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Upscale Designers Are Getting Stars Ready for Their Sequels

Pregnant celebrities who won't give up fashion can now buy something cool off the rack.

May 16, 2000|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

As more celebrities from Madonna to Annette Bening flaunt their bulging bellies on the covers of magazines and on the red carpets of awards shows, they are bringing a new cachet to that most fashion-challenged moment of womanhood.

"There seem to be so many high-profile women pregnant this year, how can we not help change the perceptions about pregnancy?" said Marlee Matlin, who is expecting her second child in August. "When Lucille Ball got pregnant during 'I Love Lucy,' you couldn't even say the word 'pregnant' on TV," she said. "Now they're having babies in full view on the Learning Channel!"

Stars stop short of cameras in the delivery room, but they are fueling fashion trends and breaking Hollywood tradition by appearing in public pregnant--swollen ankles, puffy faces and all.

With Madonna now expecting her second child and Catherine Zeta-Jones her first, and other A-list celebrities proudly embracing their expanding figures, pregnancy has never looked so fashionable.

Mothers-to-be today are proud of their changing figures and--despite 48-inch waists--don't consider pregnancy an impediment to style. Indeed, when expectant stars wear everything from hip-huggers to clingy dresses, others follow.

But even stars didn't always have options. Matlin recalled that during her first pregnancy four years ago, she wore a lot of her husband's T-shirts, some overalls from the Gap and a few bland basics from maternity stores.

"I got rid of all my clothes from the first pregnancy, right after my daughter was born. I couldn't stand them; they all felt so old-fashioned and made me look like a whale (which I was anyway)," she said via e-mail from the set of "The Practice."

This time around, she's much happier about the clothes.

"I was in Pea in the Pod the other day, trying on black leather pants made for pregnant women, and every woman in the store had to stop and take a look," she said. Whether on the set or at black-tie dinners, instead of having clothes custom-made, she's finding stylish, designer-label clothes right off the rack at maternity stores.

Not just stars have access to the lace pants and black tunic that Kelly Preston bought from the new Procreation maternity line at Barneys New York. And anyone with $150 can have the same A Pea in the Pod snakeskin pants that star of NBC's "Providence," Melina Kanakaredes, wore recently to a movie premiere.

Magazines and tabloids gladly publish the pictures of the pregnant stars, who are all too happy to pose.

Celebrities have driven the trend for figure-hugging maternity clothes that stores wouldn't have considered selling just a few months ago, according to Rebecca Matthias, chief executive of Mothers Work Inc., the parent company of A Pea in the Pod, Mimi Maternity and Motherhood stores.

"There is no question that these women are aspirational figures to all consumers," she said. "They make people stretch their imagination a little. It makes them think they can be a little cooler, too."

Matthias said that A Pea in the Pod now carries stretch-mesh Vivienne Tam dresses that cling to every curve. Many cutting-edge looks that stars wear--such as embellished capri pants and camisoles--are reinterpreted for the company's lower-priced brands, Mimi Maternity and Motherhood.

For several years, A Pea in the Pod has offered maternity versions of styles from upscale lines such as ABS, Nicole Miller, Bisou Bisou and Robin Piccone, but "they didn't catch on until just recently," Matthias said. "So we're doing more and more of it." The company discovered that women needed the reassurance of a familiar designer name.

"For women who are pregnant for the first time, there is a sense of relief--'Oh, I can still wear Nicole Miller, or Vivienne Tam or Lilly Pulitzer.' Everything is changing, so you want some anchor," Matthias said.

Barneys launched its Procreation line in December after hearing from customers who wanted to maintain their chic style throughout pregnancy. The company responded by creating a private-label collection to sell alongside the designer labels L'Atessa and Mamma Luna. The stores in Beverly Hills, Chicago and New York offer $180 capri pants, slit slim skirts for $120 and even stretch cashmere sweaters, raw silk drawstring pants and bikinis with matching sarongs. Tea Leoni and Elisabeth Shue have purchased items from the collection.

Celebrity motherhood has also inspired a two-part Web site, ThatGlow.com, which came online in April. It features an upscale maternity clothing collection to complement its chatty Web zine about famous moms, past and future. It's most fashion-forward collection is called, fittingly, Star Styles.

Jordan Davis, the site's co-founder and chief executive, called pregnancy "a very unifying experience" because "your figure will look like theirs more than at any other time. Your hopes and dreams are the same, too."

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