A lot of us can only dream about getting paid to travel and party around the world, but Susanne Bartsch has done it successfully for years. Now, if you don’t live in New York — or if you’re not a queer culture connoisseur — her name may not be familiar to you. Who is Susanne Bartsch?
Well, she’s “the bitch,” as Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza of the House of Xtravaganza describes her, the mother of avant-garde self-expression. For years Susanne Bartsch has been creating imaginative spaces where people can live out their wildest fantasies night after night, from her early days at Copacabana to her epic Tuesday night party “On Top” at Le Bain, and she has long cast an audacious welcome mat for those who aren’t welcomed by others.
Who could believe that someone from a conservative, traditional Swiss family would grow up to absorb inspiration from the counterculture of Liverpool, import her style and influence to New York City, raise millions for HIV/AIDS, practically launch the career of Ru-motherfucking-Paul and be named “Queen of the Night”?
The new documentary Susanne Bartsch: On Top — opening in limited release today, Sept. 7 — is filled with a cast you couldn’t imagine in your wildest dreams. The film delves into the life and impact of Susanne Bartsch through never-before-seen archival footage, verité cinematography, personal testimonials and some highly stylized imagery. Her story will both shock and inspire you, so join the ride if you dare!
Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about NYC’s nightlife queen, Susanne Bartsch:
1. Susanne Bartsch played a role in launching RuPaul’s career by hiring the ‘mother of modern drag’ to be the emcee of her nights at the Copacabana.
2. Bartsch also gave Amanda Lepore her first nightclub gig.
3. Susanne Bartsch opened an eponymous store in SoHo in 1981, and she imported all of her favorite British designers, like Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano.
4. In 1989, as the gay community was buckling under the HIV epidemic, Bartsch created the Love Ball, which raised $2.5 million to fight HIV/AIDS and helped to popularize Harlem’s ballroom scene.
5. Madonna attended that inaugural Love Ball, which predated “Vogue” and release of the documentary Paris Is Burning.
6. Susanne Bartsch married gym impresario David Barton in a Playboy-sponsored ceremony at the Manhattan Center in 1995. The groom wore a rather revealing thong, and she wore a Thierry Mugler bodysuit.
7. Her son Bailey Bartsch Barton goes to Brown University and studies Classics with an emphasis on Latin and the Roman Empires.
8. Susanne Bartsch launched a collection of extravagant false lashes with MAC cosmetics in 2015.
9. The Museum at FIT, in 2015, celebrated Bartsch’s love for fashion with the exhibition Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch.
10. Next week, on Sept. 11, 2018, Susanne Bartsch will present “On Top X Boom” at The Standard Hotel during New York Fashion Week.
Susanne Bartsch: On Top opens in select theaters today and will be available on all major VOD platforms Sept. 11