A Swiss-born London transplant, Susanne Bartsch arrived in New York in the early 1980s and opened an eponymous clothing boutique in SoHo to showcase avant-garde British designers such as Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano. Before becoming New York City’s “Queen of the Night,” her first foray into event planning from the fashion industry was her first fashion “extravaganza” as she calls it, London in New York. Since then, she’s been immortalized in a Netflix documentary about her life, Susanne Bartsch: On Top, been credited as kickstarting RuPaul’s career, and hosted some of the most fabulous parties New York—and the world—has ever seen.
Her first party took place in 1986 at an underground club below the Chelsea Hotel, where she still resides today. The weekly parties became a downtown fixture for New York City’s misfits, who she cites as her eternal icons. She tells L’Officiel USA that the kids who create extravagant looks out of very little, or “self-couture,” as she calls it, are her inspiration. And they’re the type of people you’d see at a Susanne Bartsch party, along with fashion industry insiders such as Marc Jacobs and superstars like Brooke Shields and Madonna.
Bartsch’s best-known bash is perhaps 1989’s Love Ball. The star-studded party came about as a way to celebrate life and support those affected by HIV/AIDS, which killed many of her friends in the 1980s. On the disease, Bartsch said in an interview: "It's the most important fight I ever fought. While much progress has been made since then, the disease continues to disproportionately affect underserved communities. The fight continues." There have been two editions of the Love Ball, 1989 and 1991, and this year, Bartsch is teaming up with the CFDA to host its 30th anniversary. Love Ball III will benefit the CFDA-Vogue Initiative/New York City AIDS Fund of The New York Community Trust.
Susanne Bartsch will never get tired of what she does. “I get invigorated with people’s good vibes.” Seeing the feeling of pure joy on the face of her events' attendees is priceless to the legendary New Yorker.
How would she describe the city in one word?
“A Vitamin B-12 shot!” she exclaims with a witty smile. The entire city’s high energy drives her creativity, but when asked to choose her camp, she sides with downtown. “I’m a Chelsea Girl! I’m the last one standing at the Chelsea hotel, baby.” According to Bartsch, what makes a New Yorker is to be comfortable with who you are and what you’re doing. She cites her favorite saying about the city for reference: “Monday there’s always a deal, by Friday it’s falling apart, but by Monday there’ll be another one and if you can handle that, you’re a New Yorker.”
Indeed, the way Bartsch turned tragedy into hope in the face of the AIDS epidemic and raised millions for the cause is a testament to her deserving title as an iconic New Yorker.