Getting Ready With New York's Most Iconic Nightlife Legend

Photographed by Dina Litovsky.
Walking into New York's Hotel Chelsea on 23rd Street feels a bit like taking a trip back in time. Though the interior is somewhat derelict — partly due to its current status as a construction zone — it's understandable why such a landmark has not just earned its accolades as such an "Old New York" spot, but has attracted the likes of Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, Iggy Pop, and Bob Dylan as tenants through the years.

Today, less than 50 residents still call the building home — one of which is Susanne Bartsch, a woman who we'd dare to describe as the reigning queen of New York nightlife. She moved to the city from London for a love affair. Instead, she ended up discovering her true love: bringing people together. In the '80s, she helped put designers like Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano on the map in America, importing their pieces and selling them to the coolest ladies about town. When the doors to her clothing store closed, Bartsch began throwing parties at the then-hot spot Savage; followed by extravaganzas filled with wild, over-the-top costumes and drag entertainment at the Copacabana that became the thing.

Along the way, she also founded the Love Ball, which raised $400,000 for AIDS research — and put vogueing on the map; she wed her now ex-husband, gym maestro David Barton, with whom she has a son ("All of his friends say that if they didn’t have parents, they would want me as theirs," she says. "And we live at the Chelsea hotel; they’re intrigued by that. He knows I’m not an ordinary mom."); and she's compiled over 100 of her costumes for a forthcoming exhibit at The Museum at F.I.T., celebrating not just her inimitable style, but her incredible legacy.

To get the true Susanne Bartsch experience, we joined her at her apartment on a Tuesday night as she got ready for her weekly ON TOP! bash, where we got insight into the world of fake eyelashes, elaborate costuming, and Old New York.

Editor's Note:
Refinery29 is turning 10! To celebrate our milestone birthday, we're throwing a fabulous party and calling it 29Rooms. The immersive, interactive, and socially driven event takes place in Brooklyn during New York Fashion Week, from September 10 to 12, and will feature — yes! — 29 rooms, each designed to reflect a different theme. We were thrilled to have Susanne Bartsch host our opening night extravaganza.

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