SUSANNE BARTSCH’S WORLD
By Elizabeth Patterson
The name Susanne Bartsch is synonymous with New York City nightlife. Her parties are the stuff of legend – the type people lie about having been at, just to wear that badge of merit on their (likely bedazzled) extravagant outfit – that is no doubt topped off with eye makeup of the glitter variety. And no great party is complete without a great party look, something Bartsch has not skimped on over the years. The Museum at FIT is celebrating Bartsch’s lavish closet with an exhibit featuring 80 looks the inimitable host has donned.
Susanne Bartsch was originally born in Switzerland before moving to London at age 17, and from there, making her eventual voyage to New York City, where she has remained ever since. She began her reign with a boutique featuring the likes of Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and more, becoming one of the first retailers to stock the then lesser known designers stateside.
Though she had her boutique, she made her indelible mark on the city with her parties, which were the place to be if you were anyone worth knowing in New York. Savage, Le Bain, and famously, Copacabana have all been home to her soirees. After the AIDS crisis of the 80s, Bartsch started the Love Ball, and raised millions for AIDS research through her fundraising efforts. Today, she continues to hold her crown as New York’s party queen, hosting weekly rendezvouses at Le Bain – though she admits she doesn’t stick around for the sunrise anymore.
Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch touches on each of these different aspects of Bartsch’s life. Designers Bartsch featured in her boutique make up the first part of the exhibit, before moving on to the jewel – Bartsch and her friends’ own over-the-top outfits worn for long forgotten nights that turned into mornings. Clothes from designers like The Blonds and Zaldy hold their own alongside Alexander McQueen and Thierry Mugler creations. The last section is modeled after her home at the Chelsea Hotel, an abode she’s resided in for countless years. The exhibit promises a conspectus view, if not a comprehensive one, of what is surely only the tip of the iceberg of Bartsch’s generous wardrobe.
Bartsch’s parties were and continue to be a place to be who you wanted to be. The daily weights of life could be dropped at the door, your mask could be thrown off and your drab work costume gleefully discarded to reveal your true fabulous self underneath. Whether that self was someone with a blue face and jeweled eye makeup in a skimpy outfit even a stripper would balk at, or a Marie Antoinette-esque figure complete with a towering wig, or even a vampy dominatrix in a lace-up red leather bodysuit and matching thigh-high boots, there was a spot for you inside one of Bartsh’s fêtes. Her inclusiveness before inclusiveness was cool set her parties apart from others on the glitzy scene in the 80s and 90s.
Few could rival Bartsch’s closet, and no one holds a candle to her bashes. It’s only fitting that she gets what could loosely be called a retrospective of fashion moments combining the two. Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch is curated by Bartsch herself and Valerie Steele. The exhibit will be on view at the Museum at FIT from September 18 – December 5, 2015. So go ahead – make this a night to remember.