Inside The Met Costume Institute's "Camp: Notes on Fashion‎" Exhibit

Up close with the unconventional clothing and aggressive kitsch.

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Arts 
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The Met Costume Institute’s Alessandro Michele, Harry Styles and Lady Gaga-chaired Gala may be grabbing the headlines for now, but after the red carpet is cleared, the eagerly-awaited “Camp: Notes on Fashion‎” exhibit will open to the public. Taking cues from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes on Camp, the exhibition traces campy clothing from its origins through to a wide array of current-day fashion labels.

Sontag’s essay explains the concept of camp, underlining the versatility of the term — anything from buildings to people to songs to clothing can be camp — and exploring the connotations of the term, Current parlance doesn’t utilize the term to its full extent, Sontag’s fifty year-old essay reveals, as camp may mean “mediocre in ambition” — think of cheap B-movies from the ’70s — or something ironic created by someone who’s always “seeing everything in quotation marks” (Off-White™ is indeed represented in the exhibition). Consistently, camp is informed by a “spirit of extravagance” and “a seriousness that fails” with “the proper mix of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.”

As such, the 175 pieces of clothing in The Met’s “Camp: Notes on Fashion‎” exhibit represent a vast array of eras and themes. Along with showcases that highlight brands like Gucci, Balenciaga and Prada, the exhibition includes displays arranged to best showcase the garments that fall into different areas of camp. Of course, “Camp: Notes on Fashion‎” begins where all good presentations should; the beginning.

Visitors are greeted by cases that explain the concept of campiness, spotlighting vintage clothing that demonstrates the roots of camp alongside complementary artwork. This section juxtaposes Victorian-era garments alongside Andy Warhol‘s paper “Souper” dress, eventually leading viewers into larger rooms that host contemporary works. Along with brash Chanel jewelry, Gaultier suiting and the iconic Marjan Pejoski swan dress worn by Björk in 2001, there’s plenty of Jeremy Scott’s Moschino designs — what label better fuses “the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve”? Dolled-up mannequins are divided into sections that include “A Mode of Seduction” and “A Double Sense in Which Some Things Can Be Broken,” all cribbed directly from Sontag’s essay.

Stay tuned for our continuing coverage of The Met Gala ahead of the exhibit’s proper opening. “Camp: Notes on Fashion‎” will run from May 9 to September 8.

In the meantime, check out the collectible goods designed for The Met’s accompanying “Camp Collection.”

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