Culture + Lifestyle

Camp: Notes on Design, Too

Since its debut as the theme of this year’s Met Gala and the topic of the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition at the Costume...

Daniella Calma Written by Daniella Calma · 1 min read >

Since its debut as the theme of this year’s Met Gala and the topic of the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition at the Costume Institute, ​Camp​ has shot itself into the spotlight. While it still defies any easy explanation, initially sending the world into a thought spiral of summers, tents, nature walks and the Adirondacks, Camp’s rich legacy has found its ability to not only transcend fashion but flourish within the realm of design as well.

The theme pays homage to Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp”, sending an onslaught of celebrities in extravagant and peculiar garb onto the pink carpet.

Initially, I was expecting Lady Gaga and the like to saunter out of their cars clad in avant-garde renditions of hiking boots and flannel. But after some research into the meaning of Camp and its colorful heritage, it turns out that I was unequivocally wrong.

Lady Gaga at the MET Gala. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Stemming from the French phrase se camper meaning “to pose in an exaggerated fashion”, the word first materialized in print and out into the world in 1907 in the Oxford English Dictionary, where it has found its place alongside “ostentatious, exaggerated, theatrical, affected; effeminate or homosexual.”

In general terms, Camp can be ascertained as a specific manner of aestheticism. It’s one of viewing the world as an aesthetic experience — the way of Camp does not function through beauty or through ordinary aesthetic judgement, rather it is successful in its degree of artifice and stylization.

Billy Porter at the MET Gala by Invision. Photo: AP

Beyond fashion, Camp’s abundant history and undefinable character weaved itself into the decorative arts, taking shape in reevaluations of Art Nouveau to the Italian Radical Design Period. Decorative objects made with fervency and affectionately received at the time of its creation were perceived as tacky and gauche — deeming them perfectly eligible candidates of Camp.

Art Nouveau Victor Horta Maison et Atelier Horta. Photo: TASCHEN
Italian Radical Movement by Joe Kramm for R & Company

Radical works, for example, featured irony borrowed from the Pop Art movement, which was introduced to Italy in the early 1960s. The “Pratone” foam seat, resembling a cartoon version of a patch of grass by Turin-based Gruppo Strum displayed a message of anti-consumerism, despite its charming appearance. The group produced objects with a purpose beyond its beauty and functionality.

Advertisement for Gruppo Sturm Pratone by Ugo Mulas. Photo: PIETRO DEROSSI

Thus, from the 1960s and onwards, Camp became a modern concept that evolved from people taking sophisticated positions on objects that were seen as amusing by intellectuals.

Whether it’s pop camp, queer camp, high camp, or political camp — Trump is a very camp figure — I think it’s very timely.

Andrew bolton, camp curator

In its true essence, Camp is meant to scream and shout; to create conversations and to make its mark in whatever time period it finds itself in. The exhibition’s esteemed curator, Andrew Bolton, told the New York Times, “Whether it’s pop camp, queer camp, high camp, or political camp — Trump is a very camp figure — I think it’s very timely.”

Written by Daniella Calma
Born into a family of artists and architects, Daniella Calma spent her early years as a sponge; absorbing art and design through travels with her family and by wandering through construction sites with her dad. Fueled by this early exposure, her perception of architecture was unconsciously generated purely out of aesthetics. However, after graduating with a Bachelors in Architecture (with honors) from Pratt Institute and immersing herself in the unique social fabric of New York City, she grew invested in the common ground between architecture as an art form and the dialogue it creates within the public realm and the surrounding context. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Architecture at the Yale School of Architecture where she hopes to cultivate her passion in seeking a broadened comprehension of the scope in which the strands of design, evolving concepts of identity, social engagement and contextual catalysts are weaved together. Profile
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