Susanne Bartsch is indisputably of-the-people, for-the-people, so the fact that she is using Kickstarter to bankroll the documentary about her chronically nocturnal life adds up.
With her sartorial wardrobe, mobile-like eyelashes and extreme makeup, the event producer has commandeered New York’s nightlife for decades and influenced fashion in the process. Born in Switzerland, Bartsch spent 13 years in London with the New Romantics before flying in 1981 to New York to meet up with an artist boyfriend who was living at the Chelsea Hotel. That ended, but she stayed and still owns his old place, as well as two other apartments in the storied locale.
“The Queen of the Night” met the filmmakers known as Anthony and Alex of No Weather Productions at her On Top! Party last summer. The pair had shot a short film for fashion designer Stella St. Claire that aired at the event. “I thought it was great. It was very Warhol, but not Warhol — very Warhol now,” said Bartsch, adding that they left her with a business card.
The following day, checking out the first phase of “Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch” at the Museum at FIT, Bartsch “had goose pimples, because I had only seen the clothes in storage and on the bed rumpled up.” When a friend e-mailed to say, ‘I hope you’re filming this. It doesn’t happen everyday,’” Bartsch said, “I thought, ‘The guys, the mannequins, the e-mail and I picked up the phone and said to them, ‘Can you come over here right now?’”
“It was clear to us from the moment we saw Susanne in action at FIT that we wanted to work with her because she was so captivating to watch. And she was surrounded by these incredible works of art that tell her life story,” the filmmakers said. “So not only were we given an amazing peek into the last 30 years of underground fashion, but we were watching an amazing character walk us through that history.”
Their production company No Weather’s documentary “Welcome to Leith” about Craig Cobb’s failed attempt to take over a small North Dakota town, debuts on PBS April 4.
Bartsch said, “I have often been approached to do reality shows and this kind of stuff, but I’m just not interested. I like culture, respect and boundaries, so this is really nice. It’s going to be about the woman behind the woman, really. But it will include how nightlife and social media evolved, social media. There are New York people, artists, out-of-the-box thinkers. It’s fashion but it’s not. It’s people who express themselves through the life they live.” Filming for “@Bartschland” began in August and is now, down the home stretch, the team has three weeks to go in its $70,000 Kickstarter campaign.
“I loved how it happened very organically,” she said. “I always like things that are organic and it is not as though someone is working someone to get something. There’s nothing wrong with that but that’s not my style.”
As for how many hours of footage she has, Bartsch said, “I can definitely tell you how many shopping bags I have — 12 to 20,” referring to where she stores videos and CDs. “In the early days nobody even had a camera. With the Love Ball, the AIDS benefit that I did, we didn’t want to spend money on filming the event. I wanted to get the money to the people. Videoing with these massive cameras cost a fortune.”
Two bags alone were needed to stow away the “massive” Betamax tapes of the Bartsch-organized Balade de L’Amour at the Folies Bergeres in Paris featuring Azzedine Alaïa, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler and Jean-Paul Goude. But for the most part, filming was an anomaly.
Bartsch said she only filmed events for future reference. “I never filmed because I thought I had to have footage. If I did, I would have made more of an effort. It was always the last thing on my mind. A friend of mine, Tommy Roberts, always says, ‘Today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish-n-chips.’ That’s kind of how I live. Today I lived and had a good time — it’s all next. In this day and age, it’s always about the next. Everyone is [into] the next.”
Bartsch — who explains in the film’s trailer, “I try to unite gay, straight, uptown, downtown, businessmen…” — said “I’m excited to share things that I know and that I experienced. It’s going to be as much about the community as it is about me.”
RuPaul says in a clip, “I met Susanne in ’88. She said, ‘You are a star.’ She saw something in me that a lot of other people did not.’”
At a Bartsch-organized Love Ball in the Eighties, Ingrid Sischy appears in the film saying, “This is probably the most serious political action of our time.”
Bartsch said in the interview, “The importance of the crisis at that time and the fashion community getting together was enormous. The film is not just about what happened today, but it’s what was also. A lot of the young people really have no idea of what this AIDS crisis really was. I remember going to see Klaus Nomi in 1981 in the hospital and you had to wear a mask. Nobody knew what this AIDS was. People were really petrified of it all.”
Beyond that essential history lesson, Bartsch said her message is one of inclusion. “The new norm is be who you want to be, don’t be afraid to be who you are. Be that person. You make your life, you make your destiny — you’re allowed so nobody can stop you. But you have to overcome the fear and trust your instincts.”
With a book in the works and her MAC fake eyelashes in development, Bartsch is busy planning a salt water pool installation for the opening Tuesday of her husband David Barton’s new gym TMPL. Asked who the woman is behind the woman that she referred to earlier in the interview, Bartsch said, “You have to come and watch the video,” then added, “Me right now — here in my jeans with paint all over them and a T-shirt, planning the opening.”