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MOMS-TO-BE: They crave style.

Expecting...and Demanding

Refusing to concede any style ground just because they're pregnant, a few women are creating alternatives, ranging from sleek maternity collections to online shopping sites.

May 07, 1999|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

They're pregnant, they're stylish and they're not going to take it anymore.

Whether the women are high-powered business executives or high-profile fashion editors, these mothers-to-be are redefining maternity clothing now and for the future.

Their tools? Ingenuity, the Internet and their experiences as balloon-bellied women.

With their chic wardrobes shelved, these 30-something women waddled through department and maternity stores searching for clothes that would fit their bodies, their self-image and their budget. Their dissatisfaction was more frightening than colicky triplets.

"I have this mantra--just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you lose your sense of style," said Laurie McCartney, who this month will launch Babystyle, a Web site for maternity and baby clothing.

McCartney, a Santa Monica resident, was pregnant with her now 6 1/2-month-old son when she left an executive position with the strategic planning group at Walt Disney Co. to start her own business. The pregnancy proved to be great inspiration.

"I was trying to fit the pregnancy into my lifestyle. I was trekking from store to store trying to find maternity clothes. There wasn't a lot of stuff out there," the Harvard Business School graduate said. McCartney decided that a Web site could centralize the shopping experience, particularly for time-starved parents or for people who live in remote areas.

"Lots of women have trouble finding things that work for them on an everyday basis, but it's even harder for them when they're pregnant," she said. Her Web site will feature popular brands such as Japanese Weekend, Belly Basics and L'Attesa.

Jennifer Noonan also was disappointed in the selections at most maternity stores. The former entertainment industry publicist was nine months pregnant when she opened her Calabasas maternity store, Naissance, in November. She stocked it with the style of clothing that she had personally wear-tested throughout her pregnancy. Then she built her store to look like a chic boutique full of casual capri pants, sporty track pants and even rental leather evening gowns.

"I went out and did for the store what I was doing for myself," Noonan said. The store carries some non-maternity items, such as caftan dresses and full-cut shirts, that can function as maternity wear and then as transition clothing post-birth.

Her customers confirm her experience with their desire for edgier clothes engineered for the pregnant body.

"Unless you stay a size 2 and have a little belly, you can't stay in normal-size clothes," Noonan said. She stocks a range of brands, but only items that match her vision. Sometimes, that has meant she buys a manufacturer's samples or requests special orders.

She recently met fashion designer Marilyn Pachasa Robinson of Los Angeles, who created the new Belly Beautiful line. Robinson delivered her second child a year ago and the first Belly Beautiful collection this spring.

"When I was pregnant with my second child, I went to stores that weren't maternity and tried to squeeze into things. When you get really big, you can't keep doing that," Robinson said. "Normal clothes hike up in the front, or they're too tight in the hips." Her experience, combined with a desire to establish her own clothing line, brought Belly Beautiful to fruition. The clothes are made with clever tummy gathers, or panels and stretchy fabrics such as mesh, denim and jersey that last a woman throughout her pregnancy. The tunics, pants, dresses and shirts coordinate to create a wardrobe of mixable separates. Tops sell for $60 to $120, pants, $75 to $100, and dresses, $120 and up.

"There's a whole market for maternity clothes that are hip and happening," said Noonan, who carries Belly Beautiful in her store. Robinson and Noonan are developing separate Web sites to make their clothes available nationwide. They also hope to attract pregnant women who once shunned maternity clothes and stores. The two believe more fashion-oriented maternity stores can provide style and save time. Customer Jenifer Lass of Calabasas is a typical case.

"When I was pregnant with my first child, I wouldn't go into maternity stores. But toward the end of my pregnancy, my clothes didn't fit," she said. Now expecting a second child, Lass has learned to buy maternity clothes that will last her until the baby is born.

Still, many stylish women find it's psychologically and financially helpful to blend non-maternity clothes into their wardrobes.

Sally Singer, the six-months-pregnant fashion director of New York magazine, has been raiding menswear stores and flea markets for the latest trendy looks.

"I'm very happy that I got pregnant during the season of the drawstring trousers," Singer said. Her latest favorites: men's drawstring pants at Old Navy and Club Monaco's boxy men's sweaters.

"What drives me crazy is when I read tips from women who are size 4, and they say to buy a size 6 dress from Bill Blass," Singer said.

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