MORNING SICKNESS MAKES THEM QUEASY AND CRAVINGS drive them bananas. But for many mothers-to-be, a no less pressing problem is looking chic with a silhouette that’s, well, substantial. Lauren Sara, 34, a designer and mother of one, has been there. “You find juvenile prints, Peter Pan collars, ruffles,” says Sara with a grimace. Then there’s her pet peeve: dresses that tie in the back. “You’re out to here,” she says, “and you’re going to reach around and tie a bow?”
Sara’s solution: a line of maternity clothes (called M by Lauren Sara) that delivers both sophistication and style. Simplicity is the key. Working in fluid fabrics like jersey and crepe and sticking to a palette of dark tones and neutrals, her sleek, easy pieces (ranging in price from $150 for a tank dress to $500 for a strapless evening gown) are “a take on classic American sportswear,” she says. “This is not about gaining attention because you’re pregnant.”
That approach suits clients like Demi Moore, Annette Bening, Katie Couric and Inside Edition host Deborah Norville. “Lauren’s clothes are simply stylish,” says Norville, who is pregnant with her third child, due this fall. “They’re so elegant and comfortable,” echoes Natasha Richardson. “Lauren is really the Armani of the maternity world.”
Sara’s designs are not just for stars. For sale via an 800 number and mail-order catalog, several styles are also available to those who sew at home through Vogue Patterns. But all her clients, Sara says, have the same goal: “They’re women who need to look good every day. They’re financially more established and so is their sense of style.”
Born and raised in suburban Philadelphia, one of seven children (including her identical twin Beth) of a ceramist mother and a textile executive father, Sara first displayed her own sense of style when she was 8. Disdaining her Brownie uniform’s “mundane” look, she decided to shorten it six inches and trim it with black braiding. The move got her kicked out of the troop, but not before the fashion bug had bit. After graduating from Parsons School of Design in New York City in 1985, she worked as a design assistant to Calvin Klein and Cathy Hardwick.
In 1991, Sara went solo, selling her own line of sportswear to stores including Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. Three years later, Bergdorf’s then fashion director Ellin Saltzman asked Sara to design some maternity clothes for a customer, socialite Laura Tisch. Pleased with the results, Sara contacted other well-known expectant moms. “Paula Zahn called me [back] within 24 hours,” says Sara. “She proved to me there was a void.”
But when sales of her sportswear slumped the following year, Sara closed up shop and retreated to her antique-filled estate in suburban Philadelphia to spend more time with her husband, AAMCO Transmissions CEO Keith Morgan, 35, and their son Henry, 4. “Being a mother,” she says of her decision, “there were sacrifices I was never willing to make.”
But winning the prestigious Gold Coast consumer-choice award for designer of the year in 1995 catapulted her into the limelight—and ack into the fashion business. And not a moment too soon. “By that time,” Sara says, “my husband’s sock drawer was alphabetized.” Now, working out of a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., studio with a staff of 10, Sara is still somewhat surprised by her success, but she’s not complaining. “I want to be to maternity what Kleenex is to tissue,” she says.
ANNE LONGLEY in Bala Cynwyd