From New York to Tokyo, celebri­ties and club kids alike flock to Su­sanne Bartsch’s par­ties but many don’t know the depth of her en­tre­pre­neur­ial and phil­an­thropic roots.

Schon! - - Bartsch Heart - Pho­tog­ra­phy / Damon Baker @ Jed Root Hair / Raquel Mar­tus­celli Make Up / Deney Adam us­ing MAC Cos­met­ics

In 1981, Swiss-born Bartsch moved from Lon­don to New York and opened a bou­tique in SoHo, where she be­came the first im­porter of Vivi­enne West­wood and other emerg­ing de­sign­ers. Soon af­ter, she pro­duced New Lon­don in New York, the first fash­ion show to fea­ture the works of Leigh Bow­ery, John Gal­liano, Stephen Jones and more. Bartsch or­gan­ised the first ma­jor fundraiser to fight AIDS, The Love Ball, and sub­se­quent in­stall­ments have raised £1.6 mil­lion.

“The Love Ball came out of pain,” says Bartsch. Many of her friends were early vic­tims of the bur­geon­ing AIDS pan­demic. She in­vited mem­bers of the Har­lem House Ball — the com­mu­nity most heav­ily struck — to per­form at the event to celebrate life. Her idea was to in­vite fash­ion brands like Bar­neys New York, Donna Karan and Ar­mani, among oth­ers, to ‘walk’ and com­pete for tro­phies in the style of a ball. Each brand paid to be rep­re­sented, to make a state­ment on stage for three to five min­utes, and were judged by a celebrity panel. In this way, Bartsch was the first to unite coun­ter­cul­ture, main­stream fash­ion and star­dom for a good cause.

The Love Ball was fol­lowed by Love Ball II, The Crown­ing Glory, The Hop­pen­ing at the Play­boy Man­sion in Los An­ge­les and Bal­lade de L’Amour at the Folies Bergères in Paris. In 1992, inspired by Bartsch, Gery Kes­zler and Tor­gom Pet­rosian be­gan the an­nual Life Ball in Vi­enna, Aus­tria. It has since be­come the largest AIDS ben­e­fit in Europe. Bartsch con­tin­ues her in­volve­ment by or­gan­is­ing an event within theirs, show­cas­ing New York artists and mu­si­cians. She also holds a hol­i­day Toy Drive, along with her hus­band David Bar­ton, to col­lect thou­sands of toys for un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren each year. This De­cem­ber, the Toy Drive will co­in­cide with the open­ing of Bar­ton’s new fit­ness cen­ter in Hell’s Kitchen.

Ac­cord­ing to The New York Times, “Bartsch’s name is the night life equiv­a­lent to a cou­ture la­bel,” but, de­spite her rep­u­ta­tion, she re­mains hum­ble. “I can’t paint. I don’t act. I’m not a dancer. I’m a good dancer but not a dancer as a pro­fes­sion. So, I ex­press my­self with looks. I am my own can­vas. I think that’s an art,” she sug­gests, as she saun­ters across the liv­ing room of her Chelsea Ho­tel apart­ment (Bartsch is one of the re­main­ing full-time oc­cu­pants of the his­toric build­ing which was once home to Salvador Dalí, Jack­son Pol­lock, Leonard Co­hen, Ja­nis Jo­plin and count­less other artists).

Bartsch’s per­sonal style makes her a muse for many, in­clud­ing fash­ion de­signer and long-time friend Zaldy (best known for out­fit­ting Michael Jack­son and other pop stars). He says he is: “inspired by her vi­sion and quest for the best com­plete look, head to toe. Su­sanne can wear al­most any­thing con­vinc­ingly and brings a sex­ual yet fun el­e­ment.”

The queen of nightlife is also a cu­ra­tor of in­di­vid­u­als, es­pe­cially those liv­ing at the fringe of so­ci­ety. “The peo­ple that I bring to­gether are mostly artists,” she ex­plains. “Some are singers. Some are ac­tors.” Bartsch hosts var­i­ous par­ties in New York, in­clud­ing her sum­mer favourite, On Top. There, nested on the rooftop of the Stan­dard Ho­tel, she pro­vides a sur­real haven for peo­ple of all kinds to ex­press them­selves freely against the panoramic views of Man­hat­tan’s West Side and Hud­son River.

Her latest ven­tures fo­cus on the fash­ions worn at her par­ties. “I saw the peo­ple do­ing these in­cred­i­ble looks and said to my­self, ‘What can I do with this?’” she ex­plains. “In the clubs, they are un­der­val­ued. So I wanted to put them into a gallery set­ting.” She is re­fer­ring to bARTsch, an event held at the Chelsea Ho­tel Store­front Gallery last June. “Peo­ple that came said, ‘This is how it used to be in New York.’” Bartsch also held a five-day event last Septem­ber, dur­ing fash­ion week, called Art-À-Porter, which com­prised in­stal­la­tions and per­for­mances in two lo­ca­tions in Times Square, spon­sored by MAC Cos­met­ics.

This au­tumn, The Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy will host a ret­ro­spec­tive on Bartsch, cu­rated by Va­lerie Steele and Bartsch her­self. The ex­hi­bi­tion will dis­play 80 of her looks, in­clud­ing her make-up and iconic eye­lashes. De­sign­ers whose works will be fea­tured in­clude Rachel Auburn, The Blonds, Leigh Bow­ery, John Gal­liano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Pam Hogg, Stephen Jones, Alexan­der McQueen, Thierry Mu­gler, Rick Owens, Vivi­enne West­wood and Zaldy.

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