She ought to know. Since October 1997, when she opened the doors of the maternity shop that bears her name on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Lange, 33, has been giving the fashion world a crash course in pregnancy panache. Offering unfussy, solid-color designs in high-quality stretch fabrics—"the kind of clothes people I know wear when they aren't pregnant," Lange says—her business has attracted such celeb devotees as Téa Leoni, Elisabeth Shue and Teri Hatcher. It now grosses some $3 million a year from store and online catalog sales. The emotional rewards are piling up as well. "Customers spend thousands of dollars and then write a note to thank me!" marvels Lange, whose prices range from $85 for a T-shirt to $425 for a floor-length silk dress. "It's touched a chord." Melrose Place's Josie Bissett, who is due in July, knows why: "Liz's clothes have so much style. I feel like I can look good even though I'm huge."
Lange herself was childless and svelte when inspiration for her maternity-wear revolution struck. The older of two daughters of a Manhattan insurance company owner and his homemaker-turned-real-estate-broker wife, Lange graduated from Brown University in 1988 with a B.A. in comparative literature. She did a stint as an assistant editor at Vogue before leaving to start her own sportswear business in 1993. Three years later she was married to financial software writer Jeffrey Lange—and listening to her pregnant friends complain about their wardrobe options. "I had always imagined pregnancy as a chic time in my life," Lange says. "I thought I would be wearing these little shifts and Capri pants—my Jackie fantasy. So I thought it was interesting that my friends couldn't find anything cute."
She spent several months sketching designs, then, with $50,000 borrowed from her parents, set up shop in October 1997. "I was doing everything myself—designing, producing, selling," recalls Lange. "I thought: Isn't this perfect? I'll make this little line of made-to-order clothing, and the rest of the time I'll be free being this married woman thinking about having a baby."
It was her only miscalculation. Just weeks after Liz Lange Maternity opened, The New York Times ran an item about her, and her business "exploded," Lange says. "Suddenly I was working six or seven days a week until late at night." And getting chummy with the stars. Elle Macpherson walked in one day "and just said, 'Hi, I'm Elle,' " Lange recalls. "It was like, 'No kidding.' She said she was feeling terrible because her doctor said she was gaining too much weight. It's kind of nice to know that even Elle Macpherson's doctor tells her that."
Later, Macpherson brought in her pal, model Paulina Porizkova, "who bought everything," says Lange. Cindy Crawford first stopped by four months ago and has become a muse of sorts. "Anything I do that's slightly edgy," Lange says, "I send to Cindy to see if she likes it." And yes, regular people—including Lange herself, whose son Gus is now 8 months old—are customers as well.
"I was thrilled with my clothes when I was pregnant," says Lange, who now has four employees and has cut back a bit on her hours to spend time with her family at their sprawling four-bedroom Manhattan apartment. "At first I thought I'd be catering to rich women, but I cater mostly to working women who pay these prices because I offer good quality."
It's a message she thinks is finally getting heard. "I think the market's getting better," she says. But her work is not done. Lange may soon open a store in Los Angeles. And there's one more celebrity she has her eye on. "I'd love Carolyn Bessette Kennedy as a client," she says. "We're all waiting."
Helene Stapinski in New York City