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Five years ago maternity shops were a fashion wasteland - awash in pink ruffles and cheap polyester. All maternity slacks came with ugly elastic panels in the belly. The hottest trend out there seemed to be the tent look. At the time Liz Lange was neither a mother nor a mother-to-be, but she did have a lot of pregnant friends, and as a lifelong clotheshorse she felt their pain.

"The fabrics were horrendous," she groans. "Everything out there was poorly made, oversized, with a big Peter Pan collar and a baby-doll style. It was almost as if they thought the woman was turning into a baby instead of having a baby."

Lange could not believe that women, given the choice, would take a nine-month break from good taste. A fashion designer and former Vogue editor, she decided to create a high-end line of simple,well-made maternity wear. In October 1997 she launched Liz Lange Maternity. Before long, women around the country - including such pregnant celebrities as Cindy Crawford and Jodie Foster - wanted the look.

Lange now has a staff of forty and a flagship boutique on Madison Avenue. There are Liz Lange stores in Beverly Hills and on Long Island, and one is scheduled to open in Dallas in the spring. She also has a Web site and twice-yearly catalog.

Her collection ranges from cashmere twinsets and pencil skirts to sleeveless shifts and pinstripe jackets. Her boot-leg jeans ($135) have an under-the-belly zip fly. A belted cardigan in extra-fine Italian merino wool is among the priciest items at $225. Lange designs every piece and tries on each style, both with and without a false stomach.

In addition to her own line, Lange creates maternity wear for Nike, including a $48 tank top embroidered with the "swoosh" logo. She has also designed a line for Target, bringing her style to less affluent mothers-to-be. And she even makes - gasp! - maternity wedding dresses.

Fictional characters, including Sex and the City's Miranda, played by Cynthia Nixon, are also Lange devotees. But while celebrities create a buzz, Lange says the appeal of her clothes is that pregnant women want to look stylish - and sexy. "I just see it as fashion," says Lange. "Yeah, she's pregnant, but that's incidental."





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