The annual Met Gala is one of the most powerful marketing tools for luxury brands. Its reach is even significant in mainland China and its massive group of luxury consumers. But this year’s theme, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” was a difficult sell to a Chinese culture that’s mostly unfamiliar the concept of the camp. However, several top luxury brands — Gucci, Valentino, and Thom Browne, for example — still found a way to interpret it for a Chinese audience.
The idea of camp fashion, as well as the related exhibition at the Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art that opened following the event, stems from Susan Sontag’s 1963 essay “Notes on Camp,” which was meant as a tribute to the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. It’s a Western concept — a sensibility that glorifies bad taste or irony — that doesn’t naturally resonate with Chinese who come from a completely different culture. But the desire for people to check out fashion’s largest annual extravaganza, along with the red carpet filled with celebrities in outlandish outfits, still took Chinese social media sites by storm.
Starting early last night, a number of Met Gala-related topics surged onto the trending board of China’s social media platform Weibo, which is still the best place to currently measure and monitor the online sentiments of Chinese netizens. Some top trending topics included celebrity-driven ones like “Chris Lee at Met Gala,” “Lay Zhang at Met Gala,” “Liu Wen at Met Gala,” and “Kardashian family at Met Gala” to fashion discussions like “Met Gala red carpet,” and “Met Gala theme.”
Thanks to Chris Lee and the Camp theme, the Italian luxury brand Gucci garnered a ton of discussion online. The Chinese pop singer, who is also known as Li Yuchun, is the brand ambassador for Gucci in China. She graced the red carpet in a customized peacock-embroidered, full-length dress designed by the brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele, who was also one of the key hosts of this year’s festivities. Netizens also buzzed about other well-known celebrities like Harry Styles and Jared Leto, who were each decked out in Gucci.
Another Italian luxury brand, Valentino, also created a buzzy moment last night by sending “little fresh meat” pop star Lay Zhang out on the red carpet. Zhang, who is a member of the Korean pop band EXO, became the brand’s first Chinese brand ambassador last year. He attended the event donned in a black “Time Travel” suit designed by Valentino’s creative lead, Pierpaolo Piccioli. A Met Gala veteran, Chinese supermodel Liu Wen, once again garnered massive online praise for her singular style. Dressed by Thom Browne, Chinese viewers named her the “best-dressed” star from China.
But Chinese social media users weren’t only following celebrities from their home country, they also scrutinized other major red-carpet attendees and attempted to figure out how their outfits related to camp fashion. For example, the Hollywood actor Ezra Miller, who was dressed by Burberry’s new creative director Riccardo Tisci, caught a wide range of opinions on Chinese social media due to his eccentric look. So did the Kardashian family, who were dressed by a throng of brands ranging from Versace to Tommy Hilfiger.
Even though this year’s theme was far from relatable to the majority of Chinese people, the massive amount of Chinese interest in the event — and the beautifully dressed people attending it — points to a big opportunity for luxury brands that want to create a meaningful conversation with Chinese consumers in the future, regardless of the gala’s theme.