Swiss-born, New York ex-pat Susanne Bartsch is a legendary figure of a New York City that once was, an event producer whose radical, full life you can only begin to imagine through scattered articles and stories of the chaotic, hedonistic pre-Giuliani days.
Bartsch was one of the driving forces behind the emergence of household British designers like Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano in New York’s fashion scene, introduced through a boutique she operated in SoHo in the 80s. But it’s her role as a nightlife figure during the same period that truly cements her status as an icon. The proclaimed “Queen of the Night” hosted incredible and diverse parties at clubs like Copacabana and created "Love Ball" nights in Harlem that brought vogue to national attention. The persistence of extravagant club culture is due in large part to Bartsch’s groundwork in the past.
In honor of her cultural impact, the Museum at FIT has created Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch, a retrospective of 30 years of her work intertwining fashion and nightlife culture. The exhibition is filled with mannequins adorned in outfits either created by Bartsch and her friends or imported by Bartsch for her 80s boutique, ranging from kitsch, to fetish, to royally chic.
Three sections divide the exhibition: Store is an ode to the influential boutiques Bartsch operated in the 80s. The next segment, Home, is visually inspired by the Chelsea Hotel where the Queen of the Night lived for some time. The final section is Party, adorned in a similar extravagant style to that of her nightlife events, a seductive taste for New York newcomers of what once was 30 years ago.
The World of Susanne Bartsch feels like a nostalgic paradise for those who were a part of New York club culture in its heyday. For those who wish they had been there but unfortunately weren’t, it serves as a glimpse of New York’s festive glory days. Check out more images from the exhibition below:
The exhibition will be running until December 5th at the Museum at FIT, located at 227 West 27th St.