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Ashish SS17 Notes on Camp exhibition
Ashish SS17, as seen as part of Camp: Notes on Fashion

Five reasons you really need to see The Met’s Camp: Notes on Fashion show

...even though we probably don’t need to spell it out to you

Last night, in New York City, the likes of Lady Gaga, Billy PorterEzra Miller, and even Kendall and Kylie brought it to the pink carpet, as the camp-themed 2019 Met Gala got underway.

On Thursday, the exhibition itself – Camp: Notes on Fashion – opens to the public at The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters in NYC. Bringing together four centuries of OTT fashion and art, the show uses Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes on Camp to frame the ways designers have embraced camp’s tongue-in-cheek spirit in their métier.

If you have plans to be in the city before the end of September, Notes on Fashion is a must-see. And if you don’t, here are five reasons that needs to change.

IT PRESENTS OVER 250 OBJECTS OF FLAMBOYANT FASHION AND ART

“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art,” Oscar Wilde once wrote – a quote that Sontag uses at the top of her 58-point list, in recognition that at its heart, camp is about the convergence of fashion and art in affluent societies as a subversive response to the status quo.

The exhibition begins in the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV where the concept of se camper – or “to posture boldly” – first arose, and traces its lineage over the past four centuries. Spanning menswear and womenswear, and including sculptures, paintings and drawings, the show is full of iconic designs by fashion legends including Yves Saint Laurent, Cristobal Balenciaga, Chanel, and Gucci.

IT OFFERS A UNIQUE VIEW OF THE WORLD

Camp, like fashion, is a sensibility rooted in aestheticism, artifice, extravagance, and theatricality, all taken to dizzyingly ambitious heights. “Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture,” Sontag writes.

Camp: Notes on Fashion offers a unique view of the world through the camp-y lens of style, putting a dazzling array of modern dandy-worthy ensembles from the House of Schiaparelli, Moschino, and Gianni Versace on show, alongside quotes that illustrate a sensibility that is, as Sontag also wrote, “serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”

IT HONOURS THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY

“Camp is ‘a clenched fist and a limp wrist,’” as Richard Dyer said – a testament to the fact that the LGBTQ+ community has been at the vanguard of camp long before its current definition was first detailed in the early 1900s.

Camp: Notes on Fashion is a true celebration of queerness and fluidity, and demonstrates fashion’s storied history when it comes to blurring the line between gender, paying homage to the trailblazers that paved the way, as well as contemporary designers continuing in their wake: Burberry’s AW18 rainbow cape, Thom Browne’s SS18 hybrid wedding dress, and a plethora of Marc Jacobs’ more androgynous works all on show.

IT’S A BRIGHT LIGHT IN A DARK WORLD

“It’s no coincidence that camp surfaces in moments of social, political, and economic instability, ” Camp curator Andrew Bolton writes in the exhibition catalogue. “Camp, despite its mainstreaming, has never lost its power to be rebellious or to challenge the status quo, should the situation warrant.” The exhibition is a timely response to the present day, recognising the deep polarities that have torn societies apart can be re-approached through camp’s use of irony, humor, parody, pastiche, exaggeration, and panache, restoring a sense of love and joy to a deeply battered world.

Seeing Heatherette’s Hello Kitty dress alongside the iconic Marjan Pejoski swan dress Björk wore to the 2001 Academy Awards, as a soundtrack of Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” plays softly throughout offers a moment of escapism from what’s going on outside the building: and sometimes that’s all you need.

IT PROMOTES UNDERSTANDING 

Whether naïve or intentional, camp is an embrace of enjoyment, appreciation, and generosity. Camp is laughing with you – never at you. “Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature,” Sontag writes. “It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of ‘character.’”

Who among us cannot relate? Camp is the perfect blend of style, glamour, and vulgarity. Vulgar because it knows better than anyone else, that you are totally naked underneath these clothes, and it takes great pleasure in this fact. Camp is choosing a slip of a mannequin with a flat bum to wear an SS01 Chloé bathing suit that warns “KEEP YOUR BANANA OFF MY MELONS” in all seriousness. In an exhibition that is realised in exquisite detail, it is a subtle touch that might be quite naïve – making it all the more sweet.

Camp: Notes on Fashion runs from May 9 – September 8 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Book your tickets here