“What Is Camp?” proclaimed a headline on August 12, 1965. Considering Marc Jacobs’ recent ode to Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” at Louis Vuitton, there’s no better time to dig up that story than now. “There are lots of professional fashion men and women who take pride in their hard-earned knowledge and suddenly they are stymied by a new fashion term added to the patois of the Paris Couture,” wrote WWD. “Defining ‘camp’ is like defining ‘in’ and ‘out,’ ‘hip’ and ‘square,’ ‘U’ and ‘non-U,’ only harder because it’s not anything that is good or bad or up or down.” In its attempts to pin down the new “camp” notion, the paper spoke to industry notables to get their thoughts. Here, their comments.
Geoffrey Beene: “Camp is a form of humor, vintage humor — it sometimes goes into caustic remarks. Examples: Ruby Keeler movies, Alexander Wolcott, Monty Woolley (one of the most Camp of all).”
Sydney Gittler, executive at Ohrbach’s: “Camp is something that is a little mad, something a little weird. When Samantha, the witch, dissolves in thin air, it’s Camp. In fashion, the St. Laurent white baba wedding dress is Camp — and so is Norell’s pointed dress. Camp is everything that’s a little mad — but not crazy.”
Norman Norell: “Camp is an outrageous thing, usually a person who is outrageous in either clothes or personality. Examples: Bert Savoy (an outrageous Camp — a female impersonator); a few young men on 42nd Street with bleached blonde hair and false lashes — that’s A Camp; Valeska Suratt, a vamp of the 1920s and my favorite, [and] Dorine wearing Claudia’s dress 12 inches above her knee — that’s really Camp.”
Mildred Custin, president of Bonwit Teller: “Camp to my mind means something that is swinging, someone with it, something that stirs curiosity. Examples: London School of Designers…Castillo’s matching fabric accessories, space.”
Eugenia Sheppard: “Camp in its original meaning was amusing and offbeat. Now, it’s almost farcical the way the word is being used, especially by people who want to be ‘with it,’ but don’t know what it means.”
Nancy White, editor of Harper’s Bazaar: “It’s not a word I use.”