PARIS — Guess who Chloé is expecting in the front row of its fashion show here March 5? None other than its designer, Phoebe Philo.

Philo, who gave birth to her first child, Maya, on Dec. 13, has been on maternity leave in England since late October and won’t return to work officially until Paris Fashion Week.

While she set the overall fashion direction before leaving, the fall collection to be presented March 5 was put together by Philo’s in-house team. They will take the bow at the end of the show in lieu of Philo.

In spite of her absence, the Chloé business continues to roar ahead, with wholesale orders of pre-fall ready-to-wear and accessories up 80 percent versus a year ago, said chairman and chief executive officer Ralph Toledano.

There’s also a mounting frenzy in the U.K. over Chloé’s Paddington bag for spring-summer, for which there is a lengthy waiting list. In fact, concerned over the possibility of muggings or theft when the bags arrive in store, a London police officer visited Chloé’s Sloane Street store last week to go over security details, Toledano said.

As reported, Chloé is on a major expansion drive with parent Compagnie Financiere Richemont investing tens of millions of dollars to increase advertising, diversify the product range and expand its retail network.

Toledano said major openings slated for 2005 include a second Paris location, boutiques in Beijing and Shanghai and two U.S. locations “on the West Coast.” Milan is a priority as well, he added.

Meanwhile, Stella McCartney, who designed Chloé for four years with Philo as her assistant before setting up her own fashion house with Gucci Group in 2001, is expected to take a bow on her Paris runway March 3 — even though she will be eight months pregnant with her first child.

The designer plans to go on maternity leave after the show, a McCartney spokesman said Friday.

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