The revenge of the Shaman ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’ at the Met Museum

The Costume Institute’s spring 2019 exhibition Camp: Notes on Fashion is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art daily from May 9 through September 8, 2019.

Costume Institute exhibitions are one of the Met’s big draws so plan your visit accordingly.

Camp: Notes on Fashion

Let’s define camp as theatrical, audacious, overly effeminate expression.

Your first thought when the Costume Institute announced this exhibition last year may well have been that we don’t need to see any more pink flamingos. But the Costume Institute is on to something and it is actually bigger than fashion.

The big idea is how camp influences both high art and popular culture, and becomes more relevant during times of social, political and economic instability – like now.

The show’s title comes from renowned photographer and thinker Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, Notes on Camp. The essay is sort of the bible of camp aesthetics. It even pushed the term “camp” into the mainstream.

The exhibition shows 140 fashion ensembles from the 17th century to the present. The earliest examples of camp come from the royal court of the legendary French king Louis XIV. He loved to party and we see early camp expressed in court fashion, ballet and opera.

The exhibition features approximately 250 objects, including womenswear and menswear, as well as sculptures, paintings, and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present. The show’s opening section positions Versailles as a “camp Eden” and address the concept of se camper—“to posture boldly”—in the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV.

It then focuses on the figure of the dandy as a “camp ideal” and traces camp’s origins to the queer subcultures of Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In her essay, Sontag defined camp as an aesthetic and outlined its primary characteristics.

The second section of the exhibition is devoted to how these elements—which include irony, humor, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality, and exaggeration—are expressed in fashion.

Designers in the Exhibition

Designers whose work is on view in the exhibition include

  1. Virgil Abloh (for Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh)
  2. Giorgio Armani (for Armani Privé) ~ Italian
  3. Manish Arora
  4. Ashish
  5. Christopher Bailey (for Burberry)
  6. Cristóbal Balenciaga ~ Spanish
  7. Thom Browne
  8. Sarah Burton (for Alexander McQueen)
  9. Jean-Charles de Castelbajac ~ Moroccan/French
  10. Antonio del Castillo (for Lanvin-Castillo) ~ Spanish
  11. Dapper Dan (for Gucci) ~ Italian
  12. Christian Dior ~ French
  13. Salvatore Ferragamo ~ Italian
  14. John Galliano (for Maison Margiela, House of Dior, and John Galliano) ~ British/French
  15. Jean Paul Gaultier ~ French
  16. Nicolas Ghesquière (for Louis Vuitton) ~ French
  17. Odile Gilbert (for Jean Paul Gaultier) ~ French
  18. Edda Gimnes and Manuel Vadillo (for EDDA)
  19. Molly Goddard; Bertrand Guyon (for House of Schiaparelli) ~ French
  20. Demna Gvasalia (for Balenciaga and VETEMENTS) ~ Spanish house
  21. Johnson Hartig (for Libertine)
  22. Deirdre Hawken
  23. Pam Hogg
  24. Marc Jacobs
  25. Rossella Jardini (for House of Moschino) ~ Italian
  26. Stephen Jones (for Giles Deacon, John Galliano, and House of Schiaparelli) ~ French
  27. Christopher Kane
  28. Patrick Kelly
  29. Ada Kokosar
  30. Christian Lacroix ~ French
  31. Karl Lagerfeld (for House of Chanel and Chloé) ~ French house
  32. Mary Katrantzou
  33. Rei Kawakubo (for Comme des Garçons)
  34. Tomo Koizumi
  35. Bob Mackie
  36. Martin Margiela ~ French
  37. Stella McCartney (for Chloé) ~ French house
  38. Alexander McQueen (for Givenchy) ~ French house
  39. Alessandro Michele (for Gucci) ~ Italian
  40. Edward Molyneux ~ French Canadian
  41. Erdem Moralioglu (for Erdem)
  42. Franco Moschino ~ Italian
  43. Thierry Mugler ~ French
  44. Alejandro Goméz Palomo (for Palomo Spain) ~ Spanish
  45. JiSun Park and KyuYong Shin (for Blindness)
  46. Marjan Pejoski
  47. Phoebe Philo (for Céline) ~ French
  48. Paul Poiret; Gareth Pugh ~ French
  49. Richard Quinn
  50. Traver Rains and Richie Rich (for Heatherette)
  51. Zandra Rhodes
  52. William Dill-Russell
  53. Yves Saint Laurent ~ French
  54. Elsa Schiaparelli ~ Italian
  55. Jeremy Scott (for Moschino and Jeremy Scott)
  56. Hedi Slimane (for Saint Laurent) ~ French
  57. Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren (for Viktor & Rolf)
  58. Anna Sui
  59. Jun Takahashi (for Undercover)
  60. Michael Travis
  61. Philip Treacy
  62. Giambattista Valli ~ Italian
  63. Walter Van Beirendonck
  64. Patric DiCaprio, Claire Sullivan and Bryn Taubensee (for Vaquera)
  65. Gianni Versace ~ Italian
  66. Vivienne Westwood

Exhibition Producers

The exhibition is sponsored by Gucci, the Italian fashion house that more than anyone, has turned camp into high fashion. It is organized by Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute; with Karen Van Godtsenhoven, Associate Curator; and Amanda Garfinkel, Assistant Curator.

Fringe to Mainstream to Classic

Repeatedly throughout history, camp fashion has gone from fringe to mainstream to classic during periods of great social change.

The fringe excesses of the French royal court went mainstream not long before the French Revolution (1789-1799) put an end to French royalty. Disco mainstreamed gay aesthetics in the 1970s when New York City was in crisis meltdown mode. Camp is rising again in today’s selfie age with a social media dominated by celebrity performers who are campy by nature.

Social media is driving Instagram tourism, waves of envy and self-doubt, and extreme polarization across society. Our time is so camp that the only way to keep up is to be camp yourself.

Consider disco fashion as an example. What began on the fringes of the New York gay club scene in the 1970s, got mainstreamed by press coverage of celebrities at Studio 54, and is now a classic throwback to an exuberant time many of us wish we had experienced (at least a little).

So fashion both reflects and inspires social trends.

The Revenge of the Shaman

There is a tribal element to this that is worth considering. In tribal communities, the shaman or village healer helps community members pass through the challenging transitions in life.

As both doctor and therapist he/she uses theatrical dress to symbolize transformation and shock his/her audience into the new. The shaman transforms into a god to help the individual make their own transformation.

The shaman character is often gender-fluid. After all, God supercedes male, female, and all other dualities at the same time. Tribal culture doesn’t have the LGBT concept, but it does have the medicine man/woman.

The church, the theme of last season’s Costume Institute exhibition, drove the shaman out of modern society. Yet human psychological needs remain the same. We can all use a little help through births, puberty, marriages, divorces, illness and death, all those phases of life that everybody goes through, but nobody warns you about.

In modern society, the role of the shaman has been replaced by the role of the artist. Both see what others fail to see. Both work from the fringe. Both inspire transformation.

Just as the shaman goes to work during life’s challenging transitions, in society, camp fashion moves from the fringe to the mainstream during challenging times.

So we may have lost the role shaman in society, but we still wear his/her clothes. The artist shows up in camp fashion just when we need him/her.

Camp: Notes on Fashion Tickets

General admission is $25, but tickets are available from $12. This is definitely an exhibition where buying online will save you time in line.

Tickets are available at the door or online at

Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10028
(at 82nd Street)
Upper East Side, Manhattan

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