As an artist, Sherry Wolf has been successful at just about everything she's tried.
Some of her acrylic paintings hang in a New York gallery; an entire series graces the walls in the home of movie producer Jerry Weintraub. Jewelry she's designed and created has been sold at Neiman Marcus and featured on QVC.
So it's somewhat of a surprise that when Wolf decided to take her love of art into designing luxury handbags, she wasn't optimistic about how she'd be received.
"I just wasn't sure. You never know," says Wolf, of Owings Mills, in her girlishly cheerful voice. "But I thought I'd give it a try and see."
A year and a half later, Wolf has proven again she possesses the golden touch.
Desperate Housewives have sported one popular style of her handbags, Wolf says. Britney Spears personally requested a bag. Lindsay Lohan, she says, bought one for herself and her mother.
Her high-end handbags, now in their fourth production season, have been picked up at Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's and New York's chic department store Henri Bendel, as well as countless boutiques across the country.
"We're always trying to try new people, trying to get the most innovative and the freshest young designers," says Sheila Aimette, fashion director for accessories and shoes at Bloomingdale's. She first noticed Wolf's designs at an accessories show in New York. "Our customer is very forward and is always looking for the next thing, and I think Sherry Wolf represents that."
Aimette loved the bags' signature slouchiness and the softness of the leather, she says. The bags were contemporary, with "the look of the moment," Aimette says, but not so cutting-edge as to be weird or, worse, ugly.
That fresh, hip look was exactly what Wolf was going for when she sat down to design her first bags in 2004, having moved from jewelry design to eyewear accessories to small leather goods and finally to handbags - her most successful venture yet.
"Being creative, I always definitely approach it as like an art piece," says Wolf, whose airy home in Owings Mills is filled with tremendous oversized art furniture from renowned artists such as Wendell Castle and Albert Paley, as well as some of her own pieces.
"If you look at what's out there right now, everything starts looking alike," she says. "I can make something that's all wild and crazy with things all over it; that's easy. What's hard is making something be different and still wearable."
That's why her purses, in supple lambskins and expensive baby-soft Italian leathers, have fashion-forward details that are tastefully done. Her fringes and crystal hardware, her pockets, bezels and pebble beading - all are chosen with the discerning eye of a professional artist with a proven track record.
And Wolf also knows what women who love handbags want.
"I hate digging for my keys," says Wolf, showing off one of her many multipocketed bags. "Look at this. You can easily get to your cell phone, your Palm Pilot, your keys."
She throws her "Revolution" shoulder bag, which is big enough to hold a 10-month-old, casually across her tiny frame.
"Feel this," says Wolf, who is in her 50s, but looks at least a decade younger. "See how lightweight it is? I don't know why other designers don't consider this. Being a woman, it has to be lightweight. Some of these bags out here, I'm not kidding, you can do biceps curls with them."
This week, Wolf will debut her spring line at Octavia in Pikesville. The bags are done in spring's muted tones - bones and whites, soft pinks and cinnamon.
"It's sophisticated. It's clean. But it's got a little bit of an edge to it," Lola Abt Hahn, buyer for handbags and accessories at Octavia, says of Wolf's style. "It doesn't look like anything other people are doing. It's hip, but yet you can sell it to a lot of different types of customers."
The hot-selling "Ballerina" bag, for example, has attention-grabbing whipstitch details and a funky square-at-the-top, belled-out-at-the bottom shape. The "Dr. G" bag - named for Wolf's urologist husband, Alan Geringer, and the very one all the celebrities just have to have - is sleekly slouchy, with hanging fringes and a metallic sheen.
Wolf hand-picked the colorful stones that accent the shoulder strap on the "Revolution" bag and carefully selected how and where each piece would lie.
That attention to detail is what sets Wolf apart from other would-be designers, her buyers say.
And it's something that comes naturally to Wolf, having been a creator and collector of art since girlhood.
Wolf's artistic talents come seemingly out of nowhere. Her father was a furniture salesman; her mother was a stock analyst.
"Being an artist is hard," says Wolf, recalling her fledgling days in New York City. "You don't make a ton of money as an artist, and you work so hard. I wouldn't give my kids crayons [when they were young]. I was like, `There's no way they're going to grow up and be artists.' I took them to karate class instead."