Anything can happen at a Susanne Bartsch party. During her New York Fashion week event, UGG x Bartschland, the famed New York nightlife figure proved once again why she’s a luminary in the scene. The night’s acts ranged across the LGBTQ artistic spectrum; aerial dancing led to what can only be described as a tender yet experimental dance with a giant bubble, followed by a sultry strip performance by fellow nightlife legend, Amanda Lepore. At one point, Bartsch was accompanied on stage by a man with a dick-print so alarmingly massive, I had to text my friend. He replied, “...did he paint with it?” which is frankly a testament to the avant-garde spirit of a Bartsch party.
That same creative energy is what drew UGG to Bartsch, who was tapped for the southern California brand’s Feel campaign, an ongoing series featuring cultural icons who push the boundaries of imagination. UGG photographed Bartsch in her own apartment, which just so happens to be in the quintessential New York institution, the Hotel Chelsea. “They came to my house and nothing was staged like, ‘Oh, can you move this so it looks like that?’ UGG wanted authenticity, and that's it,” explained Bartsch to NYLON over the phone. “Ugg is a very authentic product. They are really understanding of that authenticity. It's that passionate energy. It's you, and they want to capture that rather than trying to make you something that fits their brand.”
Ahead of her NYFW party, Bartsch discussed the community behind calamity, Virgo misconceptions, and the unmatched versatility of the UGG brand.
Listen, I know you're a Virgo, it's Virgo season and —
Oh! How do you know that?
I read another interview from you with Time Out New York.
What's your star sign?
I'm an Aquarius.
Oh, they're colorful and creative. I like Aquarians, my father's an Aquarius, they are very creative people.
So true. We’re a weird bunch.
I'm a Virgo, and I'm late, so I'm close to Libra. I definitely feel that it'll work as a people sign anyway, and then a Libra's always trying to make everybody feel good, but that I have it in me, the whole caring and wanting everyone to feel good. And that's in a way, what I do at my events. It's about giving people a place to feel good to have a place to express themselves, to come together and be whoever you want to be to give and celebrate. That's a bit of the Libra and Virgo combined there. But I don't go by them. I only look at them and if it's a bad thing and it doesn't apply. I don't believe it but I do believe it.
That’s probably the best way to look at it. Do you know your moon or your rising?
I am a Cancer rising by the way, that's another thing concerning signs. I'm a Cancer rising on top of it. I can't remember the moon. I think I was maybe a Gemini moon. I might have Gemini somewhere but definitely a Virgo-Cancer is me full-on with the Libra.
I feel like Virgos are so meticulous and you're always down to the details you have everything — everything looks good.
It's a little bit of a cross. The detail thing, you can make yourself crazy at the end. The details make the overall result, but at the end if you get so caught up in the details and you have to let it fall, and let it go. There is one thing about Virgo is that it’s the most misunderstood sign. Virgo and Scorpio. They say Virgo takes things apart because we have that understanding of how things work, harmoniously and goodly. So we take things apart and try to put them together so things are harmonious and smooth. It looks like you're nit-picking and trying to be critical, but that's the part that's misunderstood about Virgos. That's the business on the studying of Virgo, but actually how to make things work. But it's not our job to make things work for everybody either. It's like, "blah, blah, blah." As they say, "Virgos are critical," and we are, but it's mostly about that whole thing of making things work well.
Let's talk about nightlife. What are you going to enjoy right now about present-day New York nightlife?
Well, it was pretty unreal to lose everything overnight. March 6th, 2020 was the last time I worked. I’ve just been in L.A. a lot. I had a lot of projects lined up and it just all went "poof!" Because of the industry I'm in, it was the hardest thing. It was the first to go and the last to open. So coming back, it was really amazing. My first thing was in May. I did two parties during the pandemic. I raised something like $30,000 for Black Lives Matter. I raised money for the Ali Forney Center.
I did Zoom parties that were actually incredibly successful. I looked at 800 to 1,000 people on the Zoom and I figured out the way to talk to them because I'm very animated and like connecting with people. I like seeing people and I really hate the whole social media thing, but of course I have to do it, and I'm doing it okay. I figured out how to connect. I was standing in front of the computer waving my hands and trying to talk. Then nobody knew what to say. When I figured that out with the microphone. I was able to say “Shake your booty!”
When did you go back to IRL events?
When I came back in May, I saw Sony Hall, which is where we are launching the Fashion Week event with UGG. It’s such an honor to be working with that company, it's just really amazing. I thought I should do something here and it was offered to me, so I decided to do my show there. The New York, New York show, which is like a fusion of fashion, opera, vaudeville, cabaret, burlesque, everything, anything you name it, we got it going on. This is a show that you come and watch, but it's within a party atmosphere. You're not stuck in a seat. It actually was the only thing open on Broadway, come to think of it. [My first show] was so beautiful and it was sold out in five minutes. People would come there and they had to wait because it took forever to get in, long story. The whole block was a party. People were waiting, they had such a good time and they were like, "I'm happy. I'd rather be in line than at home on my sofa." It's been amazing.
It reminded me of the last show, which I did my AIDS benefit. People were so happy to be there and wanting to celebrate and give, and nobody complained. It was a party in the street waiting to get in, and then being inside the loft, the excitement was just overwhelming. I will never forget. Putting away the whole year, that was such a nightmare. That moment, that night, that three hours was so powerful. It almost made up for the whole thing. Not really, but you know.
How is your party On Top at Le Bain? What's kind of been the highlight of it for you so far?
Just the people's excitement, really. Usually with On Top, a decent part is constant moving art and dance, heavy duty dance party. New York, New York is actually a show, a party vibe with a show and then On Top, it's sort of like fashion people, the looks and cocktail dance party.
Then, of course, the beautiful roof with the view, it's just so beautiful to be up there. I've been doing On Top for 11 years, every year, everyone always wants to be on the roof. They want to be upstairs. I spoke with the owners, "What should we do to keep them downstairs, how should we anchor [people] in the club? This year, it's packed downstairs, you can't move. It's always packed. I don't have to worry about, “How can I anchor them? Do I have to do shows or have this host?” People want to be with the music and dance.
Yeah, people are ready to party.
They want to party upstairs, more like hanging out, talking, and looking fabulous. It's always about the dance and the beats and putting down your phone to be in the moment, which is what still happens with the dance floor. Dancing is like a religion to me, it's like a spiritual experience because people actually are in the moment moving together with the beats. Making up the same way of moving, but then everyone's moving to that beat.
It is very spiritual.
That's the most striking thing about this On Top. From the moment we open at 10 o'clock, people want to dance more so than ever. It's really beautiful. Seeing the people having fun and there's a lot of joy, people are just grateful.
As one of the queens of New York nightlife, what's the secret to a lifetime of partying?
I think it's really not so much about the, "Oh, I'm doing a party". It's about loving what you do. I love what I do. I love bringing people together from all walks of life. I love giving a space and a platform for people to be accepted, express themselves in a way like an old school art gallery. In the old days when I did parties. Designers like Gaultier and Mugler would come to my club to see what's happening in the streets. You don't have to do that anymore because you've got Instagram and social media, but somehow this is still an old school way of an art gallery that when people come, they get discovered. People will get really discovered in the events, the nightlife. It's still a place that you can go and really see the thing up close, the person, the look, whatever their art is. It's fun to try things, but to go actually create something, plan a look, and then go, and actually be out with people, and they’re looking at you, and enjoying you. You can tell from the energy that they're really happy to see what you created. That's kind of what it's about.
I don't do drugs, by the way, and I drink very little. I think those two are on the technical side, but important. I think in this world it's very easy to get caught up in stuff. And luckily I don't have any issues. I don't drink much, I don't have a drug issue. That's probably how I was able to keep going for all these years because I don't make myself ill. That is the technical side of it. I don't get caught up in it.
I agree with you. Things online have very little value, at least to me, so physically seeing the looks or experiencing a dance floor brings real texture into life.
Totally. And you know, it's like there's the energy of a person. You see a person and you share something — the dance floor, the song that’s playing. Everyone is trusted by that music. And they just go crazy, arms up in the air, dancing and jumping. It's people doing and being united by something in real life. It doesn't get any better than that. It happens through crises. When there's a crisis, when there's a drama, people come together over it, it's the same thing. People have that common thread, and they want to make it work. When there’s a catastrophe, there’s the other side of it, where people are together, sharing something. It's beautiful.
As a "party girl” what is a party girl's relationship to UGG?
I think they're very stylish, actually. I always liked to do looks that aren't necessarily what you expect. When I was like seven years old and little, I would mix a Sunday dress with heavy knit cable socks and boots, instead of little dainty patent leather shoes. The mixing of art with something like a ballgown, I think it's amazing. I liked UGG because you can make it work with whatever.
I am personally wearing my UGG slippers right now, and it really feels good. I do like how you can make a high-low, unexpected look with them.
I can do the same by the way. I'm also wearing them to go to Whole Foods, or to be at home, like you are right now. It’s not "Oh, they're for this, they're for that," they're everything. UGG is everything, you can go anywhere with it. UGG is an icon, and it's bold and it's just like the Empire State Building. It's the Statue of Liberty, the Chelsea Hotel, it's a thing on its own. You can do anything with UGG. The campaign we did it's about icons. I guess it's "icon meets icon." I don't think of myself as an icon, but they are working with people that are activists, people that inspire. I see all the people they work with and it's a real honor to be selected.
Why don't you think you're an icon?
I don't think that way. I don't think I am an icon or not. It's just another name. It's a title. I don't think about it. That's what I mean. I just live life. I want to do what I like to do. I'm grateful that I do a lot and I make a living because there's two things in life. One is that people don't find what they love to do. Finding what you love is a gift. But then to make a living with it is the other side that is really special. Most people don't have that privilege to be able to make a living with what they love. A lot of people work because they don't mind it, sure, but it's not necessarily what's making them.
What was your favorite part of the campaign?
I like the realness of it. They came to my house, they did everything here, nothing was staged like, "Oh, can you move this so it looks like that?" UGG wanted authenticity, and that's it. UGG is a very authentic product. They are really understanding of that authenticity. It's that passionate energy. It's you, and they want to capture that rather than trying to make you something that fits their brand.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.