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A Street Artist’s Fashion-Obsessed Alter Ego

Street artist Libby Schoettle earned 20,000 Instagram followers and two new solo gallery shows by quietly plastering a paper-doll-like figure, “PhoebeNewYork,” on public spaces across the city, from brick walls to scaffolding. She considers Phoebe her stylishly dressed alter ego: a round-headed woman with a bob haircut who grapples with femininity, sexual politics, and independence in fashion photo collages with provocative slogans.

“Who needs a man?” Phoebe asks in one image, wearing zebra heels and a pencil skirt. “Are you in charge of your love life?” she asks in another. In runway images she appears with exclamations like, “It’s MY style.” Her artwork often raises a playful eyebrow at the fashion industry while questioning beauty standards and feelings about love and gender.

Schoettle studied fashion and film and graduated from Hunter College. She cuts her materials from vintage fashion magazines, record sleeves, and old photographs and books that she finds at flea markets and specialty magazine vendors. To place her artwork on the streets, she sets out at dawn with a bucket of wheat paste and photo copies of her collages, heading for Soho’s fashion district or exploring various neighborhoods. Then she Instagrams them. She sells Phoebe artwork on her website, ranging from $4 stickers to $250 prints and original framed works priced up to $5,000.

The French fashion brand Sonia Rykiel reached out to Schoettle last December, having noticed her use of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath book covers, and asked her to hide dozens of Phoebes in the store’s 50th anniversary bookshelf mural, a public art installation on Madison Avenue. Lululemon commissioned a life-size Phoebe poster for the brand’s Soho store windows a few years ago.

The artist talks about Phoebe like she’s a close friend. “Sometimes I walk into a store wearing Phoebe’s head [on a mask] and I see one dress that’s just so Phoebe. She’s very specific,” Schoettle says, recalling a recent visit to a J. Mendel store. But her alter ego’s style is different from her own: “I would wear Vince, but Phoebe doesn’t,” she says, noting the (more high-end) designers Comme des Garçons, Moschino, and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac are among her avatar’s favorites. “I can’t afford [some of] the things that Phoebe wants, but that’s why I do a lot of cutting out. There’s that satisfaction of being able to put her in it.”

Schoettle’s first solo exhibition in New York opened last month at the East Village urban-art gallery 212 Arts. On March 1, her next stop is Toronto, her first solo show in Canada, where the Gallery 181 will exhibit 40 Phoebe prints. Scroll for a preview of more of her work.

A Street Artist’s Fashion-Obsessed Alter Ego