Sharon Hoffman

Location: Birmingham, MI
Age: Over 50
Marital Status: Married
Education: Self-educated

Oh, and she also ran a chocolate shop called Panache with her best friend for 28 years until selling it in 2006. But even that enterprise was an opportunity to give back; they donated chocolate to every charity in town.

Whatever she’s doing, she always does it with style. In fact, when Sharon, a vigorous fundraiser during Barak Obama’s campaign, was told to expect a call from the Big O himself, she changed out of her robe, put on makeup and got dressed. For a phone call. “You have to be presentable when you’re taking his call,” she laughs.

Tell me about stumping for Obama.

When my husband and I saw Obama on TV at the 04’ convention we were just blown away. Especially my husband, because he was in the Peace Corps in the 60s. It reminded him of the feeling he had during that time. I had campaigned for other candidates, so Obama’s campaign called me, and I ended up in charge of his campaign events in Kansas City. I was working for all these great 26-year olds on the staff! They are so exciting, and work as hard as they can.

How did you become interested in art?

My husband’s family collected art. His father was best friends with Thomas Hart Benton and is actually in some of the paintings. As soon as we got married the curator of 20th Century Art at the Nelson Gallery, Ted Coe, took us under his wing. He started us buying pop art in the early ’70s–Art Deco, Art Nouveau and American Indian–and taught us how to appreciate emerging artists. Early on in the 70’s, we started a Contemporary Art Society—our first project was with Christo, wrapping a Kansas City park in saffron fabric.

Which artists are you interested in now?

I love  Kehinde Wiley’s work. There are a lot of the really special African-American artists working now. Kerry James Marshall, Nick Cave, Mikalene Thomas, Shinique Smith and Hank Willis Thomas have so much to say. At the same time, we are particularly interested in emerging artists. After collecting for 40 years, that’s the way to stay up with the times.

Who influenced you to become so involved in the arts and culture?

ImageMy parents. They instilled in me the importance of education, justice, and a real love of culture. When I was young, I played concert piano; in High School I was on the student council. I majored in the classics at Northwestern and taught Latin in Kansas City. In another day, I probably would have become a lawyer.

How do you define your style?

It’s all about good design. And that carries over into everything: jewelry, clothing, art, the car, the style in your house.

How has your style evolved?

I’m influenced now by my life in Aspen and New York. After I got married and had children I went to a more functional style, although I still liked to dress up. I went through a period where almost everything I bought was Armani. Great lines, fit me perfectly, great fabric. About ten years ago we started spending more time in Aspen where you can wear jeans, a top and a great necklace. I call that style “jeans and jewelry.” It’s not a matched pant suit and I think much more interesting.

No more Armani?

Every once in a while I still pick up a great Armani jacket. But when someone asked me in an interview what I’d most like to get rid of from my closet, I said all the fabulous, ‘classic’ Armani suits I own, because they’re just not alive for me anymore, and someone else is dying to have them. Now, I’m more piece-oriented. Of all the designers now, I like Etro. Their clothes are like works of art.

Do you have a favorite jewelry designer?

Christopher Walling. Fabulous! You can wear his jewelry with a strapless dress, cocktail suit, or jeans. He made me the most gorgeous huge orange cacite bead necklace for my daughter’s wedding to wear with a vintage Geoffrey Beene long dress. I can wear it in so many different ways.

Why do you like shopping at Churchill?

Because it’s unique, and Sally [Hilkene, owner] has a great eye. It’s very hard to find those pieces just anywhere, let alone all in one store. She’s so ahead of her time with fashion and has pieces I can wear anywhere: Aspen, New York, even a wedding in France.

Tell me about a restaurant you love.

Cache Cache in Aspen. The food is spectacular, while the room is simple and chic. They have the best fois gras, the best liver, and the best apple crisp I have ever had.

Your skin is so great. Tell me your beauty routine.

Actually, I most often use Olay, the eyelift serum and Regenerist. I like that I can buy it wherever I go, and it comes in a thin little bottle I can slip into my carry-on bag.

Do you have a latest passion project?

After the Obama campaign I thought, well, what do I do now? I realized that there are all these women like me who want to help other young women, but we can’t commit to a day a month because we all travel. Yet we still have something to give.

So I went to the Boys & Girls Club and said, here’s the situation: I’ve got 20 women who really could be helpful in some way–like mentoring–but not on a regular basis. We could take these kids to the ballet, or a museum, etc, and widen their horizons. They loved the idea. They identified 50 ‘smart’ girls between 14 and 17–girls who are on their way to college– picked 12 and we pair them with 12 women about once a month for a special event. We call the program “Girlfriends.” It’s a trial project for the club, but so far has been very successful for both girls and women in ways we never even expected.

What’s your favorite book?

I read a lot but for my favorite, I’d have to go back to The Invisible Man. Reading that was a defining moment for me. It really opened my eyes at a very young age to issues of diversity. Right now I’m reading Renegade, Richard Wolf’s book about being inside the Obama campaign. Fascinating book. I realize how much I didn’t know about the campaign.

Favorite place to travel?

Wherever our kids are. So it can be New York, Boston or Aspen.

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What’s the single most important thing you’ve learned in your career?

Treat everyone as you would want to be treated. That’s the most important thing I learned in business and volunteerism. It makes a big difference in relationships, and creates friendships on so many wonderful different levels.

Who inspires you?

Curious, intelligent people.I once heard someone say that the secret to staying young is ‘Curiosity’. 

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