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Ugly, Avant-Garde, and Camp Fashion

By Audrey Treon

Mainstream fashion trends often neglect the ideas of ugliness, avant-garde, and Camp. Since these genres can be visually unappealing, our consumer-defined mindset rejects them. We can see how someone else would like it, but some things are just unattractive that we can’t fathom anyone liking it. But clothing that society deems as distasteful has value because of its visual appeal.

Look at Louis Vuitton and Nicolas Ghesquière. Many people have been turned off from Ghesquière’s Louis Vuitton, as the designs and styling are out of the conventional fashion zeitgeist.

In Louis Vuitton Resort 2024, Ghesquière let his imagination run wild. This specific collection, shown at Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore in Italy was all about the connection between mythology and reality, mermaids, the ocean, femininity, romance, and playfulness. This collection combined the fantastical with the utilitarian, forging a seamless connection between the two.

A recent Louis Vuitton look featured in Resort 2024 can be easily labeled as ugly. It is truly unlike anything high fashion has seen. Ghesquière contrasted sport-appropriate sneakers with a romantic flower and feather headpiece. By combining two opposing aesthetics such as sport and romance, divergence is created, instantly deeming this ensemble “ugly”. But Ghesquière is designing for the future, personal style and exploration, rather than the trends that define consumers.

Rei Kawakubo is the founder and creative director of Comme des Garçons. CDG on the other hand can be interpreted as avant-garde and camp rather than just purely ugly because of its dramatization and legacy as an out-of-the-box brand.

In her Spring/Summer 2020 Ready-to-Wear collection titled Orlando, Kawakubo’s innovation and imagination showed no signs of stopping. One of the looks that went down the runway featured a quilted sleeping bag-shaped dress with what resembles football padding, and a purposefully messy wig, similar to all the models. Because of the styling throughout the show and the fact that Comme des Garçons has always been an avant-garde fashion house (unlike Louis Vuitton), this show was not out of the ordinary for followers of CDG.

The line between avante-garde and ugly is a blurred one as it all depends on one’s tastes and philosophies. One person can look at brands like Louis Vuitton and Comme des Garçons and declare their clothing as ugly, but another person can look at them and love them, recognizing them for their avant-garde and unique aspects.

The idea and philosophy behind camp is a vast one. In Susan Sontag’s renowned essay Notes on “Camp, she defines camp in multiple ways. Note 8 reads “Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style — but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not…” (Sontag). Camp often comes as a result of marginalization. For example, if someone is oppressed for being a woman, they may lean into hyper-femininity, using hyperbole to give themselves personal freedom.

The 2019 Met Gala theme was “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” As Sontag wrote, “Considered a little less strict, Camp is either completely naïve or else wholly conscious (when one plays at being campy… In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all serious that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.”

The question circulating for days after the first Monday in May, “Is it camp?” regarded every look on the red carpet. The answer to that will change from person to person, as one’s experiences and views affect their interpretation of Camp.

There is immense privilege involved in wearing ugly, innovative, avant-garde, and Camp fashion. Privilege gives people freedom in multiple ways, including in fashion. Whether it be because of class, race, or size, people are more accepting of wealthy white thin people wearing “ugly” or out-of-the-mainstream clothes and truly embracing and exploring their unique personal style. Even in high fashion spaces, whether it be a fashion show of a luxury house or a gala where the going rate for a ticket is $50,000, privilege still exists.

Ugly fashion, avant-garde fashion, and Camp in fashion are all important. While these are relative terms, their importance is in both the fashion landscape and the general landscape of the world. It allows people to express themselves in their truest form.

What do you think about this genre of fashion? Leave a comment below!


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