susanne bartsch has been partying since the 80s
There's a rumor going around that Susanne Bartsch hasn't had a night in since the 80s. Known worldwide as the Queen of the Clubbing, she's been attending parties for as long as she can remember. Born in Switzerland, Susanne moved to London when she was just a teen. She was meant to be learning English, but once in the city, she fell into the world of the New Romantics, and spent her evenings among the bright clothes and bold personalities at the Blitz Club. These days, Susanne hosts some of the most spectacular soirées on the New York clubbing scene. Spanning the realms of fashion, music, theater, and art, her parties are legendary; in particular the Love Ball — a star-studded benefit bash that raised money during the height of the AIDS crisis and helped bring vogueing into the mainstream.
It was without a doubt, then, that LOVERBOY designer and esteemed party-thrower Charles Jeffrey would stop by one of her balls for some friendly advice in the latest episode of LOVERBOY Takes New York. We decided it was only right to get her thoughts on the history of nightlife, the future of clubbing, and why partying matters in times of political turmoil. Introducing the Mistress of Ceremonies, Ms. Susanne Bartsch.
What was your life like before moving to London?
I was a teenager when I moved and did so with the excuse that I was going there to learn English. I was from a nice Swiss family. My father was very artistic, my mother always told be to play the game — winning or losing was not important, what mattered is to play. I was shopping in thrift shops, and wearing great vintage as soon as I could... It was much to the chagrin of my parents. In those days, second hand clothing was a sign of poverty.
What was London like when you moved there?
I always loved creating different looks; then Blitz and the New Romantics came along, I loved it! The campness of Blitz and Taboo appealed to me, as did the element of dressing up. Also, the thing about a weekly club night is the element of community it gives to people living in an urban place. Whether you're living off a trust fund or have a survival job you hate, nightclubbing allows people to express their "true" selves to each other once a week in cities where often we're very alienated. Nightlife communities are important because it's a place where groups of people can come together above and beyond their day jobs, bound by a love of fashion, culture, music.
What was your first clubbing experience?
A monthly Saturday nightclub party in Switzerland on Lake Geneva. We would drive for hours from Bern to get there, I was underage and it was very underground.
What was the nightlife like in New York when you got there?
In New York there were more people dressing up and more emphasis on the weekly party event, more experimental.
How would you describe New York nightlife today?
I think that there is a return to the kind of Paradise Garage vibe going on. It's becoming more DJ-driven, which is an interesting adjustment for me because my events have always been about the whole scene: décor, lights, installations, hosts, etc. I enjoy change because it keeps things interesting and fresh for me. I am not big on letting grass grow under my feet, I'm too busy dancing! There's also a lot of smaller neighborhood kind of bar and clubs popping up and really cool nightlife going on all over Brooklyn. Also it's really all about the one night a week, or monthly parties these days.
How is a good party meant to make you feel?
I love seeing people unite, dance, flirt, and have a good time; it's such a joy. A word I have used for years, and it still sums things up is energy. It's tangible and intangible; you can't measure it with a ruler, but you know when it's there and you feel it when it's not.
What's the best party you've ever thrown?
The Love Ball, and my spectacular annual Halloween party. The last couple of years it has been in conjunction with MoMA PS1; I take over the whole museum, it's amazing. And then I have a big warehouse after-party.
You're known as the queen of the night, but what do you do in the day?
Make plans for going out at night! It's when the Swiss side of me comes out. For every event I do — whether it's a weekly, or a one-off — there's an endless amount of emailing, phoning, promo-ing, creating environments, coming up with new ideas, concepts, casting. But I do many things other than parties and event production. Right now I am doing a Bloomingdales Christmas window, I am prepping for an Art Basel installation, and I'm working on a cabaret show. I am in the middle of launching my Beauty and the Bartsch Couture Lash line. Most days, I'm lucky if I'm able to squeeze the gym in.
Due to gentrification in London, numerous clubs like Madame Jojo's have been closed, what do you make of this?
The same thing happening in New York. It's called Manifest Destiny and sadly, it is a part of the human condition. But just as Madame Jojo's has closed, someone itching to put on a show by hook or by crook is opening a little club in some off the beaten path place, and eventually the neighborhood and the club will be the hottest new scene there is. I think it's been going on since the beginning of time.
What advice would you give to those wishing to create a club night?
Do it for the love.
How would you describe your overall aesthetic?
What do you see as the future of nightlife?
There's a lot of unhappiness regarding our new political situation, and as a result there will be a world wide dance and nightlife revolution driven by music, love, and the expression of people's frustration through radical fashion and art!
Text Tish Weinstock