There’s dressing up, and then there’s Sussi. From pronouns to parties, we talk with the nightclub idol whose creativity knows no bounds.
“When you have the power to transform yourself so completely, you can call yourself whatever you want,” replies Sussi to my question about which pronoun I should be using. Is it ‘he’ for Scotty, the man behind the make up; ‘she’ for That Girl Sussi as per the name on Instagram; or ‘them’ as an amalgamation of both? “You can call me by whatever pronoun you want because it changes every day.”
Perhaps the pronoun predicament epitomises the concept of Sussi – you just can’t pin him down. She is an artist whose gallery is the nightclub, but she isn’t a Club Kid. They’re one part partyer who spends their nights in raves across the world, and equal part professional who never stops working. It seems hard to find the right label in every case. “My last name is Sussman but I didn’t want ‘man’ at the end of my name, and an ‘i’ at the end makes it cuter. It’s also genderless. So, Sussi is just my label.”
For Scotty Sussman, Sussi is not some alter ego, like a Jekyll and Hyde divided self. Sussi is ultimately an extension of Scotty. “When I started dressing up, I never wanted to be another character – and that’s one of the reasons I don’t consider myself a drag queen. I never wanted to be someone else. I just wanted to be a more extreme version of what I felt on the inside.” Sussi is both Jekyll and Hyde at once, both sides of the coin at the same time.
The supreme Oscar Wilde once said, “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” For Sussi, it wasn’t an ‘either/or’ situation but instead adopted a ‘both’ approach. At art school, Sussi decided to wear art and become living art himself. “I didn’t want to paint something and then have to give it away. I wanted to paint myself and become the creation.”
It has taken time for Sussi to become actualised. When Scotty first started going out, he was “putting on a little make up and going out dancing” but nothing close to what she does now. Now, they have the self-actualisation to deliver in Sussi everything he feels inside. “I’ve always had this creativity within me, of course. I just never knew what was the right place to release it, or the right time. I couldn’t start dressing up to the full extreme that I do now. I used to not be able to dress and express myself as I wanted because it wasn’t the right time for me. Now I feel like I’m the artist who can really take it over the top.”
That extreme version of inner creativity comes to life is Sussi’s now signature make up – a colourful frame around the jawline with widow’s peak down the brow, severe eyes and full red lips with a black strip between the two front teeth. “I had crazy braces for so long. The black strip in between my teeth was the one thing I could do to make it slightly different. The red lip and gapped tooth is one of the most iconic looks and if I want to be an icon, I need to do iconic things.”
Icon. That’s a big word. It’s a big word that takes a lot of guts. But for the person who dresses in devil horns, platforms, corsets and BDSM harnesses, guts are seemingly in abundance. “There came a point when I started to understand life a bit better and knew that if I wanted to get what I wanted, I had to be extra confident. I had to triple the amount of determination that I thought I needed. You have to be really annoying and I’m really good at that – annoying in a way that you’re passionate about getting what you want and what’s good for you. If you want a good result, you have to be confident with yourself.”
You also have to be organised. Scrolling through Sussi’s Instagram roll, which boasts more than 52k followers at the time of writing, it documents hundreds of different outfits and looks, none of which are the same. “Most of my looks are planned way ahead and I keep myself to a strict mood board for a number of months. As I’m inhaling costumes from wherever I can find them – I’m always on the look out for costumes – I’ll only look for specific items that I can add to the Sussi character. I like to keep myself on themes and concepts and stories – like, what stories haven’t I told, what colours haven’t I used together to say this particular message? It keeps me sane when I’m doing my looks for nightclubs.”
These looks are a bricolage of eccentricity, creativity and irreverence. From bargain bin finds to homemade pieces to luxury garments from the likes of fashion pal Charles Jeffrey, Sussi combines it all in a whirlwind of madness and hedonism. “Once you’re on the wavelength of wanting to create, there are a million opportunities and resources you can use. You just have to open your eyes. You can make it yourself and it’s also incredible how much collaboration goes on into everything.”
As both artist and living canvas, as well as social media supernova, fashion darling and new age party monster, Sussi is both curator and exhibition, but no gallery could contain this work. So Sussi takes his art to the only venue that truly embraces it in all its glory: the nightclub. “If you got to an art gallery, people love to be upset by art, and there’s no music. But in a nightclub when I’m pouring you a drink, you’re going to look at what I’m wearing. The club is a venue and vehicle for my art.”
One of the most exciting aspects about Sussi is the idea that we haven’t lost that artistic and subcultural rebellion of the Club and Blitz Kids, the New Romantics and the like. It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy to go against the flow, to stand out and to be worth seeing. “I feel like I’m either creating, expressing, working or sleeping.” It’s a relentless vocation, equally demanding and rewarding.
No one but Sussi knows what he is going to be or do next – most of us can’t even decide the correct pronoun about them – but you get the feeling that it’s going to be something great, something radical, maybe even something iconic. “You just have to walk every step, knowing what you want for your future and believe it will happen.” Those words of wisdom, spoken by one of our generation’s most exciting and inspiring creatives, are words to live by for all.