August 17, 2019

All the Literary References from the Met Gala

“Football enthusiasts wait in anticipation for the Superbowl, film fans countdown to the Academy Awards, the rest of mankind eagerly awaited the return of Game of Thrones for eighteen months, and I show up for the Met Gala. There are no gold trophies to carry home, no White Walkers or Lannisters wreaking havoc on New York City, but undoubtedly, winners emerge at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As a fashion journalist, much of my career has been spent trying to understand why trends take hold—the psychology, if you will, of personal style. Why, you might ask, did everyone in Chelsea suddenly strip down to spandex bicycle shorts at the first sign of sunshine? Well, Chanel, Fendi, Stella McCartney made it viable, though the verdict is still out on its office appropriateness—but I digress. The point is that before I was a fashion journalist, I was a reader. My personal psychology means I’ve spent years sitting in fashion show venues, strobed with white lights and loud music pulsing, matching my favorite heroines of literature to the collection presented before me. Some of my favorite writers, like Joan Didion and Edith Wharton, used sartorial style to illuminate character, set the scene, or build tension. Occasionally, the stars would align, and backstage post-show, a designer would confirm that he had been inspired by a certain novel (like when Erdem Moralioglu explained that his Spring 2012 collection was a riff on Bonjour Tristesse and my fantasies of Celine traipsing about in dainy yellow lace burst to life), suggesting that the relationship between fashion and prose was, in fact, reciprocal.

Which brings me to this year’s Met Gala, inspired by Susan Sontag’s essay On Camp. “Essay” is a loose description, as Sontag herself was quick to point out: nothing about this “fugitive sensibility,” fits the the framework of a fixed argument, because the very nature of camp is evolving. “Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism,” according to Sontag. “It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.””

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