Lady Gaga stunned Monday at New York’s Met Gala, embodying the extravaganza’s “camp” theme as she peeled back look after garish look at the fete thrown by the venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art that sees Hollywood and fashion collide. The 2019 carpet – pink, for the occasion – into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose yearly bash welcomes over-the-top looks that skew to a theme, was even more of an eye-popping doozy than usual thanks to this year’s concept.
Gold, trains, fringe, fur, blonde wigs and inspirations from drag as well as camp legends Cher and David Bowie were trending on the pink carpet celebrating fashion so bad it’s good. Superstar Gaga set a high bar, bringing a shape-shifting look sure to spawn a thousand memes.
The pop diva played Russian doll as her entourage unzipped three different looks in hot pink and black until she sported nothing but glittering black lingerie, fishnets, vertiginous platform boots and wildly long spiky gold false eyelashes.
Singer Katy Perry was literally glowing: the superstar dressed as a candelabra chandelier dripping with crystals, a clear reference to the Lumiere character from Beauty and the Beast.
Rap star Cardi B brought her own red carpet, donning a curve-hugging oxblood Thom Browne gown embellished with feathers that radiated out to form a lengthy circular train, a look she capped with a bugle-bead headpiece.
Pop futurist Janelle Monae had jaws dropping with an elaborate black, white and pink number that recalled a cubist painting – complete with a Cleopatra-style eye covering one breast whose lavishly long eyelashes blinked and a tower of hats that would inspire envy in the Madhatter himself.
The gala kicks off the Met’s annual major fashion exhibition, with seats going for US$35,000 a piece. Attendance is by invitation only, and word has it that Vogue editor extraordinaire Anna Wintour has the final say over each person on the guest list.
Gucci designer Alessandro Michele, British singer Harry Styles and tennis superstar Serena Williams joined Wintour and Gaga to co-chair the event, which raises money for its Costume Institute. Country superstar Kacey Musgraves rolled up in a bright pink Barbie corvette and was dressed as the iconic doll to boot, sporting a skin-tight Moschino pink zippered dress, with matching cat-eye sunglasses and a feather boa.
Lupita Nyong’o meanwhile embodied the theme donning a gown topped off with a rainbow-coloured plume, matching fluffy fan and gold Afro picks in her Marie Antoinette-style beehive updo. A coterie of men also ran with the concept, including actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who wore an all-white suit with an ascot tie and glittering green brooch.
Billy Porter, meanwhile, had his mic-drop moment with a fabulous entrance that saw the performer arrive on a gold litter hoisted by six shirtless men before he got down to show off his sparkling set of wings.
So what exactly is “camp?” The museum’s exhibition is based on “Notes on Camp,” an essay written in 1964 by American author Susan Sontag.
“Camp is by nature subversive… confronting and challenging the status quo,” the Costume Institute’s head curator Andrew Bolton said at a press event ahead of the gala. “In the end, the purpose of camp is to put a smile on our faces and a warm glow in our hearts.”
Some of the items in the exhibition might best explain the theme: the “swan dress” worn by Bjork to the Oscars, a glittering costume worn by flamboyant US singer Liberace, a shower head necklace designed by the late Karl Lagerfeld for Chloe in the 1980s.
“We’re experiencing a resurgence of camp – not just in fashion, but in culture in general,” said Bolton. “Camp tends to come to the fore in moments of social and political instability. The 1960s was one such moment, as were the 1980s.”
The exhibition “Camp: Notes on Fashion” – a play on the title of Sontag’s essay – opens to the public at the Met on Thursday and runs through 8 September.