Her eyes are saucers, her voice breathless, her hair a triumph of peroxide, and her act 100 percent together. In short, a smart dumb blonde. This latest in a long and honorable tradition is 28-year-old Sherry Wolf, one of the cleverest artist-designers to drift onto Seventh Avenue in a long time.
“When people meet me,” Sherry admits, “they think I paint flowers or puppy dogs.” In fact, she commands up to $10,000 for startlingly realistic portraits. At the moment, however, she’s all worked up about scarves. “I am trying to do something,” she says, “that has never been done before. I think of them as half scarf, half jewelry.
“My basic look is loose,” Sherry adds. “Living in the city is like living in the wilderness—you have to be comfortable.” Her wool and crepe de chine scarves reflect her zest for play and practicality. She trims some with velvet koala bears, some with hearts or pockets shaped like hands, others with zipper compartments for keys and change. Punk lovers drape themselves in her chiffon and fishnet scarves (finished with a jagged edge) and environmentalists in her fake neck furs. “My pelts say something to people who wear those horrible animals,” Sherry says with a shudder.
Last July she was leafing through her notebooks filled with sketches of such everyday objects as sheets, pillowcases, toothbrushes, tables and chairs when “scarf” popped into her mind. A few evenings later she designed her first collection of 12 scarves and accessories. Three weeks after that she hit New York department store buyers with factory samples priced from $25 to $100. “I knew once I got to see the buyers it would be very exciting,” she says. “There wasn’t one who didn’t freak out.” Since then orders have poured in from nearly 50 stores—among them Bergdorf’s, Saks, Macy’s, Jordan Marsh and Neiman-Marcus.
Wolf grew up in Pikesville, Md., a Baltimore suburb. “I was very shy,” she remembers. “I hated to talk in class and when I came out with honors, people would say, ‘Her?’ ” In 1970, with a magna cum laude degree from the University of Maryland, Sherry went to work as resident artist for David Brinkley, the Washington anchorman of NBC Nightly News. Working mostly from wire service pictures, she drew hundreds of VIP portraits just before air time. That same year the Nixons paid her $40,000 for six paintings of Tricia’s wedding. (They too were done from photographs, although Sherry was allowed to make some fast sketches of the White House Rose Garden.)
Since moving to Manhattan in late 1971, she has turned out photograph like paintings of Elizabeth Taylor and Caroline Kennedy for Ladies’ Home Journal, tycoons and politicians for Business Week and a Mick Jagger centerfold poster for Rolling Stone. Offered $60,000 for her completed series on Hollywood superstars (Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx), Sherry refused. “I can’t hang scarves on my wall,” she explains.
In her latest exhibit on New York women—Label Lady, Backgammon Player, Woman in Denim and Luncheon Ladies—Sherry uses herself as a model, although the paintings are often close to caricature. “I don’t care how I make myself look,” she says.
Sherry lives in Manhattan with Ellen Hayman, a free-lance writer. Though she has little time for entertaining at home, she does manage disco visits two or three nights a week and sometimes, just for the hell of it, will take one of her collection of windup toys to a chic restaurant and send it chattering across the tabletop. “I like to be outrageous,” Sherry says, “but not with this scarf business. I take that step by step. I don’t want to be a flash in the pan.”