Designer's Genes

updated 12/22/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/22/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

Talk about paternal devotion. When Jennifer Nicholson had her first fashion show, in L.A. last October, dad Jack was in the first row—even though "I missed opening night of the Lakers," says the team's most famous fan. "But it was no contest. I wouldn't have missed my Jen's show for the world."

Dad isn't her only admirer. Since she began designing the edgy blouses, frocks and gowns she describes as "girly with an S&M feel," Jennifer, 40, has won a host of enthusiasts, including Nicky Hilton, Jennifer Tilly and Lisa Rinna. Nicholson's upbringing helped. As a girl, she was inspired by the distinct style of her father's girlfriends, Anjelica Houston and Michelle Phillips among them. And when she visited Dad (who was divorced from her mom, actress Sandra Knight, in 1967), "we did a lot of shopping," Nicholson recalls.

Always artistic, she tried acting before taking up design in 1999; she opened a boutique, Mlle. Pearl, in Santa Monica in 2001. Divorced from the father of her two sons (Sean, 7, and Duke, 4), Nicholson is thrilled to have found her niche. "I'm doing my own thing that has nothing to do with my father," she says. He does, however, intend to benefit. "I'll do my Christmas shopping at her store," Jack says. "I just hope I can persuade her to give me a little discount."

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