From Betty Boop to Blair Waldorf, New York City has inspired an ever-evolving history of fictional “It” Girls. Although the latest fille to make the list hasn’t been defying social distancing guidelines in covert downtown speakeasies or igniting Page Six scandals; she has been—much to our delight—regularly spotted around town.
Meet PhoebeNewYork, the charming and très fashionable alter ego of NYC-based artist Libby Schoettle. Phoebe has been popping up on boarded up storefronts and bus shelters throughout New York and across the globe, and stirring up quite a buzz. More than just a street-art phenomenon, she’s amassed over thirty-two thousand Instagram followers, collaborated with brands like Victoria Beckham Beauty, lululemon, and Rag & Bone, and will be the subject of a Canobie Films docuseries next year.
Phoebe may come to life as a collage, but she’s no paper doll. She grapples with the questions we all ask (“What the fu*k” is happening?”) about sexual politics, and the stark realities of living in an increasingly unstable and divisive global society. But she does it in a way that makes us feel a little less alone in it.
Notably, Schoettle is also one of many street artists participating in the Yourban2030 Color 4 Action Campaign in support of the coronavirus emergency. Yourban is a not-for-profit group working for a more sustainable future, and a donation of $25 or more to any of the COVID-19 related charities on the site will earn donors access to over 60 street artists’ drawings to download and color.
In the midst of such a busy schedule, we caught up with Schoettle to learn what inspired her and why Phoebe is everything we need right now.
What or who inspired Phoebe, and when did you begin creating her?
Phoebe came about completely organically, as in, I had no plans to make her, she just appeared. It’s hard to identify the exact moment, because my art went through various stages that eventually brought Phoebe to life and, poof, one day she was there, a small face on a pink record album cover. I instantaneously felt connected to her, and saw her as something very important, something for years I kept repeating over and over again…this pink head with a small mouth and a large eye in profile. Over time, Phoebe’s voice became clearer and clearer as I began to add words and phrases to the collages in order to let that voice be heard.
How do your own thoughts and personality come through in her character?
She is inspired by the things I am inspired by. I pour my own feelings into each PhoebeNewYork piece, using a combination of fashion imagery, found objects, colors, and words. Each element reflects whatever I’m drawn to at that moment, often things that make me feel reminiscent. She also does the things I cannot do. Such as, I need to constantly remind myself to “never quit” and “to just keep going,” “be confident” and “believe in myself.” Through Phoebe I do keep going, she gives me a reason to wake up in the morning—and by placing her on the street, I find that other people find reflection in her the same way I do.
What makes Phoebe so relatable?
What I’ve realized is that many of us feel what she feels and appreciate the messages she offers. I think she’s braver than I am and she’s confident enough to expose her insecurities and vulnerabilities, and to express optimism at times, too.
The fact that she’s been pasted on to walls in other countries, and that people in other parts of the world say they relate to her, tells me that her words and messages can resonate with people, no matter where or who we are. It makes me very happy to be able to send out messages and connect with others about love, loneliness, woman-power, insecurity, self-image, and hope.
And she’s unexpected.
People have told me that they’ve come across PhoebeNewYork at just the right time: they’ve turned a corner and seen a message like, “Don’t panic” at the very moment they needed to. I actually know what that feels like, because she has brightened my days, and I do tend to feel better whenever I happen across a PhoebeNewYork art piece on the street.
How have recent events like COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests shaped Phoebe’s worldview?
These are both such major events, and I’m still taking it all in. [As always] I am inspired and challenged to express myself in my art.