No Holds Barred: Talking “Camp”

Featured image

Lately as I look about and see a sea of hoodies, chunky sneakers, fleece vests, Springsteen on Broadway or Hamilton t-shirts, cargo pants, spandex legs, and flip flops, I really wonder …  have we hit bottom?  Stylistically we have just athleisure wear, work wear, and some fashion fanatics (mostly inspired by porn).  But “Fashion” is no longer “Forward” — it’s going everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Some call it “tribal.”  I call it giving up.  Remember Jerry Seinfeld chastising George Costanza upon seeing him in sweat pants. “You know the message you are sending to the world with your sweat pants?  You are telling the world I give up. I can’t compete in normal society.  I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.”

Even Karl Lagerfeld said, “Sweat pants are a sign of defeat.  You lost control of your life — so you bought sweatpants.”  Actually, Karl went on to design some expensive versions under his own label, but who can blame him.  He had to succumb to “schlub chic” at some point.

So culturally and visually we have lost our way … maybe.  Look at Demna Gvasalia of Balenciega who is making a huge noise with his $2,000 leather “Ikea” tote (Ikea does them in plastic for $1.98), $1,250 Triple S platform sneakers, and overall “Utility Dressing” of huge baggy trousers ($1,000) and t-shirts ($300).  With his typical combat/hip hop couture, he has been called the father of “The Ugly Dad” movement.  Don’t ask me what that means.  Some critics wonder if “he is mocking the poor or baiting gullible customers…” Is he cheapening luxury, or redefining it.?  His Triple S Clunky Sneakers became a huge sellout, and nobody gets it.  But what is there to get?

His work can be seen as hideous.  But for the Fashion Press, ugly can be more interesting than pretty. Balenciega would be rolling in his grave to see his legacy turned into oversized “homeless” couture.  Gvasalia compares himself to the artist Marcel Duchamp who made “ready-made” art – “taking the everyday and banal and elevating it to a unique design.”  I say baggy streetwear is slobbery no matter what the label or the price tag.  If ugly is now considered thought provoking — we have indeed lost our way — or stylistically “jumped the shark.”

But now the “utility” cult is being hyped everywhere with the array of baggy cargo pants and enormous denim work jackets from Top Shop to Old Navy.  And actual shopping streets have changed —less specialized clothing stores — more cannabis boutiques, luxe coffee shops selling “matcha” magic drinks, and of course high-end cardio spinning studios selling some logo spandex and a few baseball caps.

So where does all this sagging of style leave us?  At the red carpet Met Costume Gala — of course!!  The latest exhibit is on “Camp.”  Why Camp?  Why now?  I actually lived through the Camp period and frankly never understood it then.  Sure, Susan Sontag wrote her “Notes on Camp” — but all of it went over my head and certainly SHE never dressed the part.

After all, it’s Anna Wintour’s party …

What is good about the Met Ball is in one night it upstaged the disaster of the entire New York Fashion Week.  After all, it’s Anna Wintour’s party… “and she’ll cry if she wants to.”  Since she had to approve of the entire guest list at $35,000 a ticket!  But it’s all commercially sponsored by companies like Gucci or L’Oréal so no big deal there.  It becomes a giant Instagram ad for everyone.

But it was left to Met Costume Curator Andrew Bolton to explain the reason for this year’s theme; “the purpose of Camp is to put a smile on our faces and a warm glow in our hearts … Camp tends to come to the fore in moments of political instability like the Sixties and the Eighties.”  

I guess he is inferring we are in it now?  In our world of athleisure schlubbery?  Maybe he meant the rise of transgender and RuPaul (who should have been a chairperson for this year’s event).  “Camp is by nature subversive and a challenge to the status quo.”  Really?

Apparently, the show includes Liberace’s costume and Bjork’s Oscar swan dress. To me, politicizing Camp is a stretch.  But Bolton goes on, “Camp is really serious.  Political and tragic disguised as humor.”  

What did I miss growing up with one of the “queens” of camp Jackie Curtis in the late sixties — who was never about tragedy that I remember, and was busy being a Warhol star.  Bolton hopes “viewers will be able to look beyond the formal characteristic and see its broader meaning …”  Which is what exactly?  Let’s dump the interpretations and do what we all did at that time …  go get stoned and dance the night away at the Le Jardin or Arthur’s (“Camp” discos of the day).

One of the real “queens” of camp, Jackie Curtis.

The entire Met event felt forced.  They left it to Lady Gaga (an event chairperson) to triple strip on the red carpet.  Is that Camp anymore?  Isn’t that just run of the mill Gaga?  What would have been more appropriate is to have Dame Edna triple strip —  NOW you’re talking Camp (RuPaul would have been too elegant).

Gaga pre-strip routine …

Even having actor Billy Porter arriving as the Sun God on a litter carried by 6 shirtless men was nothing new other than a rip-off of Diana Ross in “Mahogany.”

Serena Williams (yet another event chairperson) came in a floor length pile of yellow feathers and her white Nike sneakers — she should have worn her tennis dress.

And then there was actor Jared Leto (and where is HIS acting career of late?) in a Gucci floor length red ball gown carrying his own severed head as a clutch bag.  By the time Leto did his turn and spin we had reached the final bell.  We were in red carpet overdrive and everyone fell off the cliff.

It feels like celebrity red carpet escapades are finished – the guest list was stale.  Where was George and Amal Clooney (“has-beens” already?) or dear Beyoncé (too predictable) or even Rhianna (she probably doesn’t even need this circus – she has her own) or why not Stormy Daniels (who’s she)?

Instead we were left with the tried and true, The Kardashian Klan!!

Kim in her skinny glitter nude boob-n’-ass corset with Kanye as her understated accessory dressed in basic black “workman’s comp” (or was it workman’s Camp) attire.  I think it is time to make the entire Kardashian Family the subject of the next Met Costume exhibit.  They deserve a “retrospective.”  Imagine each family member getting a museum room of their own — including Caitlyn with a timeline of her transitioning wardrobe.

At this point – the Kardashians might even be considered the ultimate “Camp Statement” of our entire Fashion Lost Era.  In fact, a Kardashian show could put an end to the overwrought Met Gala Madness.

Bring it on!

Photographs by Sean Zanni/©Patrick McMullan (Costume Institute)

Recent Posts