This past Friday night, I had the privilege of attending the Tampa Museum of Art’s fabulous fashion event, City. This year, their annual fundraising event was focused on Susanne Bartsch, fashion muse, event producer and New York City’s, “Queen of the Night,” whose wild, wonderful wardrobe is the subject of the museum’s current exhibit, “Susanne Bartsch; Art-a-Porter.” The exhibit includes designs from fashion superstars including Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Thierry Mugler. They’re all totally over-the-top and theatrical; perfect for Bartsch’s personality and lifestyle.
Bartsch has been a longtime champion of emerging designers, so she brought eight, NYC-based, totally avant garde designers to show at City: BabyLove’s Latex by Renee Masoomian; Casey Caldwell; Ben Copperwheat; Veritee Hill; Lactic Incorporated; Muffinhead; Hana Quist and SSIK by Kristina Kiss.
Bartsch has been throwing legendary parties in NYC nightclubs since the mid-1980s, and is an inspiration to the Club Kids. So it was only fitting that the museum be transformed into a nightclub for this non-conventional fashion event. Set designers Jorge Fernandez and Susan Johnston executed the concept to a tee. The stark whiteness of the museum’s lobby was the perfect backdrop for the glowing blue, pink and purple lights that created the atmosphere. DJ Amber Valentine, who Bartsch also brought from NYC, spun energetic club music all night long, which I’ll discuss more a little later.
Bartsch, dressed in a bodysuit under a giant amount of pink tulle, gave a charming introduction in her vampy accent, and was the consumate event host. Crooner Joey Arias opened the show with a few torchy numbers.
In lieu of a traditional runway show, the models all quickly moved around the museum lobby once, then posted up in vignettes specially created for each designer. This, combined with the lighting and my poor photography skills made it hard to capture great images of the designs, so I apologize for the photos. But this doesn’t mean it wasn’t awesome. The models were on display for a reasonable amount of time, and then it just felt like one huge party.
All of the designs were beyond amazing, but this post would be far too long to discuss all of them. But in the list a few paragraphs back, I've made each of their names clickable links to their websites, so enjoy seeing them that way.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I was highly impressed with Casey Caldwell’s work. His use of zip ties, which he hand dyes, creates a feathery effect on the clothing, and then has a spiky effect on full face masks that many of the models wore. The designs are inventive and modern. Also, Caldwell is originally from St. Petersburg, so hometown pride has a bit to do with why he might have been my favorite.
Other inventive uses of material were found in BabyLove’s Latex by Renee Masoomian. When you hear latex, traditionally you think skin-tight body suit. But Masoomian makes elegant dresses with the stuff, in a way that hangs and drapes that betrays its identity.
Crochet gets a couture treatment by Hana Quist, whose vignette featured giant ball of yarn and knitting needles. Big, fat knits are coiled and wound around to create an effect that transform yarn into something that feels much more grand. Quist’s models seriously worked it; a few were drag queens (so is the designer), so the fierce quotient was high.
I have to mention Veritee Hill’s gothic glamor. Atop long black gowns and corset/leather cage-like skirts sit headresses that conjure Queen Amidala’s headgear on Star Wars. Her showstopper was a black lace, fan-like piece that the model could raise and lower, popping up from behind her back, like a butterfly spreading its wings.
After the fashion event was done, it was time for the Barstchland after party. Bartsch also brought some NYC Club Kids with her, so you can imagine how fun this party was. One seemed to be on stilts; another wore a funky mask that looked kind of like a robot, paired with a Renaissance-like brocade dress with a huge lacy collar.
DJ Amber Valentine played the best club jams all night long, including disco and house, and by 11 p.m., the event had descended into a full-on dance party. It gave us locals a taste of what Bartsch’s legendary parties are like to attend. For me, that feeling was clinched when Amber Valentine played Deee Lite’s Groove is in the Heart, and Bartsch was lifted up and carried out by some Club Kids.
Contact Maggie Duffy at [email protected]