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Susanne Bartsch's FIT Exhibit Cures Fashion Boredom with Sex, Corsets, and Sparkles

Photo by Robin Souma; Courtesy Museum at FIT

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What just arrived at the Museum at FIT looks nothing like what's on the runways right now. Tomorrow, the fashion college will open its doors to Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch, an exhibit dedicated to the nightlife queen's best fashion moments and the impact she's had on the industry. And if you're bored of the casual vibes that are owning the fashion scene as of late — from flat shoes and low heels to sweeping pants in neutral colors — consider this your antidote.

"I think the fashion world has become very homogenized, and this is something completely different," Valerie Steele, the museum's director and chief curator, explained to Racked this morning when asked about the timing of the show. "In the 80s and early 90s, there was a lot of this kind of excess of fashion, but it sort of disappeared. But Susanne is still waving the freak flag for that sort of thing, and I think a lot of people miss that...It's a nice moment to remind people that there's other aspects of fashion."

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Just a few steps into the below-ground exhibit space, and it's easy to draw comparisons to the Met's punk exhibit from two years back: You're entering a graffiti-filled hallway — where a Bartsch-lookalike mannequin is checking her never-ending guest list behind a red velvet rope — that ends with a video screen displaying a fashion show. Head straight into the main exhibit space to see an homage to the two retail stores Bartsch helmed in the 80s, including archived pieces from Vivienne Westwood.

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You'll want to spend the most time in the main room, which evokes (what else) a nightlife club with a disco ball, thumping music, and dozens of partiers mannequins displayed both high and low. Highlights here include costumes she wore to her theme parties and the Thierry Mugler "egg" wedding dress she wore to marry gym legend David Barton.

"You'll see that there's lots of jumpsuits," Steele said, pointing to pieces designed by fellow club kids Mathu and Zaldy, who Bartsch singled out to make costumes for her events ("Costume is not necessarily a bad word," she added). "When I interviewed Zaldy, he said, 'I just knew that what she needed was something that she could move in, something she could dance in, something that she could wear for hours and hours, all night.' Even though some things are extreme, you could see that she really worked the room and danced."

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Steele pointed out the selection of bejeweled corsets by Mr. Pearl (above) as some of her favorite pieces here. "He is the number one luxury corsetier," she explained, "and Susanne was one of the first people who discovered him. She introduced Mr. Pearl to Thierry Mugler...and then Mr. Pearl went to Paris and started doing corsets for all the couture houses. So that's a good example of how she helped link the fashion underground people — he was a very freaky person, but he was so talented — with high fashion. Now they're going to do a whole show with Mr. Pearl in London in two years." The final section, decked out in lacquered red to evoke her Chelsea Hotel apartment, features pieces that Bartsch has worn recently from designers like The Blonds and Chromat.

Fashion Underground is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 12pm to 8pm and Saturdays from 10am to 5pm through December 5th. And upstairs, you can still view Global Fashion Capitals, which examines Fashion Week around the world.

Museum at FIT

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