Red Hot Mamas
Maternity clothing designer Liz Lange delivered the solution. She told DiGiacomo to call Liza Elliott's Expecting Models, whose catwalkers Lange employs for her shows. The editor did and liked what she saw. "We could have used all of them," says DiGiacomo, who hired Danielle Bastion, 23, seven months pregnant at the time. "They were so beautiful."
It's just another labor of love for Liza Elliott. Since July 2001 she has been booking work for models who, due to their burgeoning bellies, might otherwise be sidelined. Her mommies-to-be have strutted for catalogs (Liz Lange), magazines (American Baby, New Parent), clothing lines (Gap) and any other job where a thin model with pieces of foam under her dress just wouldn't do. "When someone is padded, the belly doesn't ring true," says Elliott, 32, who so far has netted more than $120,000 in bookings. "People like to see the changes in a pregnant woman's body."
Susan Shaughnessy, a freelance casting director for print media, agrees. "When you're trying to speak to pregnant moms, having the real thing is paramount," she says. "Liza's doing something that has been missing from the market." Adds Carrie Estok, publicity manager for Mothers Work, the company that owns maternity-wear stores including A Pea in the Pod: "The quality of the models is top-notch. Liza's girls have that glow."
The money probably helps. Elliott's models can earn $1,200 to $3,500 a day, comparable to regular models' fees. "We can continue to work and feel good about ourselves," says Ayana Wiles-Bey, 29 and nine months pregnant, who recently posed for American Baby. They're spreading the word. Elliott fields dozens of calls from models competing for a place on her roster, which now stands at 60 and is constantly replenished to replace those who have given birth. "Once I had a sleepless night because I lost three models," says Elliott. "But the next day I got three calls. I meet so many pregnant women."
Elliott's not camera-shy herself. Born in Manhattan's Spanish Harlem to Roland, 59, an accountant, and Betty Cutié, 59, a guidance counselor (her parents are now divorced), she began modeling at 14. "As a kid I was always striking a pose," she says. Catalog work helped pay for school (she studied physical therapy and exercise physiology at Manhattan's Hunter College), and good sense helped her resist the occasional photographer who tried to coax her out of her clothes. "I never did anything that would embarrass me today," she says.
Elliott was modeling for Danskin in 1994 when she reconnected with Hunter classmate Eric Ramirez, a model and actor, at a seminar. They married in 1998, and when Elliott discovered she was pregnant in 2000 she tried to work as long as possible. "I was on a run and didn't want to stop," she says. But she couldn't keep her secret for long. During a shoot for an IBM ad five months into her pregnancy, Elliott found she couldn't fit into the size-9 suit handed to her. "I had to fess up," she recalls. Though she was fired from the job, Elliott began pounding the pavement in hopes that her blossoming figure would be appreciated elsewhere. It was: She promptly landed jobs with Sears and Baby Talk magazine.
Elliott delivered son Devon in August 2000 and started Expecting Models from her family's two-bedroom lower-Manhattan apartment the following year. Now she divides her time between her two "babies"—"nurturing the business like a newborn" during the day, she says, then stopping at 6 p.m. to be "mommy and wife." And a very proud mama she is. "The media has glamorized petite for so long," says Elliott. "But I'm here to say that big is just as beautiful."
Debbie Seaman in New York City