Based on the red carpet at Monday night’s Met Gala, you might think that the crux of camp is “more is more.” Stephen Jones, the hat maker who created more than 150 headpieces for the show’s mannequins, would beg to differ. Over the course of two months, Jones constructed wigs, veils, visors, fascinators, and hats that have a decidedly “less is more” look. “We could’ve done bows six foot across,” Jones said, gesturing to a Chanel ensemble from 1987 near the exhibition’s entrance, “but what’s the point in a way? Andrew [Bolton] was saying he wanted to play it the other way, he wanted to downplay it.”
Downplay is the wrong word for the delightfully magical headpieces Jones created, but you have to see his point. When you have an upside-down tulle dress by Viktor & Rolf, you don’t need to scream from the neck up. “There’s a subtlety to it, but it’s sort of strange,” Jones says of his creations. “It’s always trying to find that balance between extravagance and simplicity. You want to have something that holds its own.” In the exhibit’s first half, Jones found that balance by working entirely in pastel pink—the hue of the exhibit’s walls and the mannequins—packing lots of punch into small packages. The first of his headpieces you’ll see goes with that Chanel look: a camellia swim cap and goggles.
From there, Jones brilliantly ties together the history and nuance of camp, putting Erdem’s homage to Fanny and Stella in period-appropriate bonnets, and donning Oscar Wilde doppelg?ngers with little pink haircuts made of a variety of fabrics. (If the first gent looks a little familiar, it may be because that particular side-parted shape was inspired by curator Bolton’s own hairstyle.) Should the concept of camp still allude you, you will certainly get the point when you enter the hallway of failed seriousness that bridges the exhibition’s historical component with the jewel-box gallery of contemporary fashion. There, outfits are paired in twos, one representing naive camp, the other intentional camp. Mannequins wearing the former are adorned with teensy, maybe 2-inch-wide bows. Those in the latter have the same bows floating above their heads. “Tiny bow on head, tiny bow flying a bit,” Jones smirked.
That playfulness carries—and then some—into the main gallery. Here, the milliner’s incredible craft is on full display, with a wide variety of headpieces exhibited alongside the remarkable fashion. For the lovers, he has made tulle veils with shimmering hearts and little heart masks in felt. The gender-blurrers have top-hat masks; the childlike nostalgics have knit bonnets; and the money-hungry have single Swarovski crystals perched on their heads, color matched to outfits from Jeremy Scott, Gareth Pugh, Mary Katrantzou, and Vaquera. The crystals are so large, in fact, that the settings had to be custom-made.
The pièces de résistance—if you can spot them high above—are the duck-bill visors that accompany a display of feathered frocks. “What I was very inspired by is Disney, specifically [Madame] Upanova, the lead ostrich in the ballet of Fantasia,” Jones said, mentioning the cartoon fowl who danced to Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” in the 1940 cartoon film. The models also have small white feather eyelashes, a nod to Pat McGrath’s work with Valentino and Dior.
Elsewhere in the grand room are powder-puff veils, to evoke a woman “powdering her nose” (for Molly Goddard, Giambattista Valli, and Tomo Koizumi), and monogram head wraps for the logoed looks (Gucci and Louis Vuitton). How to pick a favorite? Jones pauses at the crown atop the mannequin wearing Jeremy Scott’s 2011 meat dress. “It’s a crown of prosciutto,” he says, stifling a laugh. Is that an apple on top? “Well, pork, apple—you know?”