Singer-actor Lady Gaga arrives for the 2019 Met Gala. (AFP)
Singer-actor Lady Gaga arrives for the 2019 Met Gala. (AFP)

Inside the Met Gala: Feathers, bling and ideas about ‘camp’

  • The sartorial theme of this year’s gala was the aesthetic of camp and its influence on fashion, as explored in the museum’s new exhibit, “Camp: Notes on Fashion”
  • The annual party is a fund-raiser, and the chief source of funding for the Costume Institute: museum officials said this year’s haul was a record $15 million

The cocktail bar was shutting down, and guests were being encouraged to commence the elegant trek to dinner through the majestic halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But Joan Collins had just swept in, channelling her famous Dynasty character, Alexis, in a tiered gown of fluffy white feathers and gobs of blinding diamonds. And Alexis wanted a glass of wine. “I’m having a great time," Collins said of her first Met Gala. “I’d be even better if I had a drink."

The sartorial theme of this year’s gala, earlier this week, was “camp"— not summer camp, but the aesthetic of camp and its influence on fashion, as explored in the museum’s new exhibit, Camp: Notes On Fashion. It wasn’t an easy theme to grasp; the instructions for guests were to dress with “studied triviality".

While the results varied hugely— from Katy Perry dressing as an elaborate candle-lit chandelier (and later, a cheeseburger) to Kanye West wearing a black jacket that cost about $40 (around 2,785)—there were indeed some slam-dunk “camp" moments, and one was Collins.

But even Collins could not out-camp perhaps the champion camp-er of all time, Lady Gaga, who put on a virtual burlesque show on the red carpet, shedding a series of three outfits until she was left vamping in black lingerie.

Celine Dion was a different kind of show girl, dressed in a creation by Oscar de la Renta’s Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, inspired by the 1941 movie Ziegfeld Girl starring Judy Garland (a camp heroine, of course.)

Inside, Dion explored the exhibit along with her designers, and confessed that “even now, I honestly don’t really understand what camp is". No matter: Garcia and Kim had done their research, resulting in a Vegas showgirl ensemble made of silver-gold glass beads, paired with a spiky feathered headpiece.

After walking the red carpet—actually, a pink-carpeted staircase—guests entered the Met’s vast Great Hall. Some toured the exhibit, while others headed to the museum’s airy Petrie Court to sip cocktails and munch on crispy sea bass hors d’oeuvres, bits of foie gras, or mini-BLT towers.

Model Ashley Graham, attending her third Met Gala, laughingly confessed that she heard this year’s theme and thought: “Girl Scouts!" But she liked what she learnt about camp. “It’s extra," she said. “Exaggerated—happily and proudly." That was the spirit, she said, of her outfit, a short blazer dress by Dapper Dan for Gucci, with bright green eyeliner, sparkly leggings, and a Judith Leiber purse in the shape of a golden retro cellphone.

Laverne Cox had no trouble understanding the theme; in college at Marymount Manhattan, she had been “obsessed with Susan Sontag", author of the 58-point essay, Notes On Camp, on which the exhibit is built.

“It’s of course artificial, but also parody," said Cox, wearing a striking sculptural gown by Christian Siriano, along with turquoise hair. “It’s a comment on culture. Also, there’s high camp vs low camp. And there’s an invisible wink of camp."

Billy Porter, too, had done some thinking. The Pose actor solidified his growing reputation as a red-carpet star with a dramatic entrance as an Egyptian sun deity on a litter carried by six shirtless men. His golden ensemble — we are talking gold on the head and the face, as well as huge golden wings—was designed by the Blonds.

“The kids today call it being ‘extra’," Porter said . “It’s about taking a thing and exploding it to the biggest degree. It has in the past been used as a pejorative, but this evening reclaims it."

Attending his first gala was Max Hollein, who took over as the museum’s director last year. “Camp is a lens, a way of seeing the world," he said, an aesthetic that existed “long before we knew what it was". In all, Hollein pronounced the affair “quite an extravaganza".

The annual party is, of course, a fund-raiser, and the chief source of funding for the Costume Institute; museum officials said Tuesday that this year’s haul was a record $15 million


Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

India's camp ranks

Both three-galas old, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Deepika Padukone have a signature pink carpet style. Chopra Jonas has a penchant for meme-inspiring ensembles. Remember her trailing Ralph Lauren trench gown from 2017? This year, she wore a feathery Dior gown, clashed with bindis, glittery leggings and an Afro. If camp is all about being extra, this girl got the memo.

Deepika Padukone.
Deepika Padukone.

Padukone, on the other hand, always plays safe. Sometimes, a little too safe. Case in point, her Barbie doll look in a Zac Posen gown. Lovely dress, but where’s the edge?

—Sohini Dey