Before Liz Lange pioneered the concept of chic maternity clothing half a dozen years ago, expectant mothers had a paucity of fashion choices. They could resemble either potato-fed Pilgrims or Mickey Rooney performing the title number in Sugar Babies. "In the old days, maternity lines were designed for the male stereotype of what a pregnant woman looked like," says Lange. "The clothes were clownishly huge."
Armed with three years' experience working for fashion designer Stephen DiGeronimo, Lange rented a room above a New York City restaurant and began peddling trimly cut $200 stretch-cotton shirts and $400 cashmere twin sets. Despite predictions that mothers-to-be would never spend so much for separates with a limited shelf life, orders poured in. "All the stores I approached said, 'No there's no market for high-end maternity.' I couldn't stop thinking that if I could just show these clothes directly to my customer without a middleman, she would get it." The female intuition paid off. Today the $10 million business of Liz Lange includes three stores as well as licensed lines with Nike and Target. In the meantime, she has spawned a phalanx of imitators, with stores from Barneys New York to the Gap turning out their own maternity collections.
Her method of designing is based on the druthers system. "I'll take a jacket from my closet and think, I wish this had a looser fit or different pockets," she says. "My design inspiration comes from my own closet, my own thighs, my own life. It's business, but it's personal."