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It's not everyday that we Bostonians get to revel in the presence of New York's finest nightlife figures, but on Saturday night, the Revere Hotel's Space 57 will welcome the queen of the queens, Susanne Bartsch, along with her performance troupe rolling 50 deep in a bus from the Big Apple. The pop-up show revolves around various genres of music—from high energy dance pop to 80s goth—and a mix of performers including Amanda Lepore and Beyonce's choreographer, Jonte. The most titillating thing though is the costumes. And it's always about the costumes with this bunch.
Bartsch is often partying for a purpose, whether to raise awareness for the AIDS epidemic of 1980s New York with The Love Ball or here in Boston, where this weekend's Bartschland will benefit The One Fund. If it's not already obvious why you should go, let us educate you on how she has influenced the cults of fashion, nightlife, and beyond.
I have to ask: How many hours a week do you spend in makeup?
Lately a lot. In the daytime I look like anyone. Jeans a t-shirt. I always have something on with a twist. But more or less in the day I don't wear makeup, though I never leave the house without my Russian Red MAC lipstick. The looks that I do are to entertain at events. On stage it's a lot of work, but it's fun. At the moment I have a lot happening with a relaxed weekly soiree at the Soho Grand, an art-driven event called Catwalk at Marquee, and bringing back On Top at The Standard for this summer.
Zaldy, who worked on Michael Jackson's This Is It tour, creates many of your costumes. How do you fit into his process?
He has a look. When I started in the old days, I asked him and his boyfriend, Mathu Andersen, to be lookalikes and dress up. I hired them and we traveled around the world—Spain, Japan, Italy—and then they evolved. Mathu became involved with the RuPaul show and moved to LA. Zaldy's been in my life ever since he's been in NY.
They were doing looks for me and Mathu would take pictures for my invitations. It was a big adjustment for me after their split. I'm one of Zaldy's muses. He was hooked up with the Michael Jackson people through me. I've come in handy somewhere along the line [laughs].
Do you ever sleep?
Yes I do; I'm useless without sleep. I'm very sleep oriented. I don't smoke, drink, or do drugs. Sometimes I have a glass of champagne or wine. I can't drink spirits. In fact I didn't drink for 19 years when I had a child and lately just very little. I think that's the key. I don't need substances to have a good time.
Well you wouldn't look so fabulous at your age either.
Apparently! That's what everybody says. It helps. The genetics help too. I look after myself, go to the gym. And the makeup helps.
What is the weirdest accessory that you own?
I have a mask that makes me look like a man. I wear it with a slinky see-through dress that Zaldy made and the mask is very surreal made by Piers Atkinson. First you don't know it's me. It has a glitter beard. I don't think about things being weird or not, it's more about how heavy it will be on my head. I have a big hair ball that weighs a ton. How will I tie it to my head? That's the challenge.
Do you have any fashion regrets?
No, actually. Sometimes I do a look and feel good. Then I look at it after and think it was OK. I could do better. Why didn't I add this to that? I will restyle pieces. In Paris I went to a big fashion thing and I wore a see through dress with pasties. There was no nudity, it was a gorgeous Gaultier dress. But it was provocative and there was another big chateau event and they were afraid to invite me—that I might come too naked. So I realized I probably should have worn a bra. I thought they could handle it [laughs].
How can an average woman incorporate her inner club kid in an everyday wardrobe?
It's important to dress for yourself and not others. I go to the gym in jeans, I don't wear gym clothing. People wonder how can you work out in jeans? It's important to dress how you feel rather than how you're supposed to. Jazz up a suit with something. Feel fun, sexy. Only you will know what that is. It's fun to try out things, it's like art.
Especially in Boston or NY, sometimes people are afraid of color.
I'm from Switzerland and the culture was very simple. I remember going to the store with rainbow eyeshadow and the salesgirl would say it was freaking her out. So I'm used to people feeling inhibited around too much color. I don't sing, I'm not an actress. My talent is expressing myself as a blank canvas.
Do you feel that there is a fashion or nightlife underground anymore?
I think there is. Now everything is smaller. A lot of things down in the basement, no special lighting. There are things popping up all over Brooklyn. There's the Russian party, the Korean, all types. It's almost like there is no nightlife. It's once a week, not everyday anymore.
I think communication with the world, we have this incredible social media now. Anyone can be anything. In the old days you need a connecting network. Now there are so many ways to get the word out. I'm going to Singapore for social media awards. It has opened up a new business in nightlife. You just have to make it look good.
How have you had to adjust to that?
I think I'm the last one standing giving invites in the street. Now very little money has to be spent to promote. I do have all the social media.
You had a store right?
I had a really great store on Thompson Street and then a big one on West Broadway. I was bringing young London designers to New York. John Galliano, Stephen Jones.
Was there one that you were surprised took off in NY?
The company Body Map. They're not around anymore. But people went nuts over it. They had incredible casual wear—the new casual. Then of course I know Galliano was a star. I got kids from the college, behind the scenes, to design for my store. I saw him doing his French Revolution final graduation show and was on the floor. He's a genius. I think that what happened with him was unfortunate; I still love Galliano. He took a trade, clothing, and made theater out of it. Then of course Vivienne Westwood too, but she was known already. She was his inspiration, he was in awe of her.
What excites you most about coming to Boston?
We're gonna turn it out. We're not coming in two-piece suits. I'm excited to celebrate the hotel's one year anniversary and to bring people together and celebrate after a tragedy. We were all affected by it. It's a healing thing, a get together to celebrate life.
Tickets for Barstchland, $25, can be purchased online. Doors open at 10pm this Saturday, May 11. Wear that wild item in your closet that you never thought you could wear in public (or, if that's your everyday, just do you).