The theme for this year’s Met Gala, which took place Monday at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, was “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” For fashion’s biggest night celebrities including Lena Waithe, Janelle Monáe and Billy Porter brought the conversation on camp style back to its Black culture origins.
The gala kicked off the opening of the annual fashion exhibit at The Costume Institute and is essentially a costume party to celebrate the chosen theme or designer.
While non-fashion enthusiasts may think camp makes reference to the outdoor activity, it is actually a nod to Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp.'” The piece describes camp as “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration” and “the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalization of experience.”
When it comes to style, camp encompasses extravagance, irony, and over-the-top expressions of identity. The concept is rooted in queer sensibility and history, but the conversation often leaves out how Black culture and style influenced the mainstream conception of the fashion trend.
Waithe paid tribute to LGBTQ origins of Camp style by wearing a suit designed by Pyer Moss designer, Kerby Jean-Raymond, who accompanied her on the carpet.
“Black Drag Queens Invented Camp,” was embroidered on the back of The Chi creator’s blazer. Jean-Raymond’s read, “Fix your credit. Pool money. Buy back the block,” a homage to the late rapper Nipsey Hussle. The pinstripes of the suits were in fact lyrics to LGBTQ anthems including Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
“One reason black culture is not within the ‘camp’ conversation is because the term itself has a lot of basis in theatrical, outlandish, exaggerated, and extreme fashion,” fashion historian Darnell Lisby told Teen Vogue. “Even though I believe there are so many examples of ‘camp’ in black culture, there is a broad paint stroke over the black experience, which is perceived to be downtrodden instead of vibrant. In essence, it seems like many forget about icons like Prince or Jimmy Hendrix, who were the epitome of this term.”
Camp at its core is about interpretation. Monae delivered a playful spin on the theme wearing a custom dress by Cristian Siriano inspired by the Mad Hatter, a fictional character in Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The entertainer’s stylist Alexandra Mandelkorn told Variety that ensemble was influenced by the surrealism found in the works of Monae’s favorite artists Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.
The 2019 Met Gala was filled with designs by Dapper Dan, a fixture in Black Camp fashion, although Monday was his first time at the annual Vogue-hosted event.
EBONY was on hand to catch some of our faves in their best-dressed fits. Take a look at how Black celebrities played up the free-ranged theme.
Michael B. Jordan
Odell Beckham Jr.
Tracee Ellis Ross
Dwyane Wade & Gabrielle Union
Alicia Keys & Swizz Beatz
Colin Kaepernick & Nessa
The Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibit will be on display at The Met from May 9 to Sept. 8, 2019.