Monday, September 21, 2015

FASHION UNDERGROUND: The World of Susanne Bartsch: Review by Polly Guerin

Susan Bartsch in Abel Villarreal's leather horse look
Get prepared to be swept up in the magic and the creative fantasy of Fashion Underground, The Museum at FIT's Susanne Bartsch retrospective, the ringleader of 80s club-style chic. The exhibition opened recently and runs through December 5, 2015 covering Bartsch's 30-year career, from her days as a promoter and retailer of young British designers to her current role as nightlife doyenne. This is an unusual exhibit at FIT and when you walk through it you just might find yourself remembering a club scene adventure and recall when you first saw Susanne wearing one of her exotic outfits or a Ziegfeld Follies fantasy ensemble..On view, the exhibit features approximately 80 looks from the underground fashion impresario's personal collection of clothing and accessories, including designs by Rachel Auburn, the Blonds, Leigh Bowery, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Pam Hogg, Stephen Jones, Alexander McQueen, Rich Owens, Vivienne Westwood and Zaldy.  Pictured Left: Susan Bartsch in Abel Villarreal's leather horse look, April 1992. Photo by Albert Sanchez.
WHO IS SUSAN BARTSCH: So who is Susanne Bartsch to garner an exhibition st FIT? She is an event producer and  has been the queen of new York City nightlife since the 1980s, when she became renowned for creating spectacular parties where she and a diverse mix of individuals---uptown, downtown, gay, strait, multiracial---dressed up in their own version of high fashion street style, drag and Mardi Gras extravaganza..Her outlandish over-the-top monthly parties at the Copacabana united the haute and demi-monde and made her an icon of New York night life. An enthusiastic promoter of 1980s English fashion, she was one of the first New York retailers to import Vivienne Westwood. So why does this collection matter? Because Bartsch is a muse for fashion designers and makeup arts she is increasingly creating events that explicitly link fashion and art. "Style is about expressing yourself," says Bartsch. You can be whatever you want to be---a silver screen star, a Marie Antoinette baroque creature, a Victorian punk. I love that about fashion and makeup."
Susanne Bartsch in a corset by the Blonds, circa 2013 
PRETEND YOUR A PARTY ANIMAL::The best way to approach this exhibit is to pretend that you are crashing one of Susanne's famous parties. As you enter the exhibit,you are greeted by a lineup of extravagantly costumed party goers, mannequins dressed to impress the 'doorman' in a graffiti alley complete with an aluminum trash can, which sets the stage for the extravaganza exhibition in the galleries to come.. But before you enter be sure you are on the guest list. .One flamboyant mannequin holds a RSVP guest list and your name better be listed to get in on the fun.."It was about seeing and being seen," says Bartsch.  The presentation has ceiling high venues of mannequins perched above in spectacular line up of the collection.with the conception of the exhibition design by Thierry-Maxine Loriot. Right above:t: Photo by Marco Ovando.
Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch
THE GALLERIES: In the main exhibition gallery, the first section focuses on the 1980's English fashions that Bartsch introduced to New York displayed in a mise-en-scene evoking her surreality styled boutiques. The second and largest section features a variety of creations that Bartsch and her friends have worn at their famous club nights at Savage, Copacabana, and Le Bain, with a special section featuring the "Love Ball" in 1989 which raised 2.5 million dollars to fight AIDS. The final section evokes her apartment at the Chelsea Hotel, a facsimile of Bartsch's own boudoir, is on display with her most current outrages looks.  A small introductory gallery features images and videos of Bartsch and her world.
    The exhibition curated by Valerie Steele and Susanne Bartsch is accompanied by a book by Steel and Melissa Marra. A two-day symposium will feature a range of designers, performers and scholars speaking on fashion, creativity and performance art. The exhibition is FREE and open Tues-Fri, noon-8pm. Closed Sunday and legal holidays. At Seventh Avenue and 27th Street.
Ta Ta Darlings!!! The costumes are amazing, the message is inspirational with creativity exploding on all levels. Fan mail welcome at Visit Polly's Blogs at

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