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The People Behind the Boutique That Helps Orangewood

December 02, 1988|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Little Chanel shoes for $70. An Issey Miyake wool dress for $150. A Persian lamb Amen Wardy coat for $1,000. Sounds pretty cheap for couture, doesn't it?

Well, this is couture for a cause. Some of Southern California's most fashionable dressers have donated used designer gowns, Albert Nipon suits, Halston blouses and Galanos ensembles to benefit the Orangewood Children's Foundation. The clothes, jewelry and shoes fill a little shop in Corona del Mar called the Orangewood Boutique.

"We know a lot of Orange County's fashion leaders," said Darla Khachadoorian, assistant manager of the resale salon. "We contacted them and asked if they'd be interested in (donating their clothes) for charity."

The Children's Foundation supports Orangewood, the shelter for abused children that opened in the city of Orange in 1985 to replace the Albert Sitton Home.

Lengthening the lives of these high-fashion frocks is a practical and businesslike approach to fund-raising. The idea is to keep the pieces circulating and at the same time to help children, according to Khachadoorian, who used to work for Wet Seal and is now co-owner with her mother, Sylvia Rodriguez, of the fashionable My Girl shop, located down the street from the Orangewood Boutique on Coast Highway.

"By keeping the clothes circulating," she says, "everybody wins."

The boutique was the brainchild of Kathryn G. Thompson, a builder, developer (Kathryn G. Thompson Development Co.) and socialite who approached the My Girl owners with her plan.

"She said, 'How would you like to help run a boutique for charity?' " Khachadoorian recalled. "We thought it was a great idea."

"The boutique was an idea whose time had come," says Thompson, who has been involved with the Orangewood Children's Foundation since 1980 and was in charge of raising funds for the organization's new shelter.

The same expertise that was used to build the shelter is now being used to keep it afloat. Rodriguez and Khachadoorian are bringing their more than 13 years of retailing experience to Orangewood in the hopes of earning as much for charity as they might for profit. Khachadoorian says they are flabbergasted at the boutique's success in its first 5 weeks of operation. "It's done phenomenally well," she says. "Topped all our expectations."

Gross sales for the first 5 weeks reached $40,000. Khachadoorian said that Orangewood Foundation would receive payments--the gross sales minus the boutique's expenses--quarterly.

Those payments will exceed original projections because business has been better than any of the organizers dreamed, she added.

And donations have been just as brisk as sales, according to the managers.

"We get new things in here every day," Khachadoorian says. "We asked some people once and that's all it took. They keep giving us more things and it just keeps growing."

Among the women who have donated the most to the shop are Judy Argyros, Barbara Foreaker, Willa Dean Lyon, Elizabeth Tierney and Kathryn Thompson. Others who have donated include Lillian Fluor, Deeann Baldwin and Linda Martin.

The boutique accepts only designer and other top-quality merchandise, most of which is used but some of which has never been worn. A few companies, including rive gauche, the Yves St. Laurent store at South Coast Plaza, and the designer Mark Eisen, have donated new articles.

The used garments are priced at between 10% and 20% of the original value, while the new things are priced at about 40% of what they would sell for originally. New merchandise is mixed in with the used, but Khachadoorian says that customers are told whether the piece is used or new.

"We are really personal with our customers," she says. "We try to understand the client and give very personalized service."

Some of the shop's more dazzling used enticements include a fox fur for $1,800, a hand-sequined Gildas gown set that includes sash, dress and jacket for $1,800 and Rene Caovilla shoes that normally retail for $600 to $1,200 but sell at Orangewood for $65 to $95. The leather Chanel flats selling at Orangewood for $70 sell at retail for about $475.

"We have some really couture things coming in all the time," Khachadoorian said. "We want to keep a high quality to the store."

The Orangewood Boutique, at 2850 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, is open daily, except Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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