2004/83/1 Performance costume, evening dress, synthetic fabrics / sequins, worn by Olivia Newton-John, designed by Jan Rowton, made in USA, 1998
This costume has significance because it was worn in performance by Olivia Newton-John.
Born in England, Olivia Newton-John moved to Melbourne with her family when she was five. Her mother was the daughter of the Nobel prize-winning German physicist Max Born and her father was a Welsh professor. Olivia showed an early interest in singing and formed a band named the Sol Four with some school friends. Along with her singing partner Pat Carroll she was a familiar face on Australian TV in the mid 1960s, particularly on 'The Go!! Show'. When she won a talent contest on Johnny O'Keefe's TV show the prize was a trip to England.
Arriving in the UK in 1966 she recorded her first single ('Till You Say You'll Be Mine'/'For Ever') with Decca Records. When Pat Carroll's visa expired and the duo split up Newton-John continued to base herself in the UK. In 1970 she took part in Don Kirshner's ill-fated attempt to create an English version of the Monkees called Toomorrow.
In 1971 Olivia Newton-John signed to Festival Records International, which had been established in London by Australia's Festival Records. At the helm was Peter Gormley, an Australian who had previously taken Frank Ifield to success in the UK and was now the manager of Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Olivia began to pop up on British television and appear with Cliff Richard on TV and in concert. These TV appearances helped to fuel the sales of her first British hit single in 1971, a country-flavoured cover of Bob Dylan's 'If Not for You' which was also a hit in Australia and the USA. Her interpretation of the traditional folk song 'Banks of the Ohio' (originally released as a B side) was an Australian No 1 single that year. Olivia's early records were released on Festival's Interfusion label in Australia, and licensed to MCA in the USA and Pye in the UK.
Olivia Newton-John broke onto the America charts in 1973 with the 'Let Me Be There' album. The title track reached No 6 there and earned her a Grammy award for best country vocal performance (female). Her hits so far were soft and delicate treatments of folk ballads and country songs and, although never claiming to be a country singer, her singles were listed on the country charts and she continued to win awards as a country vocalist, causing some resentment among some genuine country singers. In 1974 she had her first American No 1 with the Peter Allen composition 'I Honestly Love You'. The following year the single and album titled 'Have You Never Been Mellow' both went to No 1 in the USA. Her next album 'If You Love Me Let Me Know' went gold in the US and by the time she moved to Los Angeles in 1974 she was one of the biggest female stars on the American scene.
A change of image came when she landed the lead role in the 1978 film version of the stage musical 'Grease'. The soundtrack of the film was one of the biggest-selling albums of the year, spawning three hit singles including 'You're the One That I Want', a duet with John Travolta which topped the charts around the world and became the biggest-selling single in Australia for 1978. It seemed as though Newton-John could do no wrong. When the 1980 film 'Xanadu' flopped at the box office the soundtrack album still went double platinum in the USA and the single was a smash in Australia. The 1978 album 'Totally Hot' showed a versatile Newton-John shifting her musical style to material that was more upbeat and rock-oriented. The 1981 platinum album 'Physical' continued this trend and showed a raunchier side of the singer. With a suggestive video clip that was played repeatedly on ABC-TV's 'Countdown', the title track became the second longest-running No 1 to ever appear on the US singles charts. All in all Newton-John has had a total of fifteen Top 10 hits in America.
Olivia Newton-John was awarded an OBE in 1979 for services to Australian music. After marrying and having a daughter she opened a boutique called Koala Blue on LA's Melrose Avenue in 1986. In 1992 came the announcement that she was being treated for breast cancer. She has been active in the ecological movement and was made a United Nations ambassador for the environment. On 'Gaia' (1994), which has a strong environmental theme, she wrote all the songs and co-produced the album. Late in 1998 she took part in a concert tour called 'The Main Event', with John Farnham and Anthony Warlow. At the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games she performed 'Dare to Dream' with John Farnham. On 18 December 2001 she officially opened the Powerhouse Museum's exhibition 'Spinning Around: 50 Years of Festival Records'.