggerating and enhancing them as no one else could.
PHILIP TREACY SS13: GAGA OOH LA LA
“Ladies and gentleman, the greatest milliner of our age... Philip Treacy… Amen Fashion!” exclaimed Lady Gaga in pure earnest, as she opened Treacy’s premiere London show in a pink chiffon hooded poncho. Look up the definition of camp in the dictionary and this is what you’ll find: the mother of the gays doing the gayest thing on gay record.
DSQUARED2 AW03: NAOMI CAMPBELL (NEED WE SAY MORE?)
Naomi Campbell is very camp. Why? Because she knows her power as a diva supermodel and she plays up to it hugely. At Dean and Dan Caten’s AW03 show, the brothers chose to harness the power of Campbell, concocting a concept that saw Campbell peg it down the runway, shopping bags in hand, as a voiceover explained she had a flight to catch, pronto. Add to this the fact that the clothes are so deeply of their era (a booty short!) and here, in DSquared2’s hands, you have a dextrous demonstration of absurd, glamorous, high fashion camp.
VIVIENNE WESTWOOD AW95: ANGLOMANIA
Vivenne Westwood has always trodden the line between mockery and celebration. She knows how to jibe at the fashion set, while being the very reason many people believe in the power of fashion. For her first Anglomania show, Westwood had courtly women walking down the runway as if through a salon, carrying bouquets of flowers and big, absurd furs, serving up what can only be called Edwardian-realness. The legendary designer’s journey through the fashions of old English aristocracy, whose pomp and grandeur were inherently camp, is silly, fun, and absolutely in no way earnest: through and through, it’s tongue-in-cheek and wildly unattainable – and that’s the whole point!