Is fashionably upscale Orange County ready to dress Down Under?
"No reason why not," said David Sidell, a partner with singer Olivia Newton-John and Pat Ferrar in the Aussie-themed Koala Blue chain of boutiques, which formally opened a store in South Coast Plaza this week. "Both Orange County and Australia share the same excitement, the same water-oriented life style."
At the formal opening Wednesday, a "Champagne Aussie Breakfast" featuring, among other delicacies, Australian bubbly and kiwi fruit, both Newton-John and Ferrar sported the boutique's trademark look: sweat shirts lettered in happy colors spelling out Koala Blue and flowing, ankle-length skirts. A white petticoat peeked from beneath Newton-John's hemline. A rainbow of rhinestones dotted Ferrar's shirt. And both women wore laced-up and eyeleted white leather boots.
Melbourne-raised Newton-John and Ferrar, who sang together in Australia in the '60s, opened their first shop in 1983 on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. "It was a souvenir shop," Sidell said. "They wanted to bring a touch of Australia to the United States. They printed up some T-shirts to give away at the opening and afterward there were three dozen left. So they put them up for sale. They were purchased within two hours. So they made up more and couldn't keep them in stock."
Sweat shirts followed the T-shirts and the rest is boutique history. The Crystal Court shop at South Coast Plaza marks the store's third Southern California location. Another is at the Westside Pavilion in West Los Angeles.
Newton-John and Ferrar named the store Koala Blue after its original location and an Australian salutation. "Koala stands for Korner of Australia in Los Angeles," said Ferrar. "And 'blue' means friend in Australia," said Newton-John. "There you say 'G'Day, blue!' It just seemed to work with Koala."
Greeting 200 guests with "G' Day!" Newton-John told them not to forget to try "the vegemite! You've got to try it. At least once!" Vegemite is a concentrated yeast extract that ardent Aussies spread on their morning toast.
Trend-setting, yet classic, Koala Blue separates feature a kangaroo's share of stark white, alone or in combination, splashed with its logo colors: scarlet, sunshine yellow, emerald green, royal blue and hot pink. The spring line also uses white as a backdrop for wildflower and batik-like prints of coral, jade, royal blue and black.
The interchangeable components of the Koala Blue silhouette are both casual and elegant. Semi-fitted sweat shirts have the line of a couturier's tunic. Flowing rayon skirts have the sheen of pricey silk. Oversized sweaters have the street look of Paris chic. Shocking-hued visors look like jaunty cocktail hats. And aluminum earrings, hand-painted in Australia, sport abstracts a la Miro. Prices range from $7 (for a baby's T-shirt) to $120 ( for a hand-knit sweater).
Newton-John and Ferrar, perched on white folding chairs in a storage area to avoid the crowd, said they live in their Koala Blues. "The first thing I do in the morning is throw on a Koala Blue sweat shirt over jeans," Newton-John said. "I seem to live in sweats."
Said Ferrar: "I wear the line to work, to dinner, everywhere. For winter, I like the heavier knits with straight skirts. And for spring and summer, I love the full rayon skirts with the soft tops."
In addition to fashion for women and children, the 1,500-square-foot store has a seven-seat milk bar where milkshakes are sold, along with Australian snacks such as vegemite; lamingtons, a vanilla sponge cake frosted with chocolate and sprinkled with coconut; violet crumble, a honeycomb confection coated with chocolate; tim-tams, chocolate-covered wafers, and Aussie bears, caramel-centered chocolate bars.
"The food gives us an opportunity to let the American customer know a little bit of Australia," said Sidell, chief operations officer.
Neither of the women partners would divulge projected income. "I guess it comes from our show-business background," Newton-John said. "We've never talked about what we made. In America it's more of a thing to mention. But we've always thought it tacky to talk about it."