Last Friday afternoon-in the middle of Fashion Week in New York City, where designers unveil their new collections-the man who is known as this country's foremost expert when it comes to predicting the styles, colors and fabrics we'll all be wearing was at home in New Preston.
Over petite sandwiches and fruit-and-nut tarts that he had prepared, David Wolfe discussed his career, his views on fashion and his latest venture, his paper doll project.
As he sipped English tea, Mr. Wolfe offered an explanation for his absence from the day's fashion scene in the City. "I only go to [the fashion] shows that interest me … the others I look at on the Internet," said Mr. Wolfe, a creative director for Doneger Creative Services, which forecasts fashion trends for manufacturers, retailers and designers.
Of the 170 shows scheduled for Fashion Week, in Mr. Wolfe's opinion, "only about 15 are worth seeing. I divide my time between the big guns and a handful of cutting-edge designers."
Not only does the Litchfield County resident-who was among the first to discover Versace and Armani-predict what colors will become fashionable, he is colorful.
The witty and forthright fashion expert shares his entertaining fashion foresight with Doneger's prestigious clients, and with the rest of us through his interviews in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Vogue, and also on broadcast programs like "Entertainment Tonight" and the "Today Show."
Recently, Mr. Wolfe recounted, he was on a local television show at a station in Dallas when he suggested to the host that instead of making her up, they do the reverse and tone her down a bit. "She had really big hair," he recalled. "And she was horrified at my suggestion."
Fresh from attending the debut of Tommy Hilfiger's Spring 2005 collection the day before our meeting, Mr. Wolfe launched in to some gossip about the show, which, according to him, had such a celebrity-laden audience that the scene actually stole attention away from the clothes on the runway.
However, as Mr. Wolfe wryly noted, perhaps the distraction was not such a bad thing-his implication being that he was not impressed with the collection.
One of the celebrities at the show, he said, was Paris Hilton. His impression was that "she looked like an inflatable sex doll."
And with that, Mr. Wolfe sighed and said that he has faith that somewhere there is another "Grace Kelly or an Audrey Hepburn in the wings. … I'm waiting for her like the Messiah. … Maybe she'll be an educated woman."
But while he waits, Mr. Wolfe, who is a talented fashion illustrator in addition to being a trends forecaster, has taken matters into his own hands by collecting and creating paper dolls that exude vintage glamour.
"When I was a little boy," he explained, "I played with my cousin's paper dolls. … I learned about fashion by playing with paper dolls."
In fact, Mr. Wolfe has managed to recreate his cousin's collection by purchasing vintage paper dolls from the 30s, 40s and 50s on the Internet and at paper doll conventions. Yes, there really are events for paper doll collectors, and Mr. Wolfe attended the annual paper doll convention in Providence, R.I., earlier this summer. Paper dolls that cost 10 cents when Mr. Wolfe was a kid now sell for $400 to $500.
"There are wonderful, eccentric people who collect paper dolls," he said, noting that at a recent convention, there was a lot of trading, selling and fighting among attendees.
In addition to collecting, the fashion expert is creating his own paper dolls with glamorous couture outfits, thus establishing a small sideline business for himself.
One of Mr. Wolfe's limited edition sets, Homage to Hollywood, features movie stars from another era, such as Audrey Hepburn and Joan Crawford.
Mr. Wolfe admitted that he has managed to become a major player, in a very short time, in the small world of paper doll collecting-even designing covers for magazines targeted to paper doll collectors, and also creating souvenir paper dolls for conventions.
In addition, his friends look forward to receiving their annual "paper doll" Christmas card.
The exquisite, couture designs that Mr. Wolfe creates for his paper dolls are refreshingly antithetical to the clothing options available to today's women.
"We're so celebrity-driven," said the man who enjoys working out ("I'm obsessive about exercise"), and getting down to earth, literally, in his garden at the New Preston home he's had for the past 15 years, which he shares with his partner, noted young adult author Stephen Roos.
Fashion trends, explained Mr. Wolfe, are initiated in Europe, make their way to New York, bounce to Los Angeles and travel back across the U.S. again. But fashion really has to work in L.A., he said, for it to work well. The ubiquitous "we," he explained, "wants what works for Jennifer Aniston," and the current tendency is that successful fashion must have Hollywood's stamp of approval.
Although the trends forecaster is relieved that "blatant sexuality is reaching a saturation point," Mr. Wolfe feels that things will likely get a little more risqué. "Low-rise hasn't gone down as far as it's going to go," he said.
Once the fascination with what's down under has run its course, the expert suggested that our eyes might inch upward a little, with bare backs being one of the next big things.
Fashion designers' shows today, said Mr. Wolfe, are taking on a Ziegfeld Follies sort of personality. Most of what's seen on the runway, he said, "has nothing to do with the average woman and what she should be wearing."
And while many of the runway shows in the U.S. have taken on this hyper-fantastical mood, the carnival-like atmosphere is even more pronounced in Europe. "The minute you go to Paris, you're in trouble," Mr. Wolfe said. While acknowledging that the shows there are very entertaining, the forecaster explained that they create confusion with consumers, which causes him to view these Parisian fetes as "detrimental to fashion in general." Mr. Wolfe's theory is that if women start to believe that over-the-top designs are what they're supposed to be wearing and what they'll find in the stores, the danger is that they won't bother to shop at all.
So just how did this talented forecaster, who admits to being manic and talks unabashedly about his therapist, make it big in the fickle world of fashion?
He attributes his success, in part, to his grandmother, who was a Romany Gypsy. Mr. Wolfe said that he inherited the family fortune-telling gene and that has helped him with his fashion predictions. "I just seem to always be at the right place at the right time," he also noted.
And that's quite a feat for someone who was born and raised in a small and very unfashionable Ohio town.
"My first words as an infant were, 'I gotta get out of here,'" Mr. Wolfe quipped. "I am 63 years old and I play with paper dolls. You can imagine the trouble I was in growing up in Ohio in the 1950s."
When Mr. Wolfe was in grade school, his mother came to his defense when the teacher telephoned her, upset that young David announced to the class that he wanted to be a dress designer.
Another episode revolved around a picture he drew of a hula girl in a grass skirt. That also warranted a call to his home, with the teacher upset that a young boy would even know about women's navels. "It was [just] a fashion message to me," Mr. Wolfe insisted. "I was always fascinated with fashion and glamour."
Refusing to accept a scholarship, Mr. Wolfe skipped college and headed straight into fashion to work at a family-owned department store in Ashtabula, Ohio. While there, he did a little bit of everything, including working in the roles of fashion coordinator, buyer, copywriter, illustrator and advertising manager.
And it was at that department store that Mr. Wolfe met his wife-to-be, who is now his ex-wife. "She was and is a pushy person … and I have a career because of her," he admitted.
The couple met, he said, when she, a British citizen who had joined the circus, fell off of an elephant when the circus was doing a show in Ashtabula. Because of her injuries, she stayed behind while the circus moved on, and she eventually obtained a job behind the cosmetics counter at the department store.
The couple planned a vacation to England, and when Mr. Wolfe's wife instructed him to take his fashion portfolio along to search for work while abroad, he recalled thinking, "Well, this is going to wreck my vacation."
The day before they were set to leave England to travel back to Ohio, Mr. Wolfe had yet to approach any potential employers. But his wife would have none of it. So he asked her on the last day of his vacation, where she thought he should begin.
And her advice, he said, remains ever valuable. She counseled him to "start at the top, and you can always work your way down."
After telling his first interviewer, a woman from a prestigious department store who was sitting behind a desk wearing Yves St. Laurent couture and a hat, that she "should always advertise [the store's] image" first and foremost, and put less focus on the merchandise, there was an awkward silence. And then the woman said to Mr. Wolfe, "Can you go to Paris this afternoon?"
Mr. Wolfe, who spoke not a word of French, was on his way-to Paris and to a renowned career in fashion.
He moved his family to England, where he lived for several years before returning to the U.S. in the 1980s. He is the father of four children, Amanda, Lynette, Nicole, and Zack. Amanda is the only one who has followed in her father's fashionable footsteps; she works in Paris as a fashion writer.
The time spent living abroad, while good for his career, was not all English roses. Mr. Wolfe's life was, at times, turned upside-down. It was in England that he came out as a gay man.
But in spite of all the personal highs and lows, his career thrived and Mr. Wolfe also fell in love with the pastoral English countryside, which is why, he said, he loves Litchfield County.
"What I was aiming for," he remarked of his New Preston home, "was [recreating] a middle-class English house between the two World Wars."
Reminiscent of what one would expect to find in a fairy tale, Mr. Wolfe's home is filled with items that are surprising, interesting and beautiful, such as airbrushed ceramic birds, an ornate chandelier he picked up during a trip to Florence and exquisite china-and the house even has a little padded room, a downstairs powder room with walls covered in cushiony fabric.
Mr. Wolfe describes his sanctuary as "cozy, quirky and funny," saying, "I can't stand things that are too serious."
But he does, however, believe that fashion should not be taken lightly. "It's almost a subconscious urge we have as a species," he explained, "to decorate ourselves to make things happen," such as romance. "I think fashion is much deeper than people realize."
Anyone interested in learning more about Mr. Wolfe's paper dolls and how to purchase his collections can write to him at P.O. Box 2279, New Preston, CT 06777.