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The Met Gayla Was Queer, Fabulous, and Totally Absurd

A celebration of camp in Brooklyn.

Harajuku in a custom look by @travestyfashions. Photo: Chris Shonting
Harajuku in a custom look by @travestyfashions. Photo: Chris Shonting

On Saturday night in Brooklyn, the rising drag queen star HaraJuku hosted her own version of the Met Gala: the Met Gayla, a queer celebration where artists and drag queens presented our own take on the year’s theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion.” Held at the Williamsburg space Eris Evolution and sponsored by up-and-coming brand Willie Norris Workshop, the event invited artists to come in clothes, hair, and makeup inspired by “camp” — and then show off their looks on a runway stage, in front of a roaring audience.

Queen Adele Computer performed in an outfit inspired by crash test dummies. Artist and drag queen West Dakota wore exaggerated leg padding to look like a surreal ’80s workout pro, and another person dressed like a blue lamp. Overall, the night celebrated a community of people who live “camp” as visibly queer individuals, subverting society’s norms in their lives every day. “Met Gayla is your ultimate queer expression,” says HaraJuku. “I wanted to create a party where people would push their creative limits, where everything is DIY, and everyone is queer.”

To unpack the meaning of camp on a personal level, the Cut asked everyone at the Met Gayla three questions: How would you define camp in three words? What are you wearing? And what does this Met Gayla mean to you?

Photo: Chris Shonting
Photo: Chris Shonting

Coma White, Jessica Rose, and Angelique. Jessica: “Camp is over-exaggeration, fashion, and GAY! My outfit was very inspired by Twiggy and the mod fashion of the ’60s. The Met Gayla is a true celebration of queer culture above all, in my opinion, but it also represents a celebration of the queer influence on fashion which is so broad and has given us so many moments in fashion herstory.” Angelique: “Camp is freedom, humor, and excitement. My outfit was inspired by a cross between Cousin It from The Addams Family and American Horror Story: Coven. The Met Gayla means love and acceptance. It was such an exciting event to be apart of and to know we were all there celebrating fashion, embracing every beautiful part of ourselves, and being in a space that has a constant flow of love of humanity, which is something that seems to be lacking in the country currently.”

Photo: Chris Shonting
Photo: Chris Shonting
Photo: Chris Shonting

West Dakota and Panthera. West Dakoka: “Camp comes down to that age-old decision, ‘Style … or substance?’ This look was a re-creation of the late Nagi Noda’s poodle workout instructor. The video itself is a word-for-word re-creation of an ’80s workout video featuring a comically muscled instructor and anthropomorphic poodles. It was one of the first viral videos I ever saw, and the image of body builder meets manicured poodle has always stuck with me. Sontag said that gays are the “vanguard — and most articulate audience — of camp” so I consider the Gayla the most compelling response to this year’s theme. The event itself is a parody of pop culture. It’s genius.” Panthera: “Camp in three words is: Extra is EVERYTHING. My outfit is a papier-mâché disco ball that I borrowed from my boss who, like me, is an avid disco fan. To me, Met Gayla represents free self-expression purely for the sake of fun, especially with this years theme and how it relates so closely to drag.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Dynasty: “Camp is vulgar, glamorous, and unapologetic. For my look, I was inspired by my friend Sho Konishi, who designed the dress that reminded me of a blood clot, and campy horror films like Evil Dead. Even though we were in crazy looks, the Met Gayla really showed who we are every day. We don’t need an exclusive party. We have our creativity, our hearts, and each other.” (Full disclosure: I was one of the party hosts.)

Photo: Chris Shonting

Pinwheel Pinwheel: “Camp is explosive, harmonic, and maximalism. My outfit was inspired by the feeling of going to the beach — this idea of ultra-soft sunlight and sweet, sweet fruit. It was made through a process of collage and creative geometry. Camp is just in my nature. I get it from my mom. The Met Gayla is all about high queer creativity. It’s the magic of how and why we are. It’s a presentation of our wildest ambitious visual impulses with our closest friends.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Lemon Chiffon: “Camp is over the top! My outfit is sweet 16 meets Strawberry Shortcake meets My Fair Lady all with a twist: serving you girly cuteness with a high-fashion edge. Met Gayla to me is a place where you can become whomever you want to be for a night — to express one’s camp side, just have fun, and slay in a fun look with no restrictions.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Ivy Kush: “Camp is extravagant, daring, and heroic. My outfit was inspired by Moschino fall 2014 by Jeremy Scott and the junk culture. I always believe that you shouldn’t be afraid of the ridiculous … just make it work! I think the Met Gayla is not only a good opportunity to express yourself through looks, but it’s also an important gathering of so many talented artists and powerful minds in Brooklyn.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Nate Tomlinson: “Camp is self-referential, thoughtful, and fun. The concept for my look was soft fetish, using impractically gentle material for BDSM fetish replicas (shibari and a ball gag). It’s nice to have a space that appreciates and showcases work of the queer imagination.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Adele Computer: “Camp is ‘on the nose.’ My outfit is a take on a bald icon, the crash test dummy. To me, the Met Gayla means that fashion is for everyone, and that money (or lack thereof) can’t limit creativity.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Darrian Stillwagon: “Camp is abstract, art, and attitude! My outfit was a take on Grace Jones with a mix of androgynous Prince and retro gypsy bruja! The Met Gayla to me is an extravagant moment in time where people are able express themselves from a creative standpoint with the freedom that fashion embodies: non-confined, non-binary, undefinable art.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Travesty “Camp is fun, frivolous, and fashion. The outfit I made for myself was simply a nonsensical take on the age-old saying, “My eyes are up here,” that’s said when men are staring at breasts. The Met Gayla meant so much for me. First, being able to dress HaraJuku was an honor. Second, it was my own drag debut in New York. Third, seeing the absolute creativity of all of these people around me was inspiring.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Natalia Blanco: “Camp is subjective, ridiculous, and ambitious. My outfit is fun and cheap (Party City, baby!). I wanted something with color and movement. I like to draw from the everyday — from simple things that are familiar. The Met Gayla is an accessible space for creative individuals to live out their fantasies. I think it fosters a sense of play, absurdity, resourcefulness, and all-around excitement.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Angelica Frankenstein: “Camp is funny, extreme, and timeless. I’m a native New Yorker so my outfit was inspired by a feeling of pride in New York amongst a lot of transplants. My jewelry was all done by Laruicci and were pieces included in last year’s Met Store collection. The Met Gayla means fun to me. It’s about just coming in your best drag and gagging on everyone else’s best drag!”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Luis Mancheno: “Camp is picante gay art. My look is a Spanish version of a gender-fluid Princess Amidala, a queen in a galaxy far, far, far, far away. The Met Gayla is a safe space where us weirdos can come and express our true selves, party our brains out, say fuck gender, and make it all fashion.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Amanda Massacre: “Camp is ‘the ultimate exaggeration.’ My outfit was inspired by French garden parties (think chic park topiaries meets spring couture shows). The Met Gayla was an extraordinary opportunity to get creative and really get to show what the Met Gala theme is. There’s been rumors that a lot of celebrities have been declining to attend Vogue’s Met Gala because of the theme, and the Met Gayla proved that there’s a lot of people out there fully embracing the notion of camp.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Mother Teresa: “Camp is loud, gaudy, and trash. My outfit is a canvas duck cloth dress that was screen printed ‘Sooo Gooood’ repeatedly all over it. I had white paint on my body for my performance which just added to the drama. I’m sporting a red fanny pack thrown over the dress to show that I’m clearly a woman on the go and play no games even at the Gayla. The Met Gayla is a circle of gays who weren’t invited to the Met Gala so we decided to be trash somewhere else.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Martyr: “Camp is high, unsubtle, and irony. I was inspired by Billy Porter’s 2019 Oscars velvet tuxedo dress. I added the mask and fantasy wig to add that club kid flare and up the camp a bit. The Met Gayla was a space for queer people to express themselves in such a fantastical way. Having the guidelines of “camp” really let us explore our creativity and poke fun at and celebrate fashion. Queer people might not have invented camp, but we sure perfected it.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Calvin Hrezik: “Camp is cheeky, shocking, and liberating. My look all started with the mask. I’ve had it untouched for eight years, waiting for the perfect and most ridiculous opportunity to let it have its moment. And as soon as I heard the theme for this year, I immediately called my mother to overnight it. The Gayla is a chance to be apart of the fantastical excitement of the Met Gala without needing the invite from Anna. It’s an opportunity to truly dedicate a night to fashion and expression no matter the budget. It’s just as enticing to see what looks can be turned from getting crafty on a dime as it is to see what celebrity will be wearing what designer.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Coma White: “Camp is exaggerated, extravagant and fun. My outfit was inspired by Dawn Weiner from Welcome to the Dollhouse. She’s a queer camp icon for all misfits and anyone who ever felt like they didn’t fit in. My friend Adrian Morel made the top for me. The Met Gayla is a celebration of creativity and individuality.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Seaweed: “Camp is excessive, daring and shocking (so basically anything from Dior in the 2000s). My outfit was full spring troll fantasy: a goblin in the city celebrating the return of the sun. The Met Gayla is about honoring creativity and expression, where being femme is celebrated, and where everybody has the opportunity to show up and stunt.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Rify Royalty: “Camp is fun, playful, and weird. My look was made by the designer BCALLA. I commissioned it years ago because I wanted a sexy unicorn look. The Met Gayla is a moment to party with my girls and seeing how all the looks turn out.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Evan Jambor: “Camp is over-the-top, kooky, and controversial. My look was inspired by Christian Cowan’s Powerpuff Girls collection. I just wanted to make it fit me more, which meant tiny sizes and lots of skin. I really love that HaraJuku created this party so that the queer creatives of Brooklyn have an event to express themselves. The queers love an excuse to throw a look together — so what’s better than a major fashion-inspired event?”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Baby Love: “Camp is satire, self-aware, and caricature. My look is like Glinda the Good Witch’s niece going to cotillion in Munchkin Land. I wanted to be bright and take up as much space as possible. The Met Gayla is a space for young queer people to access the ‘high glamour’ feeling of the Met Gala that’s not accessible to us. It’s an opportunity to extravagantly express your point of view.”

Zenobia. Photo: Chris Shonting
Photo: Chris Shonting

Shannon Stovall: “Camp is audacious, theatrical, and subversive. My outfit was originally created as a part of a conceptual and performative video work I made titled Gold/Milk/Dresser/Lampshade. In the video, a collection of domestic objects serve as extensions of my identity. The Lampshade represents the curious and timid parts of who I am, and bringing her out to the Met Gayla seemed like a fitting way for her to find her confidence. I view the Met Gayla as a beautiful opportunity to bring a collective group of creatives together to celebrate personal liberation and agency, as well as a big middle finger to normativity. And that means a hell of a lot to me.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Anne Drogyny: “Camp is anything but ordinary or serious. For this look I was inspired by the punk scene and Siouxsie Sioux with a dash of the Christian church. I took some new interpretation of “safe space” with the safety pins. My jacket was made by Charity Kase, and it served as the backbone of my look. I made the top as a sexy nod to the cross. The Met Gayla was a great time to celebrate how fun it is to be queer, dance with friends, and claim camp in its fullness in our lives (especially because we will probably see some basic column dresses on Monday trying to represent the theme). The Met Gayla was by and for queer people and that’s a huge reason to celebrate.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Onyma: “Camp is nonsensical fashion. My outfit was inspired by the Moschino laundry pack dress. I wanted to have something that took inspiration from it but wasn’t entirely the same. Then I saw the bag at the dollar store and said, “Why not?” The Met Gayla was like a creativity challenge: to turn a look with whatever resources I have accessible. It also allowed me to explore and develop my drag outside of it’s lineal spectrum.”

Photo: Chris Shonting

Zac Thompson and Marianna Peragallo: “Camp is playful, surreal, and absurd. This look was a labor of love that we worked on together. We are both visual artists, so putting this look together was a collaboration that, in a way, combined both of our passions and practices. We both think a lot about love, community, and imagining alternate models that can allow for a more fluid and loving future for ourselves and others. The Met Gayla is a moment to feel safe, validated, and empowered while having all the fun. The Met Gala feels like a critique of who wore what best, but the Gayla was pageant of support and artistry. It was a spicy, salty, boisterous riot, and that was inspiring beyond words.”

The Met Gayla Was Queer, Fabulous, and Totally Absurd