A Wondrous View into Susanne Bartsch's Nocturnal New York
Susanne Bartsch, the Empress of Nightlife, presents over eighty fabulous looks from her personal archive for the retrospective 'Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch' on view at the Museum at FIT . Bartsch is a legendary figure who has ruled the New York nightlife scene for the past three decades and who artfully combines fantasy, fashion, and philanthropy. The incredible exhibit explodes with looks from superstar designers such as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, and to more experimental designers like Rachel Auburn, Leigh Bowery, Zaldy, and The Blondes.
Bartsch, a Swiss native, grew up in banking community and left at a young age to escape the fate of being a banker's wife. At seventeen she moved to London to learn English, spending a full decade there, and eventually following an artist boyfriend to New York arriving in 1981. Within her first week she opened a boutique, and being a British fashion enthusiast, was a pioneer in importing Vivienne Westwood, and introducing Leigh Bowery, Body Map, and Stephen Jones. Around 1986 Bartsch began organizing avant-garde fashion shows such as New London in New York and London Goes to Tokyo which elevated her nightlife cult status. As we all know, AIDS eviscerated a significant portion of New York's then creative class, which prompted Bartsch to create the Love Ball, a major AIDS fundraiser. The Love Ball along with several other events helped raise over $2.5M for AIDS research, support, and education.
The exhibit is divided into three sections to reflect a timeline of her life. We first see mannequins donning looks by Galliano, Leigh Bowery, and the surrealist milliner Stephen Jones, recalling her earlier days as a boutique owner. Next are the extravagant costumes during her glory years as an event producer extraordinaire: a showgirl ensemble with marabou trim, an all black dominatrix look with matching headdress, and her latex wedding dress ( to fitness guru David Barton) complete with an egg cocoon. Followed by the more sultrier attire she currently wears in her crimson-themed apartment at the Chelsea Hotel.
Bartsch is a self-proclaimed exhibitionist who views fashion as a form of art and loved mixing elements of uptown/downtown. gay/straight, white/black, rich/poor, young/old into one large performance piece. The exhibit was conceived by Bartsch and famed museum curator Dr. Valerie Steele, who states Bartsch's nocturnal world was a major networking hub for creatives and quotes, 'it's almost a kind of laboratory for fashion.' Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch will be on view through December 5, 2015 at The Museum at FIT.