Orange County is home to many passionate pairs who have created laudable lives together. Here, we focus on five fabulous duos who share something special: superstar success, each in their own right, where neither's career can be considered an adjunct of the other's. Wende Zomnir and Doug Collier are titans in OC’s culture of cool (she co-founded Urban Decay and he was the business genius behind the rise of Volcom) who share a love of action in the surf and snow. A powerful force in the world of education, Sherry and Ralph Opacic, make beautiful music together while helping kids reach for their dreams. Ah, young love: Natalia and Derek Ostensen have been married less than a year, but have known each other much of their lives: they have a picture from preschool to prove it. Lev Anderson and Grace Kook-Anderson are on the cutting edge of Orange County’s creative culture, bringing a touch of glamour and a sense of fun to the worlds of fine art and film. And globe-trotting fashion designers Nick and Jane Bower met in London, worked at the same desk alongside Valentino in Rome and knew they were going to be together for life after only their first date. Isn't it romantic?
The Wave Makers
Doug Collier and Wende Zomnir
They met at the Little Knight. "I walked up and said hi to Doug because he was feeding pizza to my dog," says Wende. "Yes, I always brought that dog to bars; it was a great way to meet guys." She knew he was the one when "he kissed me, and my handbag fell to the ground. The moment I heard the ‘thud’ I knew he was my guy." Some day this most dynamic and successful of OC duos hope to be like the couple in their 80s they know in Utah (where they have a second home), who have been married for 50 years and ski together every day. “They're always in line before the lifts open so they can be on the first chair," they say of the couple. "They're our idols.”
What they do: Doug is former CFO of Volcom and sits on the board of directors for Skullcandy and Tilly’s. Wende is chief creative officer and a founding partner of Urban Decay Cosmetics.
Wende: "Doug is the coolest, smartest guy I know. And his abs are incredible!"
Doug: "Wende has an incredibly positive outlook on life that draws people to her – and her legs are great, too."
Shared passions: "We have yoga dates as much as possible, and we love to snowboard together. We've gone heli-boarding in Alaska each winter for the past few years. We are both addicted to powder! We also love Sunday afternoon mountain bike rides at El Morro Canyon."
What's their secret? "We share the same core values and we are both into commitment. Most importantly, we both believe in putting our kids to bed early!"
Sherry and Ralph Opacic
Ralph and Sherry Opacic are committed educators who are passionate about public schools and challenges facing OC’s youth. But to see their eyes really light up, just put Ralph at the grand piano in their north Tustin home, playing and singing “Forever, You and I” for his wife. “I wrote that one for our wedding,” he says. They met while both were in a PhD program at USC. “No, he did not carry my books to school,” Sherry says. "But we did a lot of research together, which helped us learn to work together as a couple."
What they do: Sherry is associate superintendent at the OC Department of Education overseeing 500,000 students. Ralph is founder, executive director and president of Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana.
Shared passions: “Our passions are each other, family, education, and positive change. Plus, we cook together every night, taking recipes out of magazines and trying them.”
Sherry: "I love Ralph's kind-heartedness and entrepreneurial spirit!"
Ralph: "I love the unconditional love she has for our family, and her passion for living every day to the fullest."
What's their secret? "Go way beyond meeting each other half way," they agree. "If both give 100%, then if one of you has a bad day, the other has it handled."
The Design Duo
Jane and Nicholas Bower
Jane and Nicholas Bower first met in 1978 while both studied fashion design at Central Saint Martins School of Art in London. "There's something I need to tell you just so that if it happens you won't think I'm making it up,” Nick started to tell Jane at the end of their first date. Before he could finish the sentence, Jane interrupted him: “I know what you're going to say; we are going to get married." They did, though it was three years later after finishing college. Who proposed? Neither one. "One day I went to pick up Jane where she worked, and her co-workers congratulated me on our engagement," he says.
What they do: Jane, 55, is a fashion designer with her own line and also tutors fashion at Academy of Art in San Francisco. Nick, 56, is head designer for Stussy Sportswear.
Shared passions: "We have both shared a 30-year fascination and passion for Rei Kawakubo, the designer and creative director behind the fashion label Comme Des Garcons," says Nick. And one they don't? "English premiership soccer."
Nick: "Her style and ability to make an amazing home."
Jane: "His intelligent creative sensibility."
What's their secret? “From day one, promise your partner and yourself that this is forever. And always behave in a way that gives that promise the best chance of success. And we always sit down for dinner as a family.”
Natalia and Derek Ostensen
"We met at Laguna Presbyterian Preschool at age four, believe it or not," Natalia says. "It only took us 25 years to realize it was love." A photo proves the first meet and greet, but it was another image that helped seal the deal. The Laguna Beach couple were at a costume party in London that features ridiculous sporting events. “Eric entered us in the ‘swooning competition,'” Natalia says. ”He got down on one knee, and popped the big question in front of 600 people." He caught her as she "fake fainted," they won the contest and got married last April.
What they do: Natalia, 31, is senior VP at Olen Properties and owner of Andrei's Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails. Derek, 31, is president of Laguna Canyon Foundation.
Shared passions: "Our passion for animals bonded us from the start. We oddly share a passion for costume parties, Tokyo and Oscar Wilde. That's how we knew we were meant to be!" says Natalia.
Natalia: "His intelligence and thirst for adventure."
Derek: "Her joie de vivre and wit."
Dream team: "Derek is a conservationist and I am a developer, but we actually see completely eye to eye on the definition of 'responsible development,'" she says. "We'd love to collaborate on something we're passionate about. An OC animal rescue facility perhaps."
The Culture Kids
Lev Anderson and Grace Kook-Anderson
Lev and Grace met in 2002 at an art walk in S.F., hitting it off right away as Lev discussed the challenges of napkin art, pet portraits and Merleau-Ponty, before panicking, afraid he’d used up all his intriguing topics. He managed to get her number, and their first date was at (of course) a museum. “I liked that Lev was insightful about art, but not pretentious,” she says, or as Lev puts it: “Korean BBQ plus Gerhard Richter equals a closed deal." Working in the arts, their social life revolves around work events, "which takes away from the personal, 'recreational' time we might spend together," he says, though their portrait reveals a slightly different story!
What they do: Grace, 35, is a curator of contemporary art at Laguna Art Museum. Lev, 38, is primarily known as Grace’s arm candy (he says), but is also a documentary filmmaker.
Shared passion: "We’re really bad birdwatchers but we enjoy it. We don’t even have binoculars or can rarely properly name a bird we see, but it’s a nice way to interact with the natural environment, tuning your senses and engaging the place you are walking through."
Grace: "At the end of our first date, we hugged goodbye. I don’t know how to describe the hug, but it was solid and grounding – I realized right then Lev was a keeper. He challenges me to really soak in and enjoy the present moment."
Lev: "I fell in love with her intellectual curiosity and down-to-earth nature. Her ease with people and her generous sense of humor lend her a, well, gracefulness."
What's their secret? "Recognizing when we need support or just a little extra downtime despite at times being sucked into our work. We can sense what to do without asking, which removes another potential layer of stress."
Top Spots and Favorite Jaunts
Natalia and Derek: "Walking our German shepherds on Emerald Bay beach; The Marine Room – our favorite spot to play pool and drink whisky on a Sunday afternoon; and Dartmoor Street trail in Laguna – proposal #2 happened on the trail. Our favorite place (outside of Laguna) would have to be Key West, Florida. We love it's eccentricity and relaxed Caribbean vibe. We were married at Ernest Hemingway's Key West home from the 1930s, and for that reason alone, it will always be a magical place for us."
Grace and Lev: "Crystal Cove State Park, Trabuco Canyon, Hollingshead Deli (and awesome beer store) in Orange, Lucca in Irvine for brunch – don’t get between Grace and her cinnamon bun. Also Brew Baker’s in Huntington Beach, the Audubon preserve in Irvine, Buddha’s Favorite in Newport, and the various Friends of OC Library bookstores."
Wende and Doug: "The beach at 53rd Street is our spot (Doug proposed by the lifeguard tower, and we've lived nearby ever since). We love to hang out and play as a family out there. Our favorite family restaurant is Daimon in Huntington Beach… because the food prep is entertainment there, it makes it a fun night for our boys. We’ve been to Tavarua in Fiji several times together, and just last year we took our boys, too. Favorite places to snowboard are Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah and Girdwood, Alaska.
Sherry and Ralph: "We work hard, so we really like to play hard, with Laguna Beach often the focus of fun. It was where we had our first date, and our proposal. We love the Surf & Sand Hotel there, but also have a spot in our hearts for The Rusty Pelican in Newport Beach.” Years ago, Ralph played piano every Sunday in the lounge, and Sherry frequented the restaurant at the same time. “That’s just one of the ways our lives connected even before we met that show we were meant to be together.”
Jane and Nick: "Our favorites include Cafe Zinc and Agate Street beach in Laguna and Marché Moderne at South Coast Plaza. And out of OC, we love Bowery Hotel NYC, Covent Garden Hotel in London and Ninamu Resort in Tahiti."