Zoe Grinfeld: An Eye for Camp
An interview with the MET's "Notes on Camp" college competition winner and her discussion on the role of camp in the conversation of fashion design.
By: Kyle Haffermann
Photographer: Luciano Fileti / Model: Jordan Thomas
From the perspective of American designer Zoe Grinfeld, fashion should boast creativity as much as it does profitability. At a time when fast fashion is so dominant, creativity is stifled, and designers are left unrecognized for their creative genius, she believes conversations within the world of fashion should extend far beyond the sales quotas.
In the work of Ms. Grinfeld, we see creativity in abundance through the use of camp. As a former competitor of Project Runway: Threads, Grinfeld has a love for fashion that started at a young age and has carried her through to her education at the Rhode Island School of Design. As the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hosting its annual fashion exhibition, it also hosted a competition for college-aged individuals to compete in. Ms. Grinfeld has been chosen as a finalist in the competition for her work.
As the world of fashion observes the camp theme for its humor, eccentricity, and playfulness, it must be noted that camp is nonetheless authentic in its expression. Though its definitions may be relatively vague, camp is the artistic expression of clothing design.
Photographer: Coleman Hirschberg / Model: Jordan Thomas
Where are you from?
I am from a small town in rural Connecticut called Colchester.
What do you study at Rhode Island School of Design?
I am an Apparel Design major and I am about to enter my senior year.
This year's MET Gala theme as you know is "Camp", which has proven to be a confusing theme for individuals outside of the fashion industry. Can you explain in layman's terms what camp is?
Camp is irony, humor, exaggeration, absurdity, artificiality, and so much more. It can be obvious or extremely nuanced. Camp challenges conventional norms and questions what defines good and bad taste.
You were recently selected as one of the finalists for the MET's Costume Institute 2019 College Fashion Design Contest. Tell us about that experience.
I’m super excited to have been chosen as a finalist in the Costume Institute’s competition. The jacket I’ll be showing is made from over 500 doll heads. It took me over four years to source the materials and four months to construct. The accompanying outfit is a continuation of work I made for my 2019 Capsule collection. I think the jacket was a really defining moment for me in my work and I’m proud to be able to show it in the MET. The judging will take place on May 23rd during the MET’s “College Night: Notes on Fashion” event, so I’m hoping I’ll take home the prize.
In your SS19 and 2019 Capsule collection, we see bright colors, Barbie references, and mixed patterns. What was your inspiration for these recent collections? What were you hoping to achieve? Do you think you achieved your mission?
I’ve spent the last year or so focusing on themes having to do with play. I think the time I’ve spent in school has been extremely exploratory for me and has made me think about the past and how to carry it forward. Being only 20 years old, my design style and sources of inspiration are constantly growing and changing. For SS19, I thought a lot about adolescence and tried to capture, sort of, the energy and rebellious spirit that comes with it. For the 2019 capsule, I went back even further and thought about an early 2000s childhood and what navigating girlhood means now in this digital age. In the end, I hoped to achieve collections that people can relate to and that people want to wear.
Photographer: Myke Yeager / Model: Tim Pumphret
Philosopher Susan Sontag said camp "is not a natural mode of sensibility if there be any such. Indeed, the essence of camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration." What is it about this "exaggeration" that helps carry the conversation of fashion forward?
I think the popularity of camp and the conversations it sparks exist largely because of its shock value.
If people could walk away with one bit of information from your work, what would you want it to be and why?
I like to think that people will walk away from my work with a better understanding of who I am. I like to make people laugh, and I hope that people can walk away from my work with a smile.
On your website, it states that you want to push back against the monotony of "ready to wear." Can you explain a bit more about what you mean by this?
I think a lot of ready to wear can be quite boring. Either it’s too simplistic or it’s the same collection over and over again with minimal changes. I think young designers are really pushing the envelope with bolder ready to wear, and I like to think I’m part of that.
What do you think distinguishes camp from parody?
Parody is imitation; camp is authentic.
What or who inspires you?
I’m inspired by a lot of things. I draw a lot from my past, but I’m also just constantly inspired from my environment and the friends I have working around me.
Do you think that a rise of Camp in high fashion will eventually cause it to diffuse into everyday wear?
I don’t necessarily think camp is a concept that’s new. I think camp has existed since fashion existed. Camp isn’t something you can really set out to create; the best camp is unaware that it even is. Fast fashion retailers trying to incorporate it into everyday wear won’t be successful in capturing the essence of it if they set out with the intention of doing so.
What does a Zoe Grinfeld client look like to you?
To me, a Zoe Grinfeld client is spunky, wants to have a good time, and likes to command the attention of a room.
Why do you think camp is having such a big moment in fashion? Have any cultural or social trends have led to this moment in fashion?
I think camp and absurdity are really in at the moment because of how absurd the world is right now. Everything is so crazy and scary that I think people are turning to fashion for humor and relief.
Do you think people are tiring of minimalism?
I mean, I’ve never been a huge fan of minimalism. I’ve never really understood the draw to blankness. I much prefer to be constantly surrounded by visual information.
What change would you want to see in the fashion industry?
I think the industry overall needs to slow down. There are enough clothes in existence right now for us to never have to make anything again. I think just bombarding a world full of stuff with even more stuff isn’t at all sustainable and can dilute great ideas.
Photographer: Zoo Media / Models: Isabelle Saxton, Jordan Thomas. Logo Design: January Bridges