Well, I should have listened to Susanne. She told me to come early to the opening of her Fashion Underground exhibit at FIT, but my date was held up in traffic and we arrived late with the usual organized crush outside. The Museum at FIT is glassed it, so, who do I see through the front window but Dianne Brill (the OTHER legendary Queen of the Night) talking to who…? RUPAUL! I had to grab THAT picture, kids! So, I squeezed my way in and who else is standing right there? None other than Mr. World of Wonder, Randy Barbato (sans the other Mr. Wonder, Fenton Bailey, who was in town too, but under the weather) OMG! Then the night was off! EVERYBODY came out to see this AMAZING exhibit. You know, I started right in the middle of this thing… maybe you need a little backstory…?
Our gal Susanne Bartsch moved from Switzerland to London in her teens and got hooked on British fashion. In ’81, she set out to conquer New York City and opened a SoHo boutique that was one of the first to carry Vivienne Westwood. She staged fashion shows, focusing attention on the legendary Leigh Bowery, Body Map, and the incredible milliner Stephen Jones very early on. She created over-the-top-of-the-top events and raised more than $2.5 million for AIDS research, over the years and in all started with The Love Ball in ’89. So, she is a fashion force, to say the least, and now her life and collection -with more than 80 examples by The Blonds, Alexander McQueen, Pam Hogg, Thierry Mugler, Rachel Auburn, Body Map, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Zaldy and many more, are on display at the Museum of FIT, which opens today.
OK, back to the party. So, who WASN’T there? I was taking a photo of one look outside the main exhibit and noticed a man stepped into my frame so I took my eye away, thinking “Oh, I’ll wait until he moves” and then I looked up and saw, “Oh, that’s Calvin Klein.” (See my out-of-focus pic below…)
The Padilha brothers, who just had THE party of NYFW, for the launch of their latest book GLOSS: The Work of Chris von Wagenheim, were there along with the book’s designer, Marc Balet. Photographer Josef Astor was there with filmmaker Charlie Atlas. (Btw, I have a great vintage print by Josef of Susanne wearing the penis bustier by Mr. Pearl. Note the ejaculating “pearls” at the décolletage…) Scott Ewalt was featuring Mr. Pearl to great effect last night, too. The show’s curator, Valerie Steele, said that Mr. Pearl’s were some of her favorite pieces;
“He is the number one luxury corsetier, and Susanne was one of the first people who discovered him. She introduced Mr. Pearl to Thierry Mugler… and then Mr. Pearl went to Paris and started doing corsets for all the couture houses. So that’s a good example of how she helped link the fashion underground people — he was a very freaky person, but he was so talented — with high fashion. Now they’re going to do a whole show with Mr. Pearl in London in two years.”
Mathu Anderson and former partner Zaldy contributed a LOT to this show and Susanne’s wardrobe, but it’s not like they weren’t pragmatic. When Steele interviewed Zaldy, he said;
“I just knew that what she needed was something that she could move in, something she could dance in, something that she could wear for hours and hours, all night.”
The last section, all in lacquered red to evoke her Chelsea Hotel apartment, features pieces that Bartsch has worn recently from designers like The Blonds and Chromat, who both just showed great new collections at fashion week. I bumped into Richard Pandiscio and his photographer partner Todd Eberle in this area, standing in shock at the magnitude of the show, like everyone else…
“Where DOES she keep all this!?”
God knows? Yet another photographer (geez, I know a LOT of photographers) Wouter Deruytter, who has shot Susannne in many of the looks, was there shooting them again for a new book project. The double height space is just crammed full of more designer fabulousness than maybe anywhere on earth, except for the Anna Wintour Costume Institute.
I chased Susanne around for a bit trying to get a good outfit shot but I got caught up in too many conversations. I did get a decent shot of Susanne and the legendary Bill Cunningham who was just shooting away, as he’s been doing for 5+ decades. Check The Times this weekend for HIS pics.
Diane Brill said to me as we were walking into the show (I’m paraphrasing),
“Ru just said to me now, ‘I worshipped you back in the day, but we never really talked.’ and I thought, ‘Is that really true?'”
I that I think it really WAS true. I knew Dianne, we all did, but not well. We all knew each other but then we didn’t, and now that it’s all Herstory, we are all lumped together by virtue of the fact that we’re all still here. Susanne is maybe the ultimate example of the glue that holds these misfits and major talents together. In the end, it’s not about going out or dressing up or who you know, it’s about being AT the party, even if you just stand back and watch. Susanne is on her fourth decade of wanting everyone to have a good time –and her third generation too, btw– it wasn’t all the fab dinosaur crowd, there were kids turning it out in MAJOR ways last night. As she says;
“Style is about expressing yourself. You can be whatever you want to be.”
Amen, sister. Of course, there was an incredible after party, but I went to dinner at Omar’s with a fun group and didn’t have the stamina to run the gauntlet again at the Grammercy Theater. I KNOW it was amazing, but seriously, NO ONE can keep up with Susanne Bartsch.
Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch is on view through December 5, 2015 at MFIT (227 W 27th Street). If you find yourself in NYC between now and then, just GO. You can also get the book here.