The world according to Susanne Bartsch is an intergalactic one, not just from her highly inventive appearance but also the connectedness in the way she draws people together.
As part of Thursday’s symposium tied to the Museum at FIT’s “Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch,” the “Queen of the Night” fielded questions about her 30 years of sartorial self-expression from Valerie Steele. Earlier in the program, Simon Doonan praised Bartsch for being the ultimate Malcolm Gladwell networker in that she brought together all sorts of French, American and British designers and subsequently they inspired one another. In doing so, she is credited for bringing British fashion to New York and British fashion to Japan.
Growing up in Switzerland, she convinced her parents that living in London would be ideal for her 17-year-old self to learn English and Bartsch did just that within six months. That was quite a feat, considering she left Germany knowing only two English words: “elevator — a word the British don’t even use” and “subway, I mean, Underground” and she mastered the language by learning it in the streets. “After learning you could get a work visa through a six-month job at the Swiss Center,” where she managed the cheese counter long enough to secure one and then promptly left. “I also got a social security number,” Bartsch told Steele. “I got some lawyer to give me his number — I didn’t sleep with him. But I got his number.”
Stephen Jones, Andrew Logan, Leigh Bowery, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Azzedine Alaïa, Jean-Paul Goude, Joey Arias, Mario Testino, Mr. Pearl and scores of others circled around Bartsch’s many gatherings “doing many organic things” and through the stores she once ran in London and later in New York. In the late Eighties, after she realized that half the people whose names she kept in her address book had died from AIDS, Bartsch started The Love Ball to raise money with the help of fashion companies and designers. “It was all about love and giving — no one made money, no one got paid, not even the union. It’s the best recipe for life. I can tell you that,” she said.
MAC Cosmetics is developing a collection of Bartsch-inspired fake eyelashes, and while she admitted she should get “a product going, in the end I’m not a designer. I don’t see myself sewing samples and also I don’t think I really want a business that is everyday 9 to 5. In some ways, that’s why I tried to get away from Switzerland. It’s very on time. I’m never on time.”
Regarding what inspires her today fashion-wise, Bartsch said, “It’s really the kids all around. They make things out of nothing. They’re couture. They have a piece of plastic, some pins and a little chiffon, and there you go — it’s a beautiful look.”
Responding to Steele’s assertion that RuPaul had said Bartsch made him and so many others “feel so validated” about what they were doing and their looks, Bartsch said, “I’m not a [public relations] person. I was telling what I feel and think of a person. I’m the kind of person, if I feel something, I will say it. When I saw RuPaul, I said, ‘You’re a star baby. You’re going to make it.’ Just live life and do it. Just live. Get it done.”