Modern Living: Bellies Are Beautiful

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Maternity clothes have always been designed like the Trojan horse: to hide, disguise and deceive. The wider the dress, the more pleats and folds, the less identifiable the condition—or so traditional pregnancy fashions would have it seem. Lately, however, the shape of things to come has undergone some happy alterations, supplanting voluminous tents and overhanging blouses with jumpsuits and knickers, low-cut evening gowns and even hot pants. Largely through the intervention of the Lady Madonna Maternity Boutique, women can now look great with child.

The owner of Lady Madonna,* Richard Tiefer, 28, was head of a trucking company two years ago when his newly pregnant wife Joanne discovered that "even the best stores had those old-lady, bonded fabrics, and even the size 8s were huge." Joanne took to her sewing machine and soon turned out a swinging maternity wardrobe that had her friends pleading for their own.

Tiefer quit his job, sank his resources into a Manhattan storefront and hired a designer to help his wife. Before Melissa Tiefer, now two, was born, the Lady Madonna Boutique was ready for opening-day ceremonies—which included a buffet of pickles and ice cream and an array of statuesque, round-bellied mannequins.

"Bellies are beautiful," says Tiefer, "and maternity is nothing to be ashamed of." His customers evidently agree. The Manhattan boutique is now pulling in up to $12,000 a week; Madonna outlets are already going strong in New York's Westchester County and Long Island, and in New Jersey and Beverly Hills. Other branches are due to open by mid-August in Houston. Chicago, Washington, Miami, Boston and Montreal. Customers are mostly young—and sometimes not even pregnant. But then, explains Designer Basha Johnson, 22, "I don't design for the pregnant woman. I design for myself." Miss Johnson's waistline measures a reedy 24 inches. Nonetheless, her clothes will accommodate an extra foot or more of girth. There are gaucho pants and bathing suits ($21), jumpsuits, dirndl dresses ($42) and hot pants ($10), all with expandable waists. Actress Mia Farrow, prior to twins, picked up the Victorian midi, Mrs. Dustin Hoffman bought the fringed suede mini, and Singer Diana Ross, Supremely pregnant, has toted home $700 worth of Madonnas.

"The pregnant woman," says Tiefer, "is discovering she is still beautiful and sexually appealing." To that end, Madonna's star design for fall is a long, black jersey dress ($50). Just over the area where the stomach protrudes, there is a circular cutout into which any one of three discs—two patterned and one plain black mesh—can be snapped. The black disc, recommended for evening wear, includes a strategically positioned rhinestone guaranteed to be the center of attraction.

* Named for the Beatles' song.