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Natty Threads

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Her father, reggae legend Bob Marley, sang about the pleasures of the “Mellow Mood,” but it seems Cedella Marley didn’t get the message. Already juggling two jobs—as a singer in a reggae band and CEO of the multimillion-dollar company that controls rights to her father’s music—with her roles as wife and mother, Marley still found herself “with a little bit of downtime” in the summer of 2000. So she created some funky clothes and asked a staffer to take them to a fashion trade show in Las Vegas. “I thought,” says Marley, “‘Why not see what the response is?'”

The response was terrific, so much so that Marley, 34, has added fashion designer to her list of titles. Her unabashedly ’70s creations—stretch crochet tops, corduroy jumpsuits and denim jackets with leather ruffles—have proven so popular that even before April’s launch of her Catch a Fire label (named after her dad’s first internationally released album) she was taking orders from singers Jill Scott and Gwen Stefani. Janet Jackson wore one of Marley’s metal belt buckles to the Vanity Fair Oscar part)’, and Lucy Liu sported her one-shoulder zebra-print top with bell sleeves on her Sex and the City appearance last August. “I love Cedella’s sense of color and creativity,” says talk show host Ananda Lewis. “She expresses herself through her clothing in a fun way you can’t resist.”

Which helps explain why it’s not only a handful of hip boutiques across the country that carries Marley’s clothes, but upscale stores including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. With Catch a Fire expected to spark sales of $3 to $5 million this year, Marley’s already thinking about launching a men’s line. “The clothes have a handcrafted look,” says Saks’s fashion market director Colleen Sherin, “that’s right on trend in terms of what’s happening right now.”

At heart, however, every item in Marley’s collection—from a $44 tank tee to a $1,000 leather patchwork coat—is a throwback to her father’s heyday. Some sleeves are trimmed in the red, green and yellow Rastafarian colors, and a series of T-shirts bears Bob Marley’s image. “I still wear a denim shirt of his,” Marley says. “I’m trying to copy it!”

As she was growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, Marley says, her father betrayed a surprising conventionality when it came to his oldest child. “He wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer,” she says. Married to Cedella’s mother, singer Rita Marley, 55, for 15 years, Bob had three other children with his wife—Ziggy, 33; Stephen, 30; and Stephanie, 27—and he adopted Rita’s daughter Sharon, 37. (All but Stephanie perform in the Grammy-winning Melody Makers.) Marley’s extramarital relationships resulted in seven more children, all of whom he invited into his home to live. “[My mother] Rita was accepting of everyone,” Cedella says. “There was a lot of love in the family.”

Marley calls her dad “a comedian” who “would run around the house in a Frankenstein mask trying to scare everybody.” The relaxed image he projected in performance carried over at home. “My mom was the disciplinarian because he couldn’t do it,” Marley says. “If he saw us get upset, we knew we were going to the ice-cream parlor!”

Her father’s death from cancer in 1981 at age 36 left Marley, then 13, bereft. For years she couldn’t watch his concert videos or listen to his music. “It was too upsetting,” she says. Ignoring his professional advice proved easier: Marley had started singing with the Melody Makers as a child, and in the early 1990s she moved to Hoboken, N.J., where her mother was living at the time.

Shortly after her arrival, Marley reconnected with childhood friend Danny Minto, 39, who was working as a construction supervisor in New Jersey. “We got attached to each other,” Minto says. They wed in 1993 and are raising their sons-Soul Rebel, 7 (named after a Bob Marley song), and Skip, 6 (for a Bob Marley nickname)—in a 6,000-sq.-ft. Miami mansion just 10 miles from her design studio. There, surrounded by photos of her father as well as his music, Marley pads about in bare feet, creating with the help of a design team samples that are shipped off for manufacture. “I don’t know if anybody’s life is perfect,” she says. “But right now, my life is perfect enough for me.”

Galina Espinoza

Linda Trischitta in Miami