When I heard that the theme of this year’s Met Ball was based on Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on Camp’ I was both excited and terrified. Excited because of how intellectual and new the theme was compared to their previous ones, and terrified because of the many misinterpretations that can arise. My gut feeling did not disappoint. In the words of the wise drag-sensei Jasmine Masters: “Well… just as I thought…. Trash!” I will get back to the trash part later, but on the topic of drag queens, I feel an obligation to bring up the new additions to the ball’s guest list. For the first time ever, drag queens were invited. The guest list included figures such as RuPaul (the person often described as responsible for introducing camp to the masses), Aquaria (reigning queen of RuPaul’s Drag Race) and Violet Chachki (Season 7 Winner). Unless I am mistaken, this is quite possibly the first time that drag queens were invited to the prestigious event. Sure, they are always present at after-parties as entertainments, but never at the official events! Whether this is because the event’s organisers felt the need to appear inclusive, or whether it was perfect timing, no one shall ever know. As seen on the back of Lena Waithe’s Pyer Moss suit, “Black Drag Queens Invented Camp”. Therefore, their presence and this statement served as a friendly reminder to all attendees and people watching at home of where credit is due for the canonisation of camp.
(Image: Instagram, @lenawaithe)
Onto the trash! As I sat in pyjamas at home, I found myself thinking of what a mockery was being made out of the theme. I can safely say that a good eighty-five percent of the guests completely misinterpreted it. Some because they take themselves too seriously to abide by the theme’s guidelines (see: Kim Kardashian’s Mugler…situation), and others because they didn’t take the theme seriously enough (see: JLo’s Versace dress that could have been worn for any occasion, Cardi B’s red blotch of nothing etc., etc.). While I am no expert, I’d still like to think that I can judge when someone is on theme and when they are not. There is a very fine line which separates camp from kitsch. Most of what I saw crossed that fine line. Camp, as defined by Sontag, is synonymous to extravagance and surplus. It is “the love for the unnatural”. The Camp hall of fame includes Elton John, Oscar Wilde, Liberace, Cher… the list goes on. All of these icons deliver camp with an element of elegance and grace. Almost none of the looks achieved this, and instead delivered the theme in bad taste and gaucheness.
Which ensembles then did hit the right notes? In a short answer: the ones that included an element of performance. After all, camp is, at its core, all about performance, whether that be expressed through make-up, items of clothing or in some more recent cases a twenty-minute-long performance on the Met’s pink steps. Between Lady Gaga’s four outfit changes, her swaying from one end of the carpet to another and her rapidly-changing facial expressions, she managed to keep her ‘audience’ on their toes for the entire twenty minutes that she was there. Gaga, the world is your oyster. Of course, this has already been talked about so much and probably will be for years to come, so listed below are the ones who displayed the same respect to the theme and equal levels of intelligence.
(Image: Instagram, @riccardotisci17)
EZRA MILLER IN BURBERRY (RICCARDO TISCI)
Where do I even begin? I honestly think that this ensemble is very hard to top. The base of it is a classic tailored suit, decorated in fine white stripes. Emerging from underneath the suit’s blazer is a long cape made out of the same fabric. On top of all this is a corset’s skeleton made out of crystals. His kaleidoscopic eye-makeup done by Mimi Choi added the final touch of performativity when he removed the hand-held mask upon his arrival. It was entirely unexpected. The reason why this outfit is so genius in all its campiness is the fact that there are subtle interchanges between masculinity and femininity, simplicity and extravagance. The red lipstick and the coiffure, countered by the tailored suit, the long cape and sparkly outlined corset, countered by the buttoned-up shirt. Every single detail interacts with one another, making it a joy to observe!
(Image: Instagram, @harinef)
HARI NEF IN GUCCI (ALESSANDRO MICHELE)
Sometimes camp can be expressed in less bombastic ways. Hari Nef’s dress, designed by one of the event’s co-chairs, Alessandro Michele, was in a way subtle when compared to people who went a little too overboard (see: Katy Perry’s chandelier contraption). In my personal opinion, the colours, the puffy sleeves and cuffs, the source of inspiration which was Disney’s classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and also the frilly layers of fabric made it just the right amount of camp and elegant. The highlight for me was the blue ribbon decorated with jewels in the centre. The simplicity of her hair and makeup brought the sophistication to the look. Brava!
(Image: Instagram, @naomi)
NAOMI CAMPBELL IN VALENTINO (PIERPAOLO PICCIOLI)
“Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers,” wrote Sontag in her essay. And so, Naomi did just that! The otherwise classic gown is amplified by the lace tights which sparkled as she walked and the long pink feathery cape. Once again, extravagant and out of the ordinary, yet well-thought-out and tasteful. A particular high point for me was the colour; if I were to take a word-association test the first thing that would come to mind for the word ‘camp’ would be ‘pastel’. The lack of pastels on the carpet was compensated by this beautiful outfit.
HARRY STYLES IN GUCCI (ALESSANDRO MICHELE)
Last but certainly not least: Harry Styles, co-chair of the 2019 Met Ball. He and the fashion house go back a while: his notorious velvet and floral suits are by majority designed by Gucci. He was also the face of Gucci Men’s tailoring campaign. Harry has been dubbed by many as the King of Camp of the twenty-first century, and his outfit at the ball lives up to the title. The high waisted trouser-half of the jumpsuit is something that is rarely seen in menswear. This is beautifully complemented by the sheerness of the top-half, the opaque collar section as well as the lace cuffs. I also love the fact that it was a design focused on the cut and shape of the pantsuit, while keeping the fabric all-black, giving the outfit an element of soberness.