In early September 2008, as Wall Street was coming apart at the seams a few blocks south, a pregnant Rosie Pope was standing in her yet-to-be opened Greene Street shop several days past her due date, screaming at construction workers. A TV producer, Michael Rourke, happened to be meandering by and an idea for a reality show was conceived.
Later that week, Pope’s first son, James Roderick, was born and so, officially, was her retail business, Rosie Pope Maternity.
Reality TV would have to wait. Pope declined Rourke’s offer. “I had complete hesitation. I told him to go away,” says Pope. “I didn’t want to be the crazy lady on TV because [the company] had big plans.” But a year and a half later, filming began.
Since the premiere of the Bravo reality show “Pregnant in Heels” on April 5, Pope has become known to TV viewers as the maternity concierge to Manhattan’s “million-dollar mommas.” Her clients and their requests — to host several rounds of focus groups to name a baby boy and to design a custom wedding dress for a hotheaded woman nearly nine months pregnant, to name a few — are enough to elicit cringes from the show’s viewers.
But Pope — who with her model good looks, English accent and long golden waves seems every bit a million-dollar momma herself — redeems the show by playfully poking fun at her clients’ neuroses.
Asked if there is any request she has flat out refused, she pauses to think: “One couple wanted me to spend a week in their apartment with them after the baby was born.” As a baby nurse? “Yes! She didn’t know me, yet she had complete faith in me.”
Another woman asked her to create a couture silk birthing gown, which had to be sterilized with UV light.
Pope said yes to the request, and the gown now hangs in the company’s offices, as its owner ended up needing a cesarean section. “One day I have this image of a big corporate office and [that gown] will be in a shadow box,” Pope jokes.
“In New York City, the requests are all over the place,” she continues, sitting in her store, which was relocated to the Upper East Side in 2009. Her second son, 14-week-old Wells, is snoozing in her arms. In fact, her pregnancy with Wells inspired the spring 2011 collection. “But my rule is if I don’t truly believe these people want to be good parents, then I won’t do it. I have to find the endearing quality of whatever it is they are asking for, and realize they may want the craziest, biggest baby shower ever, but it’s because they are really excited to have a baby. It’s not about them. It’s about having a baby.… It requires some psychology.”
She won’t divulge what she charges, except to say her fee is similar to a lawyer’s, which would put it in the neighborhood of $500 an hour.
The concierge business came after Pope opened her first store and the company’s educational arm, MomPrep, a series of classes centered on motherhood, including infant CPR and first aid and postpartum yoga. The MomPrep studio is located three blocks north of her store at 1265 Madison Avenue.
“I don’t pin myself as the expert,” stresses Pope. “I’m a mother, but I can curate what other mothers really want. I find what I think is best, and I bring it to them.”
That same premise led Pope, after some soul searching, to begin designing maternity clothes in the first place. She arrived in New York from London at 18 years old to dance for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — to the delight of her father, also a dancer, and to the horror of her mother, a doctor. Pope recalls that her mother told her, “You are going to get hurt and have no education.” Pope did sustain an injury and held a series of odd jobs afterward. She also modeled for a time, including posing for photographer Steven Meisel.
She enrolled at Columbia University to study neuroscience and math, and met her husband, an investment banker. She married at age 26 with plans to start a family. It was her idea of rebellion. Her mother told her, “Most people do drugs, you have babies.” Pope’s husband, Daron Pope — who now serves as president and chief executive officer of Rosie Pope Maternity and MomPrep — was the one who suggested she design a maternity line. As part of her research, she landed a job on the sales floor of the maternity apparel retailer A Pea in the Pod. “So many people shop there and don’t like it.…It is such an underserved industry,” she says.
Her original vision was a high-end maternity collection of dresses and coats. “But then Wall Street crashed and we were like, ‘Oh my god, we are a high-end maternity company and high-end has become a dirty word!’ And I didn’t want to be associated with it,” says Pope, who designs 90 percent of the clothing carried in her store. Since that time, she’s worked to align her prices with A Pea in the Pod’s. “In most fashion areas, being high-end is a good thing, and there’s acclaim for it. In maternity, it’s a bad thing. I fight that battle on a daily basis.”
Her collection now includes items such as diaper bags, silk shirtdresses, cotton tunics and tailored pants.
The other battle in maternity is that many women shy away from investing in clothes they’ll wear only for nine months. “I always tell my customers, ‘If you wouldn’t wear this when you weren’t pregnant, why would you wear it now?’ That’s my philosophy on it,” says Pope. “It should be a time that you can feel good and celebrate.”
That viewpoint is why her store — with an elegant white interior — is filled with “mom”-mosas (a non-alcoholic mimosa), candy, chocolate-covered potato chips — oh, and gangsta rap. Asked about the music, she says with a wide smile, “You should play the music that people who are pregnant were listening to when they were young and having fun.…I don’t like that yummy mommy stuff.”
“Pregnant in Heels” has proven to be a boon for business. Since the series began, Pope says her Web business has surged dramatically. “I’m actually the crazy lady who calls everybody if they make a return,” she says.
The Internet sales will help determine where to open more stores. “I want to start with five stores,” says Pope.
When the company gets to 10 locations, she plans to create a more affordable line for wholesale. This season’s collection marks the first time Pope is trying wholesale. “We find wholesale really difficult. We have this feeling about what the experience should be like when you buy our clothes, and you can’t really create that in the mom-and-pop boutiques of America,” says Pope.
“Maternity is something that people ignore. Most department stores ignore it. My feeling on it is this company grows as I grow as a mom. We’re not going to stop at maternity. That’s just where we started,” she says. “How we are growing at the moment is more on the lifestyle and education side of things. When I was pregnant with my first son, I was shocked that, along with the maternity clothes, there wasn’t more instruction. It’s the most important role of your life. You have to get a fishing license, but you don’t need a license to be a parent?”
Pope is currently working on an instructional book series and educational DVDs, designed to capture the courses at MomPrep. They are due out next year. And a skin care line may also be in the offing. “There’s so much stuff out there, and I believe in putting my name on something that works,” she says.
As she thinks about her next steps, she says, “For me, what Martha Stewart is to living and Rachel Ray is to cooking, we want to be to parenting and motherhood.”