The Trove: PJ Cobbs

Patricia Jacobs has the sun-kissed glow of a traveler and more than a few stamps in her passport.  A former journalist, the Jamaican-Brit artist and adventurer known as PJ Cobbs could publish her own guide to global travel delights, embracing both the pinnacle of luxury and the down-n-dirty with equal aplomb. In fact, she has begun a memoir, The Orange Shoes Chronicles, so named for the patent Puma sneakers she wore as she traversed the globe. “I traveled everywhere with them, until they finally passed on.”

A self-portrait in silk, Saint-Tropez; the orange Pumas in New Zealand…

and in Tahoe.

Many of her life’s joys have been experienced en voyage: from riding elephants in Thailand to dog-sledding in Lake Tahoe; lava tubing in Hawaii to kayaking around St. John (USVI.) She recalls a treasured travel moment, “hanging out on a misty beach near Abidjan in Cote D’Ivoire with fashion photog Marc Baptiste— the scene, the models and the clothes were so beautiful, it was surreal.” Traveling with Mark Burnett, the creator of the Survivor series to Malaysian Borneo for the Post and TV Guide is her favorite journalism assignment. “It was all pretty disgusting: no or little sleep in the humidity of a jungle, mosquitoes, leeches, weird nighttime noises, the constant smell of rotting sneakers and–I’m sure–rotting flesh. But then there were the beautiful people, amazing food, island and rainforest vistas, hopping into helicopters like cabs, watching orangutans feeding their young in the wild…”

PJ with “Survivor” creator/producer, Mark Burnett.

It was in New York, however, that our paths first crossed.  We’d see each other at the twice yearly whirlwind of Fashion Week, when she as a fashion columnist for the New York Post covered the collections.  It was after she bravely traded “the Prada for a paintbrush” that we became friends.  Having returned to her adopted city after living and launching her new career in Paris, she invited me to view her line of hand-painted wearable art. I was, at the time, working in wardrobe on the talk show, Queen Latifah and went to check it out, eventually purchasing items for the “Queen.” Over visits to her showroom I got to know PJ (and her equally glowing sisters Jensen and Alexis — those Jacobs girls have great skin!) She is adventurous, an explorer and she discovers the best of every place she finds herself in. When she hosted an under-the-radar birthday picnic on the lawn of the Cooper Hewitt, I knew she was my kind of girl. Her lifestyle is a veritable mash-up of myriad cultural influences.

Though retailers Barneys New York and Jeffrey run “neck-and-neck” for offering directional looks “where fashion doesn’t tread so much anymore,”  Barneys can meet her needs sartorial, home decor (“that goes for Chelsea Passage too”) and alimentary (“What’s better than finishing with a nibble at Fred’s?”) all under one roof.  She sometimes, however, longs for the stuff of home. “For my Brit in New York thing, I make the occasional pilgrimage to Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street. Freshly made bangers, sausage rolls, meat pies, Typhoo Tea–it’s all there for a price, but worth every penny. Nearby Tea & Sympathy has been a tiny home away from home. I ran into Isaac Mizrahi there years ago at the height of his fame: he begged me not to mention his favorite spot. Honey, I begged him not to mention it as well.”

After her stint in the city of light, whenever the Gallic tug hits she’ll “luxuriate over a croissant (almond or plain) and café crème at La Bergamote Patisserie on Ninth Avenue. It’s comfy and unpretentious in spite of the exquisite offerings, just like stepping into a real Parisian cafe.”

Evoking Paris’ Arc de Triomphe is Manhattan’s Washington Square Arch, in whose shadow PJ will present her works at the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit this weekend (September 4-6) and next (September 11-12). Stop by for a charming chat and a chance to view the vibrant work reflective of her Caribbean heritage, up close.  View more of her work and get the skinny on her signature PJ’s Painting Parties on her website, PJ Cobbs Arts.

A look into this frequent flyer’s trove, clearly shows her love of travel and culture exploration–pop and otherwise…

1. New York. “Right now, it’s home, and offers infinite inspiration for my New York Neighborhoods painting series. I love painting al fresco, and don’t even mind an audience. The city has so much energy and color, I feel I must capture it any way I can.”

From the ‘New York Neighborhoods’ series in her preferred medium, works on silk.  Clockwise from left, ‘Empire State Building from The Gilsey,’ Fiber reactive dyes on silk, 22”x 22”; ‘Cute Little Girl, Harlem Day,’ Silk paints on silk, 18”x18” and ‘Chez Oskar Restaurant, Brooklyn,’  Matted painted photo print on silk, 16”x 20”.

2. Gucci Loafers. “I started collecting them–in gold–in the early 90s, and wore them to death like sneakers. The most comfortable shoes in the world–especially for walking on Parisian cobblestones! I still wear the red patent leather ones I bought about 15 years ago, and they still look fab.”

The “Cathrine” moccasin in bordeaux patent with horsebit detail.

3. David Bowie. “I’ve been rabid about his musical genius since I was a kid in the 70s after he appeared in red spiky hair and glitter on Top of the Pops–Britain’s equivalent to American Bandstand at the time. Then he married the glorious Iman–they’re such a fabulous couple I am all verklempt! Now, my 14-year-old nephew’s totally into him (and my old albums). Goes to show real music never dies.” When asked her favorite Bowie tune, she replies, “I like ’em obscure. Like Station to Station–my absolute favorite–and maybe Jean Genie.

The appearance that created a lifelong fan.

4. The Four Seasons Hotels. “What I love: cocktails at The Bar at 57 East 57th Street. Extravagant–almost $20–but they come with a shaker with two drinks and delicious nuts. It’s a worthwhile luxury;  the extravagant Japanese breakfast at Canary Wharf–never had tofu taste this good–and afternoon tea at the Park Lane, both in London; Cashew chicken satay and beer overlooking the rice paddies and water buffalo at the Chiang Mai in Thailand; the black rocks and white sand beaches at Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii, where you can also explore the underground caves and lava tunnels, requiring special gear.

“I know it’s trendier to name some hot boutique hotel, but for my money, I just love the 4S. They just know how to treat guests, without too much ‘tude.

5. Paris. “The locals are rightly proud of their city, one of the world’s most beautiful,” she exclaims about the city that introduced her to le monde de la mode in the 1980’s and became her home–and artist’s launching pad–in the 1990’s.  Just out of school (Hunter College, Journalism) and assisting the Post’s features editor, she was given an invitation to a party for shoe designer Roger Vivier at “the fabled Maxim’s de Paris. Not the one on Madison Avenue, but Rue Royale, in Paris!” where she’d planned to vacation. “Once in Paris, I was so awe-struck with just everything that I was afraid to leave the Métro station and step into the Place de la Concorde.” It was at the fabulous fête, that she met the legendary publicist Eleanor Lambert and her entourage. La Lambert “asked me if I was going to the Chanel show the next day. ‘What Chanel show?’ asked this naive waif. The following day, I had a ticket waiting for me at the Hôtel de Crillon. And it wasn’t just to any Chanel show, it was the couture show, at the Beaux Arts; the most beautiful clothes in the world, in the most beautiful venue in Paris. There was Catherine Deneuve! Alain Delon! Ines de la Fressange! She was Karl Lagerfeld’s model-of-the-moment, and she didn’t disappoint. I died, I literally died. After the show, Eleanor took us to a typical French restaurant on the Left Bank. These memories cannot be duplicated.”

PJ, in photo collage, covering Romeo Gigli in early 90’s Paris.

6. The Rachel Zoe Project. It’s her favorite TV obsession-of-the-moment. “As a former fashionista, watching the Bravo show for me is like fashion crack. Sorry, but it is!”

Rachel Zoe speaks with Harper’s Bazaar on the chicly campy fashion story based on her signature catchphrase. Featured in the September issue, she “dies” for fashion, again and again at the hands of American designers in quirky cameo appearances.

7. Hawaii. “People who haven’t been here think it’s cheesy, but they’d (for the most part) be wrong. Sure Waikiki is the place that inspired a million hula-dancing dashboard ornaments, but there’s so much more to our 50th state. My love affair started with the smell of frangipani flowers from the lei shops at Honolulu airport. The Ala Moana Center is for all tastes (some great dining here) and all price ranges: where else can you get Forever 21 and Hermès in the same mall?” she enthuses.  Where to stay? The Royal Hawaiian Hotel. “With its distinctive Pepto Bismol-pink exterior, you gotta visit this Old-Hawaii fixture once.” On Maui: the Grand Wailea is totally over-the-top luxury. B-ball players, celebs–they’re all there to see and be seen. The the water spa is gor-geous, with every water treatment imaginable. I’ve spent time at Kapalua teaching silk painting to snowbirds for a couple of seasons. It’s more Southern California in attitude than Hawaii, but Lahaina is a fun town to check out the local art, David Paul’s Lahaina Grill (the island’s hottest restaurant) and catch an authentic luau–a must-try.” On Kauai: “The most old-Hawaii of the islands. The Na Pali coastline has the best view of them all.”

The Na Pali coast, fragrant frangipani and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

8. South Florida’s Mango Season. “I’m rabid for mangoes, and Florida–especially around the Delray Beach area where my sister, Judith and nephew Anton, live–grows numerous varieties of the sweet, sticky yellow stuff. You can find them growing in empty lots, outside banks, front yards, in the lot behind the Checkers burgers (oops–I’ve said too much). After a rainfall, just grab a bag, get them home, wash ’em, and chow down. Sometimes I bring them home [to NYC] and share with my sisters Jen and Alexis. Sometimes, I eat them all.”

Mango love.

9. London. “Although I’m a bona fide New Yorker now, London, the city of my birth, will always have a space in my heart. ” She cites Spitalfields Market and Camden Lock for “lots of local designers, even though the latter’s gone a bit tacky…but the local flavour holds on tight; “Fortnum & Mason for their “tea scented with orange blossom and the best jams in the world” and Harrod’s: “at this venerable London temple of style, in the Food Hall meat pies rule. Brits are big on savory stuff–stewed meats, sausage, ham–in pastry: if you were out all day, say, herding sheep or catching fish, this was the easy way to brown bag it.  All British kids are brought up on it and I crave it in all its flaky, golden forms.  My late mother, a fabulous cook, made the best Jamaican cuisine and fresh bread, but we couldn’t wait for the Wednesday treat of steak and kidney pies served with Heinz baked beans. I’m tearing up as we speak!”

The iconic Christ Church at Spitalfields lords over the nearby Victorian covered market.

10. Bike Riding. The committed cyclist prefers Trek and Specialized bikes. “I’ve mountain biked, but I love the thrill of biking around New York, of getting around without depending on public transportation. And I admit to a rush having flipped off a cab driver! Riding in fast-moving traffic is a rush, like flying. I also love the trails at Orchard Beach in the Bronx, and the ride over Pelham Bay is quite scenic. A long bike ride to City Island is rewarded with some fun thrift shopping and fish and chips with beer at Johnny’s Reef.”

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images.


10 Responses

  1. I so enjoyed meeting this fabulous woman today via your website.

  2. Golly, i can’t even begin to put into words how much i LOVE !
    David Bowie.
    I LOVE Davie Bowie !
    Have a great Labor Day weekend and more.

    As Ever
    Montgomery Xx

  3. Thanks for this piece on PJ. Always loved her writing and was happy when she turned her hand to painting full-time. You cover the greatest.

  4. Once again Sharon, you celebrate the most interesting people in your inimitable way. You know that says a lot about you, don’t you…!!!!

  5. Hey Magic… Thank you so very much for this post of the ultimate artist PJ Cobbs. I have vended with her down on Union Square last summer, but because of the daily hushle we never had a chance to get aquainted, now through you enjoyable interview & article we have so much in common.

    Thanks for re-introducing me to my very lovely artist friend. I TOTALY enjoyed reading this post. your are brilliant & talented, I love where you come from when you write.



  6. Wow!! Again, I just finished reading PJ’s post, well, maybe we don’t have as much in common as I would like, she really knows how to enjoy where she is.

    But Pj did introduce me to wild strawberries at the 14th St. Farmers Market!!!

    Wonderful… Wonderful Post!!!

    Thanks for opening up our world.



  7. Sharon, can I comment here? I mean, I MUST comment here: you are amazing! I am BLOWN AWAY by your writing and the way you’re able to translate my meager scribblings into a real life lived. I’m so flabbergasted at the piece that I don’t know what to say, other than I LOVE YOU and THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart! And big kisses to Xenobia!

  8. I remember meeting PJ years ago at something at Thompson Square Park. She was one of the many artists doing something fabulous.
    PJ is seems to enjoy life and all the beautiful things that come with it.

  9. If any of you beautiful people are around, please come say “hi” in person at the Washington Square Outdoor Art Show this weekend and next: I’m nervous as heck and need some friendly faces! Jelani–please let’s catch up soon!

  10. Thanks all, for your comments! And PJ, it was my pleasure!!!

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