Costumes and social commentary

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It’s that time of year again, when high-end fashion designers go all out and unleash their wild streak in the form of costume design, showcasing their daring designs on Hollywood’s elite at the annual Met Gala.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala has been held each year since 1948 to raise funds for the Met’s Costume Institute in New York City. The event marks the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibition where celebrities and designers celebrate a unique theme, arriving on the red carpet in costume before guests tour the exhibition.

This year’s theme ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’, was borne from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes on “Camp”, which explored the understandings of camp culture. Sontag defined camp as the “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration… style at the expense of content… the triumph of the epicene style”.

For Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute, the theme was chosen because of its resonance with today’s political and cultural challenges; showcasing how fashion can be a powerful tool for subcultures to have a voice, often in the face of adversity.

Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Cardi B, Harry Styles and Jared Leto embraced this year’s theme, showing off some extravagant, creative and thought provoking pieces. Some of the most favoured costumes came from designers like Brandon Maxwell, Gucci, Saint Laurent, Valentino and Thom Browne.

With Australia’s sporting elite and political leaders this week debating the right of a national representative rugby player to condemn members of the LGBTQI community – the Met Gala showcased the very best of human creativity and open-mindedness, without censorship or cultural restrictions.

Bolton explained the theme to the Times in the US saying, “it felt very relevant to the cultural conversation to look at what is often dismissed as empty frivolity but can be actually a very sophisticated and powerful political tool, especially for marginalised cultures”. There are many different ways we can communicate as humans.

The fashion world continues to push the boundaries and challenge us to think differently and embrace our individuality; we can all learn a lot from their bravery and boldness.