On a site like PAPER, Susanne Bartsch needs little introduction. The New York City nightlife icon, known to her admirers as Queen of the Night, has been curating glittering parties and fostering spaces for NYC's underground creatives for nearly forty years now. The story of her legacy and influence was recently told in the documentary, Susanne Bartsch: On Top which is available on Netflix
Aside from her status as fashion and nightlife icon, Bartsch is also an activist who's raised millions for AIDS over the course of her career. She hosted the first ever "Love Ball" AIDS benefit, one of the first events of its kind, in 1989, raising $400,000 at a time when the fashion and entertainment industries were being brutally affected by the disease, and nearly all elected officials and doctors were ignoring it. Over the years, Love Balls would go on to raise over $2.5 million for programs for victims of HIV/AIDS.
Thirty years later, Bartsch is still fighting, and throwing fabulous parties. In collaboration with The Council of Fashion Designers of America, she'll present the 30th Anniversary Love Ball this summer, on June 25 at Gotham Hall, benefitting the CFDA-Vogue Initiative/New York City AIDS Fund of The New York Community Trust. MAC Cosmetics, which founded its Viva Glam campaign in 1994 to benefit AIDS (donating the full sale price of its line of Viva Glam lipsticks to the MAC AIDs fund) will sponsor the event.
The evening, which promises a slew of celebrity attendees, will be emceed by Pose star, Billy Porter, and feature "six categories that allow members from the Ballroom community, celebrities, and nightlife icons to compete for a one-of-a-kind trophy." Love Ball III will also commemorate the legacy of Hector Xtravaganza, "the Grandfather of Ballroom" and a close collaborator of Bartsch's, who died at age 60 last year.
"It's the 30th anniversary of The Love Ball, which I created to celebrate life, to show support for people living with HIV, and to unite people to fight AIDS," Bartsch says. "It's the most important fight I ever fought. While much progress has been made since, the disease continues to disproportionately affect underserved communities. The fight continues."
PAPER editor-in-chief Drew Elliott will help curate the event, along with Ballroom scene fixture Jack Mizrahi, drag performer Kevin Aviance, creative ambassador for Barney's Simon Doonan, celeb event legend Simon Huck, KCD, Vogue and designer Zaldy.
The ball will round out PRIDE month, which this year commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Purchase tickets ($25-$10,000) to Love Ball III here.
On Thursday, February 14th, Susanne Bartsch celebrates Valentine's Day with a BOOM, filling up the 18th floor of the Standard, High Line with love and sexiness. As a teaser, the BOOM babes tell us what give them "Hearts and Hard Ons".
Latrice Royale is back in the mother-tucking house and ready to slay the competition but the jury is still out on how Latrice will do. There’s a mixed record for girls ru-turning to the competition and then being sent right back home.
In a sneak peek for an all new RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Latrice is welcomed back into the competition with open arms and given the task (or prize?) or splitting the girls into team for their next challenge: creating a legendary party in the style of nightlife icon Susanne Bartsch who put motha RuPaul on way back when.
Latrice pairs the girls up: fashion queens Naomi Smalls and Valentina, season 10 squirrel frans Monét X. Change and Monique Heart, and veteran professionals Trinity the Tuck and Manila Luzon. Latrice decides to join the latter and the girls get to planning. Will Naomi and Val’s subversive Club 96 serve them? Or confuse them? Will Monét and Monique’s Black Hole make them gag? Or make them gag? Will Trinity, Manila, and Latrice’s V.I.Bee. impress? Or will the buzz die down?
Find out on a brand new RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Friday at 8/7c.
Sonja Morgan, Alan Cumming, Marc Jacobs, Char Defrancesco, Frankie Grande, Susanne Bartsch and David Barton attended the grand opening of TMPL West Village while celebrating Barton and Bartsch’s annual toy drive event in NYC.
Legendary party organizer Susanne Bartsch invited to this year's Toy Drive bash at her ex-husbands new TMPL gym in the West Village.
Frankie Grande, Sonja Morgan, Marc Jacobs were among the many familiar faces rounding out the guest list for this year's extravagant party.
Check out all the best moments from the 2018 Bartsch Toy Drive straight from Daniela's Lens below:
4:30 p.m. at Patch HQ
We are celebrating the Holiday Season at Patch tonight! Everybody gets a present, and there is a lot of food, wine, and fun.
I had lots of food, wine, and more wine. Probably a little bit too much wine. My next event is only a few blocks away. Let's do this.
I'm at 125 7th avenue, and there is no party. I recheck the address. Then it starts raining, of course. I'm a little tipsy. I walk both sides of the street up and down multiple times, but I can't find the place!
There is the reporter from the New York Times!
"Where is the Susanne Bartsch party?" I ask him.
"It's south..." he says. "We are west."
Uh oh. When will I ever get these things right?! But I don't feel too bad, because the NYT made the same mistake and they are the some of the smartest reporters on the planet, right? We hop in a cap.
"The door will be a total s**tshow," I say. We are both concerned that we'll have to fight our way in.
We arrive, and there are a hundred people outside. I jump out of the car as fast as possible. It's every one for themselves, now! I make my way through the crowd. "I'm press!" I say as if this explains anything. But I'm so confident and determined everybody lets me through right away. That was easy.
Sonja Morgan and David Barton are here!
David is the owner of the TMPL gym empire. The TMPL West Village is his newest location.
It's a cyclops!
Michael Musto is wearing an ugly holiday sweater!
Frankie Grande takes selfies all night long!
David Barton and Frankie Grande
Very impressive abs!
Aliana Lohan, younger sister of Lindsay.
Marc Jacobs and Susanne Bartsch.
The place is a gigantic new gym. And it smells of gym and cigarette smoke at the same time which is very confusing. The primitive part of my mind is trying to put it together - and fails. Am I supposed to get healthy here or party my brains out?
There is an open bar, and the crowd is getting wasted. This might be the first time I've ever seen people doing shots and smoking in a gym.
Party your brains out.
Definitely, party your brains out!
These two have a look!
Marc Jacobs and friends.
I love the color coding!
Frankie Grande and Sonja Morgan!
The place is huge! I almost can't find my way out of the locker room labyrinth. When I finally figure it out, a new guest has arrived.
It's Amanda Lepore!
She tosses her pink fake fur coat on the floor and gets in a pose — everything for a good picture.
Amanda Lepore is giving an interview.
With Christmas about a week away, the time to snag presents for loved ones and others is fast approaching. But over the weekend, David Barton and Susanne Bartsch hosted their annual holiday party, this year a toy drive which brought out the likes of Marc Jacobs and Char Defrancesco, Norma Kamali, and Steven Klein.
Inside Barton’s TMPL West Village gym were both festive revelers and club kids, all of whom brought donations to bring some holiday cheer to children across the tristate area. Guests in their finest then grooved on the dance floor; the evening was a celebratory occasion that lasted well into the early hours.
A far less button-down crowd turned out Friday night for a toy drive organized by Susanne Bartsch and David Barton, reviving a two-decades-old tradition that took a hiatus. It was held at Mr. Barton’s new Greenwich Village branch of his gym, TMPL.
Michael Musto, the night life chronicler, described the thumping club music and colored lights bouncing off the weight machines as “Liza Minnelli’s rec room on steroids, and whatever ecstasy is left from the ’90s.”
Guests, who donated toys for admission, included Alan Cumming; Sonja Morgan from “The Real Housewives of New York City”; Frankie Grande,a YouTube personality; and Amanda Lepore, the transgender performer.
“We brought 150 toys,” said Marc Jacobs, who attended with his fiancé, Char Defrancesco. “We literally researched the most popular toys for boys and girls, and stayed up until 3 in the morning, mad over-ordering.”
Mr. Jacobs wore a reversible Vetements plaid trench coat, while his betrothed sported a Jesus-print ensemble by Supreme. The couple has a wedding date, April 6, but declined to disclose any details. “Just expect a lot of wardrobe changes,” Mr. Jacobs said.
Susanne Bartsch and David Barton are bringing back their annual toy drive to help underprivileged children and teenagers in the Tristate area.
First started in the mid-Nineties, the holiday event has not been held for a few years. The Dec. 14 event will be held at Barton’s new TMPL gym in the West Village at 125 Seventh Avenue South. Bartsch and Barton will have added support from this year’s hosts Marc Jacobs, Norma Kamali, Steven Klein, Alan Cumming, Cindy Sherman, Char Defrancesco and MILK. New nonwrapped gifts get guests in the door and the first holiday drink is on the house. This year’s toys will be donated to children through Lincoln Medical Center, NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem, MountSinai Hospital, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, My Sisters Place and the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, according to Jonathan Bee, who is instrumental in helping to get the games, dolls, makeup and other gifts to the underserved.
Recalling the early days of the gift-giving party, Bartsch said her son Bailey was just a boy. (Now he is 24 and lives next door.) “It was partially because we have a son and we really wanted to do something to help. A friend of ours is also very involved with a children’s center and he said, ‘There is always a shortage of toys. Kids don’t get any gifts. It’s a problem. People think there are too many, and then there isn’t enough,’” she said. “We said, ‘Why don’t we have a celebration? If we do it at the gym, we don’t have to pay for anything.’ It just really came together from hearing there was a need for these toys.”
More than 25,000 toys were collected during one of the first annual events, Bartsch said. “There were mountains of toys. There were more than 2,500 people and people brought more than one toy. It was about uniting and helping. People really enjoy going to buy a toy. A lot of people don’t have children, they don’t even have families. You could see from people’s faces that they were enjoying themselves. They wanted to show the toy they bought. Marc Jacobs comes as the host with bags and bags of toys like Santa flying through the sky. There is such a beautiful feeling all around. We just gave people a chance to help kids. It just kind of became an institution.”
Bartsch said she totally agrees with Charles Eames, who once said, “Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are the prelude to serious ideas.” The “Queen of the Nights” own playfulness is being used for a monthly “Play Now!” at # Dollar Bill in Brooklyn. And her “Bartschland Follies” cabaret continues at the McKittrick Hotel.
Regarding her own childhood leanings, she said, “I was obsessed with dolls, which was so weird. When I was really small, I always said, ‘I want to be a baby nurse.’ In a way, I have this motherly thing in me.…I pick up all these creatures who don’t have support. But I’m not interested in having babies or making babies at all. I think there are too many people in the world. But dolls were my obsession when I was younger. Then my father made us a beautiful dollhouse. Dolls and a dollhouse were what I played with all the time. And board games.”
VH1 just announced the guest judges for RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4, and – hold onto your wigs! – its a veritable cornucopia of fabulousity!
In addition to show regulars Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, and Ross Mathews, this season’s guest judges include Jenifer Lewis, Ciara, Kacey Musgraves, Gus Kenworthy, Keiynan Lonsdale, Zoë Kravitz, Yvette Nicole Brown, Cecily Strong, Rita Ora, Susanne Bartsch, Ellen Pompeo, Frances Bean Cobain, Felicity Huffman, Jason Wu and Erica Ash.
The series will return to the runway with supersized 90-minute episodes on Friday, December 14th at 8:00 PM ET/PT on VH1.
The 10 competing super queens will hold nothing back to impress the judges as they vie for a spot in the coveted “Drag Race Hall of Fame” and a grand prize of $100,000. The previously announced queens include: Farrah Moan (Season Nine), Gia Gunn (Season Six), Jasmine Masters (Season Seven), Latrice Royale (Season Four and “All Stars” One), Manila Luzon (Season Three and “All Stars” One), Monét X Change (Season Ten), Monique Heart (Season Ten), Naomi Smalls (Season Eight), Trinity Taylor (Season Nine), and Valentina (Season Nine).
To celebrate the upcoming season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” Logo will be airing a week-long marathon of every episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.” Starting on Friday, December 7th, at 10:00 PM ET/PT, the marathon will run until December 14th at 8:00 PM ET/PT, leading into the new season’s premiere.
Kunst @ Elsewhere
Step fully into the queer club scene at Kunst, which has been popping up at different venues across the city since 2013. Started by Susanne Bartsch and Gage of the Boone, the event celebrates the artistry of nightlife with all kinds of DJs, performers, drag personalities, and ~lewks~. Musicians this time include Katie Rex, JT Almon, Amber Valentine, and Mazurbate; hosts like Pepto Dismal, Muffy Queen, Empty Pools, and Homosinner will be circulating all night.
Saturday, November 17th, 11 p.m. // Elsewhere, 599 Johnson Ave., Brooklyn // Tickets: $20
The problem with revisiting vintage New York, that period in the not-so-distant past when the beau monde divided their time between Manhattan, Fire Island, and the social pages, is that many of the key players cannot remember much from their salad days. People not only forget names and dates; in some cases, they’re off by decades (I’m talking about you, Elsa Peretti). As Joel Schumacher, the window dresser turned fashion designer turned filmmaker, once told me of the ’70s and ’80s, “I was a drug addict at the time, and I speak through a drug miasma.”
And this collective haze would appear to be at its foggiest when it comes to recalling the ghosts of Halloweens past. “I wish we had Instagram back then because I really don’t remember much,” says Patrick McMullan, the legendary New York nightlife photographer. “I remember plenty of men dressed as loose women, and that when the alcohol starts flowing, loose can get real loose. But specifics, not so much.”
As with most New York lore, all roads eventually lead back to Studio 54. “Other clubs, like Les Jardins, New York New York, and Area, had Halloween nights, but they were nothing compared to Studio 54,” says Scott Bromley, the Studio 54 architect and habitué. “[Steve] Rubell and [Ian] Schrager threw Halloween parties that were notorious for their bacchanalian splendor. Halloween was always a big production.”
“The decor,” which, Bromley points out, was often done by Kevin Bacon’s sister, Karin, “was sheer lunacy, real theater. Nothing was barred, and everything was magnificent.”
“Halloween at Studio 54 made Halloween on Santa Monica look sort of sober, okay—and that’s pretty wild,” says the party promoter extraordinaire Nikki Haskell. “They really decorated it like a fun house, with all these crazy vignettes. You’d be walking by one part, and a ghost or a guy in a suit drowning in ketchup would come out at you. And then you’d walk around the corner, and there would be snakes running around in little boxes.”
If there is one person to have given Rubell and Schrager a run for their ghoulish money, it’s Susanne Bartsch, the regnant Queen of the Scene. Think of any infamous club of the past three decades—Roxy, Limelight, Palladium, Copacabana, and, yes, Studio 54—and Bartsch has held a Halloween bash there. “There have been some quintessential Halloween hosts such as Amy Sacco, Patricia Fields, and the Baroness,” says the photographer Roxanne Lowit, a nightlife fixture. “But Susanne always put on a memorable show and turned out the best looks.”
“You could say I built my career on Halloween,” says Bartsch herself. “My very first Halloween was at the Red Parrot, up on 57th. But my favorite was when Cher launched her perfume at the first Halloween party we had at the Diamond Horseshoe, under the Paramount Hotel. It’s always a good party when Cher shows up.”
This Halloween, Bartsch is involved with no fewer than four parties, including her takeover of the entire top story at the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District and hosting Bette Midler’s annual fundraiser for the New York Restoration Project. (At last year’s event, Marc Jacobs, who, over the years, has dressed as everything from SpongeBob SquarePants to a camel toe, was almost unrecognizable as a female bodybuilder named Stacie.)
Though Bartsch decries the current state of affairs (“All those dreadful mass-market people and their Ricky’s looks,” she sniffs), she applauds the efforts of Allison Sarofim and Heidi Klum. “Allison’s Halloween is very chi-chi, but people really make an effort with the looks, and it’s at that gorgeous home,” she says, referring to the VIP party at Sarofim’s West Village town house, where Valentino might be introduced to Andy Cohen by, say, Cardi B. “And Heidi turns it out.”
Does she ever. For the past 19 years, Klum—who is from a town outside Cologne, the European capital of dress-up parades—has practically owned the actual night of Halloween (Sarofim’s bash is always held the Saturday before) with her A-list party and outrageous costumes. “Even when I was nine months pregnant and about to pop, I still dressed up and had a ball,” she says, referring to the time in 2006 when she went dressed as a gigantic apple with a snake wrapped around her; her ex-husband, Seal, went as Eve after the Fall. Klum’s other legendary costumes include her completely unrecognizable as a 90-year-old version of herself and as the wolf from the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video. The one year she was recognizable as Heidi Klum, she was flanked by five prosthetically enhanced “clones.”
“That was probably the hardest to do because first I had to find five girls who were exactly my height and body type,” Klum explains. “Then they had to be willing to be unrecognizable in a wig and prosthetics all night. For a model, it’s not really that great a gig.”
Though Klum’s party has ballooned in size and become frightfully corporate (it’s at LAVO New York and presented by Party City and SVEDKA Vodka), all eyes will be on Klum and whatever divinely phantasmagoric outfit she has planned. Not that Klum, who caused a stink in the Hindu community in 2008 when she went dressed as the deity Kali, is worried about being PC, even as Megyn Kelly’s blackface controversy plays itself out. “My two rules,” says Klum, “are that you have to make an effort, and that you can never go too far on Halloween.”
And the third unspoken, universal rule? If you can remember Halloween, it probably was a Halloween not worth remembering.
"I Like my bed at home," says Susanne Bartsch, with the longing of someone who never gets to actually sleep. Since the ’80s, Bartsch has worked all night as a mother lion to the most spectacular creatures of the city—fashion designers, club kids, models, performers, drag queens, DJs and late-night icons. Though AIDS, gentrification and social media have changed NYC’s queer nightlife, it seems that Bartsch’s inclusive, outrageous parties will always be a bastion for the next generation of demimonde angels. We asked the immortal scenester about her favorite places to dance, drink and unwind in NYC.
Brooklyn takeover: Kunst at Elsewhere
"I love Elsewhere. I’m actually shocked that I’m going to Brooklyn. I’m not shocked, because everybody’s in Brooklyn, but I never would have thought that I’d end up there. It’s so much more fun over there. Manhattan is a city of real estate lawyers and accountants now. Elsewhere is a cool mix of people. It’s basically a performance venue for bands, but they also have events and parties, and they have a roof and different rooms. I always like places with different rooms where you can catch different sounds. Dance parties, like Kunst, are about dancing, music and the DJs. I always have one show that’s just about music and dancing, not just looks and showing off. Kunst has the looks, but you have the lounging on the roof and then you have the dancing."
High-drama theater: Bartschland Follies
"I have the Bartschland Follies, which is at one of my favorite places. It feels underground when you come into the room to see the Follies, even though you’re in the middle of a place that’s well known. I don’t want to name-drop, but David LaChapelle’s been three times already—he loves it. You come in and feel like you’re part of something massive. It’s like going to someone’s house. And I love the McKittrick’s roof. This is more of a sit-down space to relax—for more of a theater crowd."
Classic space: The Standard, High Line
"I love the Standard, the Boom Boom Room and Le Bain. When I do a party there with the two rooms together, we open up the whole space. It’s really magical to have the dark, red deep of Le Bain and the high-glam, lit atmosphere of the Boom Boom Room. Normally, they don’t open them: They’re closed, and each one is their own entity. But I love having them combined every so often—it’s one of my favorite things."
After the Party: The Standard Grill
"I love this place for late-night stuff. I love their food, it’s cozy, and they stay open late. I often go there after I have an event. I love their onion soup and the fish soup, and the bread is amazing. I don’t really eat [turf] meat, so it’s just the calamari for me. I don’t have a big-plate favorite there, but they always have a good special."
The astrology of Susanne Bartsch
"I'm a bloody Virgo. But I find Virgo men to be kind of weird, actually. They're very effeminate and very masculine at the same time. I had a couple of boyfriends who were Virgos and they had that male thing about them and they there were very femme and total softies. I'm definitely a top, you know what I mean? My rising sign is Cancer—I'm an organized mess. I have a pile of shit and I know exactly what's in the pile, and where. My son is a Pisces, which is the opposite of a Virgo. He came early, and I wanted to cross my legs, and it was at 11:57! If it had been at 12 o'clock, he would have at least been an Aries. He has all water! They say that Virgo and Scorpio are the two most misunderstood of the signs. They say we're nitpicks, but we like to help people, and we are into the details. But what it really is, and this is what an astrologist told me, is that we see the big picture. When we see things going wrong, we take it apart and try to put it back together to make it more harmonious for the big picture. People don't understand that about us. I'm a classic Virgo in that way."
Truman Capote famously said “New York is a diamond iceberg floating in river water.” And one of the town’s greatest gems is Susanne Bartsch. Dubbed “The queen of the night” for decades she has produced the most uniquely creative shindigs, not only just in New York, but around the world from Tokyo to Paris. Born in Switzerland, this patron saint of style moved to New York City in 1981 and has been there ever since.
Famous for her flair for bringing all kinds of people together, Bartsch provides a place for men and women to escape their everyday lives and have a transformative experience, or at the very least experience a rip-roaring good time. Her latest venture is the pull-out all-the-stops cabaret extravaganza Bartschland Follies. The alluring and intimate show is every Friday in The Club Car in the glamorous McKittrick Hotel, home of the iconic show Sleep No More. Expect a madcap night where the opera meets a high fashion burlesque circus.
Jeryl Brunner: How would you describe Bartschland Follies?
Susanne Bartsch: Bartschland Follies is a modern-day Cabaret. In my humble opinion it is replete with all of the style, wit, ambiguity, sexiness and sophistication that makes the Bob Fosse film [Cabaret] such a timeless classic. There is always something outrageous and unexpected at Bartschland Follies. That is why The McKittrick Hotel is the perfect partner and home for the show. Strangely and eerily as well, the times in which we're living are beginning to feel very ominously like a parallel of Weimar culture. So "Come to The Cabaret!" Or in this case, The Follies! It’s art imitating life imitating art, on an endless loop!
Brunner: In Bartschland Follies you have the most talented burlesque performers. How did you go about selecting them?
Bartsch: I have built a large network of amazingly talented artists and performers through my various events. And I have been working with most of them for many years. The Follies is my opportunity to share this special community with the community! They are the crème de le crème of the avant-garde performance art and burlesque scene. Not just in New York but in the world.
Brunner: You moved to New York in 1981 after living in London. What did love about New York City that inspired you to stay?
Bartsch: The mix! The energy! The ability to dream a dream and make it a reality. It was a little harder for me to navigate London and do things over there, because it's mired in its own long and epic history a bit. But New York is comparatively new and encourages new people, new ideas, new transplants. New York draws the most artistic and interesting people and you can meet many of them out at a nightclub.
Brunner: What is the best advice that you have received?
Bartsch: My mother told me “Don’t let fear run your life” and "the most important thing is to play the game!" It doesn't matter if you win or lose, what matters is that you DO play.
Brunner: If you are at a party and feeling shy or not so confident and don’t know anyone, what is a good way to break the ice and talk to people?
Bartsch: You don't really need to talk at a party. Because if it’s good, the music is loud. I think a smile is always a good place to start. Also it never hurts to compliment someone, even if you feel like a tongue-tied fangirl with a huge crush! Who doesn't like to be told someone thinks they are gorgeous?
Brunner: Can you share a few great tips on how to throw a cool party?
Bartsch: A great space, which can mean anything from a totally posh high-end place to a wacky and wild dive. Good music. A dynamic mix of people and a little drama and star power!
Brunner: How would you describe your style?
Bartsch: Self couture! My style is ever-changing. I like to challenge my comfort level and push my own envelope to keep things interesting. It is definitely body-conscious, vintage, futuristic, whimsical and campy, but polished and chic. All at the same time. These are the elements I like and I like to play with them.
Born and raised in Bäretswil, Switzerland, a sleepy town nestled between the Glatt and Töss Valleys, Susanne Bartsch rejected the pastoral, “hausfrau life” that was planned for girls in her village in favour of parties and punk music when she moved to London in 1979, aged just 17. There, she discovered Vivienne Westwood, Leigh Bowery and milliner Stephen Jones, falling in with a crowd of musicians and creatives which included Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLarenamongst others. Several years later she moved again, resettling in New York, bringing her favourite British designers with her, opening an eponymous avant-garde fashion boutique in central SoHo. When the economy began to slow in the late 80s, Susanne took her menagerie of costumes and couture to the basement of the Chelsea Hotel for her first party in 1986 at Savage. Since that moment, her life’s work has been creating moments of safety and self-expression for the queer and disenfranchised. Constructing fleeting, overnight reveries from Paris to Tokyo, Susanne and her parties have helped propel performers and designers like RuPaul, Amanda Lepore and Marc Jacobs onto a global stage, earning her the title of Andy Warhol’s heir and “Mother Teresa in a glitter G-string” in the process.
Now, through never-before-seen archival footage, verité cinematography and deeply intimate testimonials, she’s the subject of her first documentary – Susanne Bartsch: On Top. Named after her famed Tuesday night parties, atop The Standard, High Line, On Top paints a vibrant, shimmering and above all, deeply human portrait of one of New York’s most iconic promoters. With an aesthetic that blends Susanne’s world of performance, fashion, art and artifice to bend the rules of gender and breakdown the boundaries of class and race, On Top offers a rare window into the mind of Manhattan’s undisputed queen of the night.
With the film now released on demand on all major platforms, we spoke to directorial duo Anthony&Alexabout how Susanne picked up from where Warhol left off, her pivotal role in club kid, queer and drag culture, and why her life’s work is so much more than simply putting on great parties.
How did you both first meet Susanne?
Anthony&Alex: We met Susanne about a week before we started filming the documentary at one of her parties. A friend of ours, Stella Rose Saint Clair, premiered a fashion film we directed for her at Susanne’s On Top party. Susanne loved the little film, and the next day she invited us to see the FIT exhibit she was putting together. Susanne was clearly such an artist and force of nature that we instinctively knew we wanted to make a feature documentary on her.
To those who’ve never experienced Susanne’s work, how would you explain what she does?
Anthony&Alex: Susanne curates experiences, and expresses herself with outfits and looks to match those experiences. She brings everyone together to celebrate one another, and she does it while looking like a piece of art in her own public gallery of people.
Susanne has been described as picking up where Andy Warhol left off. What do you think drove that desire for her? To celebrate and uphold such a strong sense of queer community?
Anthony&Alex: Susanne has always been a champion of the underdog. She sees people who are suffering, or are underrepresented, and wants to bring out what’s special in them. We see it every time we’re at one of her parties. What was so fantastic about Warhol is he saw beauty, talent, and immense creativity in people that may otherwise have gone totally unnoticed. Warhol had a factory because he knew that when you take a lot of talented and exciting people and put them in one big room, important cultural shifts can happen in society. Queer community is based on collaboration and inspiration in a safe space, and that’s exactly what Susanne is all about. She gets an intense high from the feeling of people around her getting inspired by each other. She has such an eye for the beautifully strange and eccentrically wonderful, which is also what put Warhol on the map.
Aquaria in Susanne Bartsch: On TopCourtesy of The Orchard
In Matt Tyrnauer’s recent Studio 54 documentary, one of the co-founders says he doesn’t think Studio could exist today. He said guests felt uninhibited and were free to experiment precisely because they knew there would be no smartphones, and few cameras, capturing their revelry. Do you think the same can be said for Susanne– have her parties changed with the knowledge they can be captured and shared?
Anthony&Alex: That’s incredibly true, but we also think Susanne’s parties have adapted. There’s been such a monumental shift in what it means to be seen. An important aspect of Studio 54 was the privacy to do what you wanted, but it was also important to go to the place where everyone would look at what you were wearing, and admire each other. While the children may now turn a look for the social media response to a photo, they are also completely in love with the feeling Susanne’s events give them. Once the photos are taken and the phones are put down (which does happen at some point in the night) people come together and dance. Anyone who goes to Susanne’s parties, and goes to them regularly, can attest that even though technology has changed the party, there is still a palpable feeling when bodies start moving together to the music. Technology really can’t replace that.
It felt to me like the theme of ‘family’ is one of the most important threads of the documentary. Susanne’s chosen family of performers and her relationships with David and Bailey are so important to her...
Anthony&Alex: To us, family is absolutely one of the most important threads of the documentary, and it’s also one of the most important aspects of Susanne’s life. She is inherently motherly, and takes many people under her wing. It’s definitely informed in part by the way Susanne was raised, and the things she lost as a child when her family split up. Susanne has something inside her that is innately attracted to creating that family feeling with people who otherwise may not have one. It’s a rare quality that we truly wish more people shared.
Susanne’s parties straddle a kind of exclusivity/inclusivity; what role do you think her parties have played in helping queer people create their own safe spaces?
Anthony&Alex: We’ve never seen anyone not be allowed into a Susanne party unless it’s at capacity. Susanne is so inclusive that she even loves when people come in jeans if that’s what makes them comfortable and ready to have a good time. It’s the attitude of ‘come as you are, and express yourself’ that makes her events so popular: you can truly be yourself around other people doing the same. Her parties are so full of love, and within that overwhelming love a safe space just forms.
“Queer community is based on collaboration and inspiration in a safe space, and that’s exactly what Susanne is all about” – Anthony&Alex
Susanne has talked about herself as a drag queen previously. Given her formative role in New York’s drag scene, why do you think there’s still some confusion or resistance to female drag queens?
Anthony&Alex: In the course of making the film we were lucky enough to interview icon Flawless Sabrina (Jack Doroshow), who told us when she first started putting on drag she was arrested and given over a hundred felonies for dressing in women’s clothing. When anyone is told they can’t do something for that long and is forced to repress themselves, they can become very guarded. The artistic expression of dressing in drag can become so incredibly sacred that it feels like there are rules to it. You become so completely protective of it, and see the sacrifices made as a man in women’s clothing in a time when that was dangerous, as a (foundation of) what drag is. We think, or we hope, that the rules are changing as it becomes more accepted, and loved by everyone.
Susanne’s Love Ball, and her fundraising to fight Aids, is a key moment in her life. How do you think today’s generation of gay men should think about and understand the legacy of the Aids epidemic?
Anthony&Alex: That’s such a wonderful, but huge question. Do your research – which we truly had not done until we made this film. There are so many people that gave their lives fighting, and it’s a real disservice to our community to at least not try and learn as much as you can about it. Ourselves, and our editor Taryn, spent three months learning and living through archival tapes that were made during the height of the epidemic, and honestly it was one of the darkest and most intense periods of learning we’ve ever done. It’s difficult going back and looking at something so traumatic, but it’s absolutely necessary.
One of the biggest things that we think about in our understanding of the legacy of the Aids epidemic is the massive loss to culture that happened. While Aids brought gay men into the mainstream conversation, it was under a negative and scary light to most people. Everyone we interviewed about the epidemic spoke of the people lost as the most creative people on the planet, and that we would all be different now if their art flourished for the next three decades. We constantly think about what was lost. Learning about that time in our history is so vital because it provides a blueprint on how to fight for equal rights, and we’re living in a time now when all our rights are still in jeopardy.
RuPaul and Susanne BartschCourtesy of The Orchard
How do you think our sense of community has changed or evolved over the decades?
Anthony&Alex: It’s funny because we have this discussion all the time, especially as we travelled with this film. Technology has helped tremendously in letting younger generations know it is beyond okay to express yourself however you see fit. There are things now in mainstream media that move us forward as a community more than ever before, which is fabulous. It’s now possible to be niche, and still find your community and know that it’s okay to be who you are. It really helps to show and understand the diversity within our own community. As individuals in the community it’s important we all keep a totally open mind when it comes to other people's self expression. Just because you do something one way, may not be how everyone else in our community does those same things.
What do you think Susanne’s legacy will be?
Anthony&Alex: Susanne is going strong, so we think her legacy is still being formed. You can see the people that she’s influenced and supported as they shape culture today, which makes Susanne’s legacy entwined with their own as well. Hopefully this film only helps in adding to the legacy of her being one of the few people to give birth to the idea of a truly creative and “safe space”. She is such a model for how to love, and we hope that is what her legacy is.
What other figures, or other stories from the queer community do you think have been largely overlooked? Why do you think it’s important for us to know more about these people?
Anthony&Alex: There are so many icons that have been overlooked. While making this film we became overwhelmed with the amount of people we didn’t know of before: Tom Rubnitz, Lady Hennessy Brown, Tish Gervais (now Brian Belovitch), Ethyl Eichelberger, Sister Dimension, Taboo!, Charles Atlas, Lypsinka, Grandfather Hector Extravaganza, Brandon Olson – there are just way too many to count or name. The more queer artists you know, the easier it is to understand how varied the queer experience truly is. It’s important to know about these people because their work is so inspirational and timeless, they all did or are doing some incredible and serious work. Take someone like Susanne, most people (even after this film comes out) will look at her as eyelashes, costumes, and parties when really she is so much more than that. She’s using those tools to make her presence and her work known, but once you get beyond that it’s a fight for the queer community, and a fight for self-expression. There are hundreds of icons within our community that are just like that.
Susanne Bartsch: On Top is out now on iTunes and all major platforms
Bartschland Follies at the McKittrick Hotel Is Brilliant And Very NAUGHTY!
Nightlife queen Susanne Bartsch has done it again – this time bringing her very naughty midnight encounter Bartschland Follies to the McKittrick Hotel.
Hosted every Friday at the McKittrick’s, Bartschland Follies is the most brilliant New York cabaret.
A wood-paneled elevator operated by the most gorgeous young attendant takes you up inside the venue to a softly lit lounge with a beautiful array of personalities and maybe the most fun you will have in NYC without getting arrested! WARNING – the show is very XXX rated and contains full frontal nudity (by both men and women and everyone else) and is simply divine. It is never tacky or seedy but rather the ultimate in superior sexy taste.
Amanda Lepore, who performs regularly at Follies and has known Susanne for years, pointed out the taste level of this cabaret to OUT MAGAZINE!
“Susanne has always hired eclectic performers with different styles, and the taste level at Follies is so over the top, extravagant, and decadent,” she explains as she parts her painted scarlet lips to show her immaculate smile. “So come see us at the McKittrick Hotel, I promise you won’t believe it.”
But don’t trust Naughty Gossip, or Amanda – you must go yourself! We are still blushing and I promise you will be tooooooooo! WINK
For Bartschland Follies ticket information, please click here.
Walking into Chelsea's McKittrick Hotel is like walking into a time machine. By now most New Yorkers know that despite its name, it's not an actual hotel - in fact, I'd describe it as a piece of architectural performance art. Whether you're there for the eerie experience of Sleep No More, a drink at the lush Gallow Green rooftop, or some crooning musical stylings at the Manderley Bar, a night at the multifaceted, multi-venue space is sure to provide rich vintage delights. (If you couldn't already tell, it's one of my favorite places in the city.)
In keeping with its jazz age vibes, the McKittrick's roster of weekly and limited engagement events features the type of over-the-top entertainment so popular in the 1920s and '30s - magic (At The Illusionist's Table and Speakeasy Magick), jazz (every Sunday night), and masquerades (for Halloween and New Year's Eve).
But nothing quite embraces - and distorts - the throwback theme like the Follies. The Bartschland Follies. Like the famous Ziegfeld Follies, a production that captivated Broadway from the turn of the century through the 1930s, The Bartschland Follies is a theatrical revue featuring a rotating cast of performers. But unlike its OG counterpart, this madcap circus of a variety show is produced by Susanne Bartsch - the reigning queen of New York nightlife, known for throwing some of the best, biggest, and most outlandish bashes of the past few decades. Let's just say Ziegfeld couldn't even come close.
Unveiled in collaboration with New York burlesque star DeeDee Luxe and the McKittrick back in March, the show recently made its return to The Club Car for the fall season and, finally, I was able to see it for myself. As my poor, poor (but nevertheless curious) Instagram followers know thanks to my tiny-dot-topped story, I loved every second of it. And, my fellow weirdos, glamazons, and purveyors of the outrageous, you will too.
Like a Stefon skit come to life, this show has everything: operatic pole dancing, naked clowns, juggling stripteases, a penis that lights things on fire. JOEY ARIAS AND AMANDA LEPORE. And that's hardly even half of it.
Naturally, I pregamed the performance with cocktails up at Gallow Green, where I was introduced to a flawless woman donning a Barbarella-esque metal bikini. This, I learned (though her reputation had proceeded her) was DeeDee Luxe, a key collaborator and host of the weekly show. After working with both the McKittrick and Susanne for years, DeeDee brought the two together when the idea of a cabaret show came about. And while she loves the banter on stage, her favorite part is seeing the audience react. "People who haven't seen it before are like 'Oh my God!' It's just the energy and seeing people's moods just lift. Even for me - I'll be having a shitty day, then I see everyone I know, the performers, and it's so much fun. All of us put all our love into it and to see the audience [reacting] feels good."
I soon understood exactly what she meant. The whoops and gasps from the audience (me included) added to the exciting atmosphere, amping up whatever fascinating or funny thing was happening on stage. Indeed, audience participation occasionally went one step further - counterculture icon Joey Arias, for example, requested a straight male from a front table, who, once invited into the spotlight, was promptly disrobed. Not to mention the peanut butter sandwiches being thrown into the crowd from a place, um, down below. You'll just have to buy a ticket to fully comprehend that one.
Even considering every eclectic talent or they-went-there moment, however, perhaps the strangest (and most enjoyable) thing about the evening was how it didn't actually feel strange at all. Excuse me for bringing our current social firestorm into the mix here, but when the country seems to have embraced emboldened bigotry, this room felt like a concentration of what we love about New York: a judgment-free zone where people can be their unique selves and get celebrated for it, fire-starting penises and all.
The Bartschland Follies runs every Friday night at The Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel. Get tickets HERE!
On the day I screened Susanne Bartsch: On Top, the new documentary by directors Alex & Anthony about New York’s undisputed “Queen of the Night” for more than three decades now, I was talking to a friend on the phone and she told me that the teenage daughter of a couple she’s friendly with had come out to her parents as transgender.
“She had been presenting as a boy for a couple of years now,” my friend, the mother of a teenager herself, said blithely. “So it wasn’t a big surprise.”
Not these days. It made me think about Bartsch and her merry band of gender-bending artists and drag queens and her buddies like Amanda LePore and RuPaul back in the day before he was a TV star. It’s a different world now but it started with people like her. As one voice says in the film but speaks for all of them, “Susanne has always accepted who I am. You’re part of her ensemble, part of her fabulous machine.”
The beginning of the movie, though, takes us behind the machine, when Bartsch is getting ready for an event she’s throwing and bickering a bit with her makeup artist as he paints her face and eventually plants a brown pyramid-shaped wig on her head.
“I never wanted to fit in with the norm,” she declares in in her heavily accented Teutonic voice. “With my Swiss background—everything was like clockwork!—so I was just, ‘No!.’
And, as soon as she could, Bartsch broke out, first to punk-era London and then to New York in 1981 when she moved into The Chelsea Hotel, home to Warhol’s Edie Sedgwick and Sid Vicious before she got there, where she still resides all these years later.
Soon Bartsch opened a store downtown, when such things were still possible in pre-Bloomberg New York, and started importing London designers nobody had heard of and bringing their clothes to Manhattan and later Japan as well.
“Susanne had an effect on three continents,” Valerie Steele says in the film. The fashion historian and director of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Museum puts her finger on why exactly Bartsch is so pivotal. “She’s a perfect example of how it’s not just one person who makes fashion,” Steele says. “It’s not just one designer, it’s a while lot of creative people in venues where the creativity is validated.”
In the film, Bartsch is seen preparing for a 2015 retrospective exhibit at FIT with all her fabulous nightclub emcee costumes, digging through clothing racks jammed with garment bags before the fizz of the opening night. Talking about it this week in an interview just hours before the premiere in Los Angeles Tuesday and opening at the Laemmle Monica Film Center on Friday (and available on video-on-demand starting September 11), Bartsch says she had just met the directing duo the night before at one of her “On Top” dance parties.
“They were showing a little clip of a fashion designer and I liked it because it had kind of a Warhol feeling,” she says. She invited the pair to come to the museum opening and document it for a “five-minute thing” and thought that was it. “They called back a couple of hours later and said, ‘Would you do a documentary?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and it was that simple.”
Filmmaker Anthony says, “What was really great is that we didn’t know Susanne before we met her and, as we were creating the film, we were learning who she was and that was informing all of the decisions we made.” Alex chimes in, “We just went to the exhibit to see all of the fashion and when we got there and saw Susanne being Susanne we knew we wanted to do more than document the clothes.”
Of course one of the signature outfits in the FIT show is her 1995 Thierry Mugler wedding costume, consisting of a nude bodysuit and a sheer white structured veil that completely enclosed her like a futuristic pod. Her unlikely groom, several inches shorter and bulging with muscle, was gym mega-entrepreneur (“Look Better Naked”) David Barton, clad only in a matching nude thong, attended by 43 “bridesmaids” of all sexes and genders and their toddler son Bailey.
Today the marriage has gone kaput and Bailey is a Brown University student studying classical literature and he gives some of the most thoughtful commentary in the film.
“She’s so empathetic with everyone and gives me such good advice. I feel like that’s my mother,” he says. “When she gets dressed up, that’s not my mother, it’s a character she plays,” adding, “I think appearing like a normal person is a source of vulnerability for her.”
Or maybe not. Now that the wig has come off, so to speak, in the film, Bartsch reflects afterwards in the interview, “Originally I wanted people to say the film was fabulous and glamorous. You don’t really want anybody to know your shit because we all have it,” she says.
“One thing that I really liked is that I don’t care about wearing the wig so much anymore. Having seen the film, with nothing on, its kind of, ‘Oof! It doesn’t matter.’ It’s kind of a relief.”