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Notes on the Met Gala

by Aiden Wynn

The first Monday in May has come and gone, and with it one of the most eagerly anticipated and widely watched fashion events of the year: the Met Gala, which fundraises for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and celebrates its upcoming exhibition. This year the theme of the exhibition and, by extension, of the Met Gala itself, was Camp: Notes on Fashion. And the flamboyance of the occasion was well-reflected in the looks that celebrities donned as they ascended the Met stairs.

Lady Gaga, a contemporary camp trailblazer and one of the co-chairs of this year’s gala, was one of the most anticipated and talked about people to walk the carpet, showcasing no less than four looks and embodying the personas to match. There was undeniable camp in the way she sported each look, with an entourage of dress-billowers and umbrella-carriers waiting on her hand and foot. She performed her entrance in a way no one else did, telling the story of the boundary-pushing pop princess she is, as her outfits went from a voluminous hot pink gown all the way down to nothing but a glittering bra and panty and a pair of black heeled boots. But, it would be remiss for me to say that the clothes were able to tell that story all on their own. In fact, while her entrance delivered the ‘theatricalization of experience’ we would expect from Gaga, the camp she is so known for felt far more present in her performance than it did in her clothes.

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One thing I will say in Gaga’s defence is that it’s hard to do a train (like the one from her first look) at the Met Gala; it’s impossible not to compare it to Rihanna’s show-stopping and iconic train from the 2015 China: Through the Looking Glass Met. And, if we’re going to talk about outstanding trains, I would have to say that Cardi B’s dramatic, dark red Thom Browne number takes the cake this year.

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Another celebrity to enter this year’s Met Gala with flair and unforgettable performance was Billy Porter. In the wake of his internet-breaking tuxedo gown for the Oscars, Porter was already one to watch – and he did not disappoint. Initially carried by a crew of six hunky shirtless men, he entered in regal fashion, before dismounting and showing off his gold and glittering catsuit and its immense golden wings with both poise and exuberance. With this look inspired by Ancient Egypt and Diana Ross, Porter certainly cemented for himself the title of red carpet camp king, once and for all.

It was also a great night for designer Christian Siriano, whose looks topped plenty of best dressed lists. An absolute favourite and star of the night was Janelle Monáe and the surrealist Siriano look that she rocked with exceptional elegance. With four top hats on her head and an eye on her chest (that actually blinked!), Monáe really nailed the theme, running with the idea of camp being the love of ‘things-being-what-they-are-not’, of the ‘anti-serious’, and pulling it off flawlessly.

His look for Laverne Cox was beautiful too, if perhaps not giving all the camp it could have. Still, looking like a Tim Burton villainess, Cox modelled her look on the carpet with undeniable impact, sporting a couple of the beauty trends like brightly dyed hair and colourful make-up that we saw over the course of the night as she went.

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There were, of course, a fair few disappointments during the event, and none more so than the unimaginative suits worn by many of the men who were in attendance – someone needs to tell Richard Madden that an oversized safety pin in his lapel does not look camp. And even RuPaul, who is simultaneously king and queen of modern-day camp, seemed to play it safe, wearing a suit that may have been undeniably flamboyant, but which wasn’t a patch on the incredible and uber-glamorous drag persona many of us know and love him for. If there was ever a night for high drag, it was the Met Gala’s Camp night.

Not all suits underwhelmed though, with Ashton Sanders’ beautifully executed, anachronistic suiting, Michael Urie’s half-tux-half-gown, and Ezra Miller’s unreal and out-of-this-world masked ball look being particularly memorable. But it was Hamish Bowles’ high fashion, Willy-Wonka-on-acid look that came out on top in this category. Swishing what looked to be an immensely heavy, highly-embellished Maison Margiela cape around, Bowles embodied important elements of camp, like its ‘spirit of extravagance’, the ‘androgyne’ with his chunky purple heels, and the passion that makes the camp sensibility so worth celebrating.

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After such a successful, exciting, and impactful theme, here’s hoping that next year’s first Monday in May can live up to the standard set by the newly minted camp icons who walked this year’s carpet.