Quiveringly pink, the wider-than-high, five-tiered Viktor & Rolf blancmange of a gown from the brand’s Spring 2019 Couture fair filled the foyer of Milan’s historic Teatro Gerolamo. The floridly written, luridly green cursive sign on its front read “Less Is More.” Ha!
Yes, this dress was as big as a tent. However, it was its excess, extravagance, and exaggeration that made it the perfect illustration of the subject of this year’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibition, “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, joined Anna Wintour and Alessandro Michele of Gucci, which is sponsoring the exhibit, in theater just beyond this behemoth frock to unveil details of the show that will run from May 9 to September 8, 2019.
After she had ascended the stage, Wintour told us of the exhibit, “It will examine the origins of the camp aesthetic, its influence on pop culture, and, of course, the many, many brilliant ways that fashion has engaged with it past and present. There will be 125 objects in the show, including women’s and menswear, paintings and sculptures, following camp’s evolution from the court of Louis XIV at Versailles all the way to the present day. Basically, we go from sun kings to drag queens.”
Taking to the stage, Bolton explained that the exhibition has been built around Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes on Camp. He said, “Effectively, Sontag serves as the ghost narrator of the show, which will be divided into two parts. In the first, Sontag plays the role of the ghost of camp’s past [to illustrate] both its etymological and phenomenological origins.” That first section will trace the evolution of camp from the court of Louis XIV, where one will find pieces from Chanel’s Versailles-inspired Fall 1987 collection by Karl Lagerfeld, through to its moment of definition by Sontag.
In the second section, said Bolton, “Sontag will be the ghost of camp’s present and future.” All of the characteristics Sontag identifies as criteria for camp will be expressed through fashion pieces selected by Bolton and his colleagues in an open piazza to reflect the concept’s relatively recent social acceptance. This morning, two pieces by Palomo Spain and two more by Gucci were in the theatre to give us a teaser of the camp to come.
Speaking via simultaneous translation, Michele took to the stage to say, “This is a very important moment because we will collaborate on the creation of this fantastic exhibition that has a DNA that is related to my work, working to the expression of human nature . . . Camp is a beautiful word.” Michele also paid brief tribute to Karl Lagerfeld, adding, “I would like to seize this opportunity to thank Karl, who is no longer with us, who has been a great representative of fashion, and who had a great love for life and this kind of work.”
As Bolton observed, this will be the 18th Costume Institute exhibition in which Lagerfeld’s creations will feature. In her opening remarks, Wintour also paid tribute. After thanking Michele and his colleagues from Gucci and Kering for supporting the exhibition, she added, “Given that we are talking about gratitude, it seems the perfect moment for me to acknowledge from my heart someone who has been a great friend and important donor to the Costume Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art over many, many years: Karl Lagerfeld. Karl was the very best benefactor and collaborator, as erudite as he was generous, giving us over 120 magnificent pieces for our collection. And bearing in mind Karl's wicked and wonderful sense of humor, I know this much: He would have loved this year's exhibition.”