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'Up and at 'Em' Look From Down Under

November 28, 1986|DIANE REISCHEL | Time Staff Writer

Opening day at the Australian Collection meant boxes strewn, chairs piled.

"Our tables are somewhere between here and Colorado," said a good-natured Val Aaron, co-owner of this new Australian-import boutique on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills.

A windblown woman in jeans and T-shirt, Aaron kneeled to unpack boxes with her Dutch-born partner, Bill Hornstra, minutes before last week's official opening.

Own Delicatessens

In Australia, the twosome runs a string of 65 delicatessens, which grossed $50 million in '85, they say. The pair figures their retail talent will transfer to the States--and into the fashion business. The 3,300-square-foot Collection features Australian clothes and products--as well as a restaurant and bar.

But the shock of the fashion alone is still setting in for Aaron, who rarely veers from denim during the day.

"Some of the clothes I bought, I wouldn't wear," she said. "I'm not a fancy dresser."

Wares include aerobics gear, swimwear, sportswear, hand knits and one-of-a-kind evening pieces--all designed and made in the couple's home base of Sydney. Prices range from a $15 T-shirt to an $1,800 hand-woven evening dress by designer Vivian Chan Shaw. And all garments are sized the Australian way.

"As far as I can gather, if a lady here takes a 6, she will take a 10 to 12 in Australia," Aaron said.

The store also will sell special-order jewelry made from Australian opals.

Aaron says she and Hornstra had planned to buy a chain of stores, "but we couldn't find anything worthwhile."

After visiting California during the 1984 Olympics, they decided to start a boutique in partnership with Australian entrepreneur John Babington. "In Australia, we say everything else can be got-around. But you MUST have location," she said, referring to their site in the Beverly Hills business triangle.

Already she notices a difference between her U.S. and Aussie customers.

"American customers have a lot more patience. Australians won't wait for anything," she said. "They either go somewhere else--or just barge in."

Some Food Items

The Collection also sells a few food items, such as the can of "damper," which Aaron describes as a makeshift sourdough bread.

"On a normal bush fire, it would take 20 minutes," she said matter-of-factly.

If she and Hornstra are a bit of an odd couple for Beverly Hills fashion retailing, Aaron doesn't act concerned. As with their earlier business ventures, she said:

"We've never considered failing."

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