NEW YORK — Loretta Schneider always wanted to be a fashion designer, but didn’t find her niche until two years ago when she gave birth to her daughter, Madison Emily.

She took time off from an advertising career in the fashion field to start a three-month commitment to raising the infant, including nursing her. As Schneider put it, the "try at breast-feeding turned into a 13-month, life-changing experience."

Despite the joy of motherhood, there was a problem: a gap in the marketplace for "pretty, even sexy-looking, nursing sleepwear."

"I’m a Prada and Marc Jacobs kind of girl," Schneider said. "I wanted to create something that made me look and feel attractive while I was breast-feeding. My fashion instinct told me there was a real need for this kind of product, something you could wear with a pair of Manolo’s and a little sweater and even go out to dinner with your husband and baby."

So, Schneider and her husband, Joseph, president of SchneiderWeb, a technology consulting firm, started up Larrivo — Italian for "the arrival" — with $100,000. She said her mission was to bring fashion items to maternity boutiques and specialty shops that were functional yet ready-to-wear-looking. The couple declined to give a first-year sales projection, but industry sources said it should generate sales of about $1 million.

"I did my research. I went to maternity shops and major stores, talked to sales associates, but there was never anything that looked hip or sexy," Schneider said. "One customer who also was nursing was buying Cosabella thongs. When she heard about my idea, she immediately asked, ‘When’s it coming out?’"

According to the Ross Prod-ucts Division of Abbot Laborator-ies, of the 2 million births in the U.S. in 2000, 68 percent of new mothers nursed for the first three months and 31 percent for the first six months.

The U.S. government’s 2002 goal was for 75 percent of new mothers to nurse for three months and 50 percent to nurse for six months by 2010, due to the health benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002 recommended that infants be breast-fed for a minimum of six months and that 12 months would be ideal.Loretta Schneider had the idea, but she needed the design expertise. She approached Roz Harte, president of Lances-Harte, an innerwear and swimwear design firm and a 55-year veteran of the intimate apparel industry.

The results for spring 2003 were unveiled last week at Harte’s showroom at 152 Madi-son Avenue: two styles of chemises, a classic free-form style named Madison, and an Empire style named Emily. Fabrics include cotton and Lycra spandex in solid colors of black, pale pink and pale lime. Prints such as a vintage-looking, sepia-tone collage and a purple floral-lace motif are rendered on softly spun polyester.

Details include lettuce edging on hemlines, ruching, fluted chiffon trim, mini bows and lace trims in contrasting colors. She noted that production is contracted in Brooklyn, which provides a three-week turnover.

"When a woman is nursing, the breasts expand and contract," Schneider said. "So, I wanted to use silhouettes and fabrics that would accommodate a woman’s needs."

Each style is available in an above-the-knee length and a ballet length, and features a built-in, soft-cup bra with a cutout at the front of each cup. Each support bra is done in a coordinating color or print, but plans are to expand into other fabrics and nude-tone shades. Suggested retail price ranges from $90 to $125.

"Our first-year target is distribution to 50 maternity and specialty boutiques," she said. "Eventually, we hope to expand to major stores."

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