is the met museum’s camp exhibition merch truly camp? we investigate

Off-White and sock bags and pink beaded facemasks, these are a few of our favourite things.

by Liam Hess
08 May 2019, 7:00am

While last night’s Met Gala provided a veritable fiesta of fabulously camp looks, the one-off couture creations worn by the world’s most A-list celebrities are, let’s be real, not something any of us normies are going to be wearing down Sainsbury’s. Some of the looks were apparently too much even for those attending — rumour has it that a special changing room had to be set up so partygoers could change out of their wildly impractical red carpet looks and be able to sit down for their dinner. Then, of course, there’s the viral video of J.Lo walking in on Katy Perry in the Met toilets as she changes into a giant Moschino hamburger outfit for the after-party. That’s camp.

But for those hoping to capture of camp’s essence without adorning themselves in a ten-tonne chandelier (here’s looking at you again, Katy Perry), there is a glimmer of hope. Announced alongside the exhibition’s opening, the Met Museum is also offering a limited edition product series produced in collaboration with a selection of designers featured throughout the show, including Matty Bovan, Off-White, Marc Jacobs and Moschino. No trip to the museum is complete without a perusal of the gift shop, and the Met will be staging the most off-the-wall gift shop imaginable.

Can sweatpants ever be camp? Is a perfume bottle that requires you to decapitate a teddy bear camp? Is decapitation itself camp? Is a hybrid of a sock and a purse the campest thing we’ve ever seen in our lives? Find answers to all this and more below.

Moschino Toy Eau de Toilette Spray
We’re not off to a good start with the following disclaimer: “We regret that no discounts, including the 10% Member discount, may be applied to items in the Camp Collection.” Discounts, sales and bargain bins are, as everybody knows, profoundly camp. Undeterred, we scroll down to the images of a cute and cuddly teddy bear that also doubles up as a handy perfume dispenser if you remove its head. Our faith in camp is quickly restored.

This Moschino-branded furry friend comes wearing a tee that spells “THIS IS NOT A MOSCHINO TOY”, in a nod to Magritte’s ceci n’est pas un pipe (Magritte being the campiest of all the Surrealists) and the fragrance contains notes of juniper and cedarwood to mimic the scent of the bear’s natural woodland habitat. Also, let’s not forget that its designer Jeremy Scott exists as one of fashion’s foremost flagbearers for the art of camp, mashing up the trashiest of pop culture with the highest of high fashion long before it was considered cool enough to be a theme for the Met Gala. With its sickly sweet packaging and winking childishness, the self-described “world’s cutest perfume” has earned its spot in the pantheon. Congratulations.

Verdict: Camp!

Off-White™ Met Sweatpants
In the essay by Susan Sontag that sits as the foundation stone of the exhibition, she argues that “camp sees everything in quotation marks”. Remind you of any fashion designers we know?

That would be Virgil Abloh, of course, who has long been fond of a quotation mark -- two, to be precise -- and has built it up as one of the signatures of the Off-White brand, where you might find a pair of boots printed with “FOR WALKING”, a handbag with “SCULPTURE”, or a Virgil-branded condom with “SAFE”. He uses the punctuation marks to give fashion a Saussurean twist and explore the relationship between sign, signifier and signified -- but also, and more importantly for our purposes, to inject his clothes with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek wit.

While the notion of irony is undoubtedly camp, we have a nagging feeling that Virgil’s pieces lack the fun factor necessary to pump it up to the level of fully-fledged camp. We’re not talking feathers and sequins, necessarily, but simply a touch of the unexpected -- take Korean label Blindness’ T-shirt that comes with a nipple piercing, also available from the Met gift shop, as an example. Hoodies and sweatpants don’t have the requisite flavour of the surreal required, and so while he might be a beacon for fashion’s future, a camp icon Virgil is not.

Verdict: Not camp. Sorry, Virgil.

Marc Jacobs Marquee Tee, $145
OK, now we’re talking. Like Jeremy Scott, Marc Jacobs is well-known for his flirtations with camp: he’s the guy who covered a naked Edie Campbell with Louis Vuitton written in glittery body paint and a feathered headdress for his final outing at the legendary French fashion house, after all. True to form, he didn’t disappoint with his outfit last night, rocking up in heels and a smoking jacket with a full face of make-up, in what appears to be a tribute to Joel Grey in 1972’s Cabaret.

It seems that Weimar Berlin has been playing on Jacobs’s mind: for his collaboration with the Met gift shop, he’s produced a tee that directly references Cabaret’s iconic poster, with “cabaret” in this case replaced with “camp”, and Jacobs’s name slapped under it because, of course. The T-shirt instantly calls to mind Liza Minnelli’s flapper-fabulous performance as Sally Bowles, the perfect reference given not only is Liza (with a Z) a camp icon in her own right, but she’s also the spawn of arguably the greatest camp icon of all time: Judy Garland.

Irony? Check. Appropriation? Check. A tip of the hat to camp’s illustrious history? Check. Tens across the board!

Verdict: Camp as Christmas.

Molly Goddard Mini Tote, $550
With her frou-frou dresses made from endless yards of smocked tulle, London’s own Molly Goddard was the go-to choice with the fashion pack at Vogue’s pre-Met Gala party held at the Stonewall Inn on Sunday night, worn by attendees including Paloma Elsesser, Lynn Yaeger and Eva Chen. Her dresses hit a campy sweet spot between playful and prim that would have made her a natural choice for the curators, who have included two of Goddard’s dresses in the exhibition and enlisted her to collaborate on a bolero jacket and a tote for the gift shop.

Let’s take a look at the tote: with layers of smocked tulle and cushion-like proportions, it comes in both neon orange and magenta (buying both colours would be quite camp, come to think of it). It’s deliciously camp in the fact it’s pink and fluffy (don’t listen to anyone who tells you camp has to be considered -- if you cover anything with enough pink fluffy tulle it becomes inherently camp), but the item just feels a little too functional to truly elevate it to the higher echelons of camp. Yes, I’m aware I just gave the camp badge of honour to possibly the most functional garment of them all, the humble T-shirt, but being a hypocrite is also camp, so that’s that.

Verdict: Almost camp.

Vaquera Sock Bag, $155 & Vaquera "Renaissance M" Giant Met Button, $16
Where the Costume Institute’s annual blockbuster exhibitions tend to be stuffed to the rafters with rare finds from the archival collections of some of the world’s most historic designers, one of the interesting quirks of this year’s show is the broad inclusion of young designers working in the mode of camp today. And if any of this new generation’s line-up of designers know camp, it’s the designer collective Vaquera, whose break-out piece was a Tiffany & Co bag refashioned as a dress, spelling “Vaquera & Co” (it’s in the exhibition too, natch).

So it makes sense that their contributions to the Met’s gift shop are the campiest of them all: an oversized version of the sticker badge given to the museum’s visitors after passing the ticket desk, and a sock that’s been refashioned to function as a coin purse. Originally debuted as part of the brand’s autumn/winter 2016 collection, the sock bag (or the skag -- you heard it here first) is a balance of the bracingly conceptual and the downright silly that feels brilliantly camp. Vaquera’s talent lies in their ability to poke fun at some of fashion’s most storied institutions -- from Tiffany to the Met -- while keeping things celebratory rather than cynical. And if that isn’t camp, then I don’t know what is.

Verdict: CAMP, period.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

Met Gala