Byline: Jessica Kerwin

NEW YORK — “For me, a pregnant woman looks like a beautiful Brancusi bird statue,” says Karl Lagerfeld. “There’s no reason to hide it.” Lagerfeld’s picturesque statement sums up the attitude of some of his colleagues, as well. “Maternity is a beautiful thing and shouldn’t be hidden,” Stefano Gabbana agrees. “Tighter silhouettes on a pregnant woman don’t bother me in the least.” After all, in these enlightened times, who wants to be the squeamish one prescribing Victorian measures for those ladies who are dressing for two?
But while backing a proud-to-be-pregnant, spandex-enhanced wardrobe might be politically correct, recent high-profile moms-to-be have pushed the issue. During Elizabeth Hurley’s nine-month style odyssey, for example, superstretchy and even sheer maternity wear became a bulging reality. Pop queen Brandy turned up at her album release party with her tummy popping out from between low-riding jeans and a cropped top. And while Julianne Moore was dressed demurely in a silky jacket and pants for the premiere of “World Traveler,” she has gone the sexy mama route, too, squeezing into a skintight top for a recent Revlon party.
Thankfully, respite from the rash of celebrities dressed in overtly anatomical maternity clothes may not be far off. This summer, one major style icon currently with child — Kate Moss — could turn the belly-baring and supertight trend around. Certainly in recent sightings about London, she has looked divine in boho flounces or embroidered dresses. And as time goes on, she might go a bit more sportif. Christian Lacroix suggests that she try “layering transparent blouses with more sporty boyish pieces, using the current baby-doll line and hip belts.” Then again, maybe Moss should make a run to the video store. “I’ve never seen any pregnant woman more modern and elegant than Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby,”‘ Lacroix notes. And if Kate doesn’t go for that look, there’s always Sarah Jessica Parker, who is also expecting her first child.
Wynn Smith of Wink cites Farrow’s uber-innocence as perfect pregnancy style. “There’s a uniform, and it’s correct,” he says. “Most women won’t wear full clothes because they say, ‘That makes me look pregnant.’ Well, here’s the one time you can wear all those things. It’s not the time for stretch chiffon.”
Surprisingly, even those designers who love a little flash think expectant moms should tone it down a bit. Call the PC police, but they think there’s just something a little gross about a mom-to-be dressing like a sex kitten.
“I’d stay away from that. It’s repulsive,” says Richie Rich, who codesigns Heatherette, a line known for it’s outrageous, campy club-girl clothes. “I know it seems strange coming from us, but don’t wear Lycra when you’re pregnant. Don’t go for the trashy teenybopper thing.” Think boho Audrey Hepburn, instead, the Heatherette boys say.
Anna Sui, who will convert pieces from her cartoonish folkloric collection into maternity sizes for Pea in the Pod this season, also recommends something a little more subtle. “You don’t have to emphasize the sex part anymore,” she deadpans.
Of course, Betsey Johnson, perennial champion of the baby doll, thinks the silhouette is a stylish option for anyone, but especially for pregnant women. “When you’re big, you have to make yourself small somewhere,” she says. “Empire-waisted baby-doll dresses are the way to go.”
There’s the trapeze shape and then there’s the tent. Tuleh’s Josh Patner recommends a supersized shape. “I love it when a pregnant woman dresses like an empress with full makeup, a flowing caftan and a neck piled high with jewelry. It’s a hyper-femininity. They can look so regal,” he says. “And it’s also an interesting way of letting the earth mother out.”
“I think a djellaba looks fantastic,” Catherine Malandrino chimes in. “I don’t like the Lycra look. It’s too obvious. You should keep a romanticism — something soft, not too mommy and not too sexy.”
Carolina Herrera’s rule: nothing tight and no bare midriffs. “There are four or five months when the stomach should be hidden,” she says, suggesting a large shirt and skinny pants instead.
That’s just the demure look Eliza Reed Bolen has been working this spring. She’s pregnant, with five weeks to go. “A lot of the time, I wear slim capri pants and my husband’s shirt,” she says. For evening events, Bolen might choose a simple dress made in the Oscar de la Renta studio, where she is vice president of licensing.
“I’m not so brave,” Bolen says. But if she is a conservative in the baring-of-the-bulge debate, there are others fully entrenched in the liberal camp. Nathalie Rykiel, creative director of Sonia Rykiel, balks at the idea of a pregnant woman covering up in oversized clothes. “You’re pregnant, not fat!” she snaps. “Show your tummy. Put low-riding belts around it, add flowers and jewels over it.”
Embellishing that belly could even mean a temporary henna tattoo, according to Lizzy Disney of Jacques Fath. “I totally believe in wearing what you want and getting your belly out, especially in summer,” says Disney. “It’s not like the last century when everyone had to cover up and hide.”
In fact, it was almost 100 years ago that Lena Bryant — a young, widowed seamstress dubbed Lane Bryant by a careless bank officer in 1904 — stitched up the first commercially made maternity dress. The easy-riding waistband of her pleated tea gown, No. 5, as it was called, gave women who would have been subjected to nine months under house arrest an easy escape. “The expectant mother may feel as other women feel because she looks as other women look,” Lane Bryant’s first ad explained in 1911. Lena’s little shop on Fifth Avenue and 120th street sold every No. 5 in stock the first day that ad ran. Then, as now, there’s a lot to be said for a little breathing room.

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