Focus groups, nude oil paintings, and sex therapy: these are some of the requests fulfilled by maternity guru Rosie Pope, whose design and concierge business caters to every whim and desire of her clients, the extremely well-heeled moms-to-be of Manhattan.
Pope, who stars in Bravo’s addictive—and unexpectedly poignant—reality-TV series Pregnant in Heels (Tuesdays at 10 p.m.), is a bit of a cottage industry. The founder of Rosie Pope Maternity, a couture maternity store/lifestyle brand based on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the British-born only child of a ballet dancer (her father) and a scientist/doctor (her mother) has taken her love of children and motherhood to a new level, launching a clothing line, a bricks-and-mortar shop, an education studio, and a hands-on concierge service for her most demanding clients.
“The most outlandish request was designing a couture gown for a lady to give birth in,” said Pope, speaking to The Daily Beast. “That she was that concerned about what she looked like the second that baby came out was quite insane.”
Make no mistake: Pope’s clients are often approaching motherhood as though it’s an Olympic event and they’re competing with every other woman on the planet. One couple asked Pope to help “brand” their third child’s name; another wanted her to throw an elaborate baby shower complete with a maternity runway show.
As for Pope, her background doesn’t immediately scream baby expert. A former baroness (her mother renounced the title about 10 years ago “for political reasons”), Pope arrived in New York as a fashion model and ballet dancer and briefly studied neuroscience at Columbia University (“I loved doing the research but it wasn’t making me happy,” she said) while working at maternity chain A Pea in the Pod. Her husband Daron suggested that she might go into maternity design herself at one point.
“I don’t think I spoke to him for two weeks after that; I thought he was completely insensitive and insane,” Pope said. “It astounded me that everybody who came into the store felt like they had to come but didn’t enjoy it. I decided he was on to something.”
“Apparently, everyone thinks I’m deaf or I have a speech impediment,” said Pope.
Her store offers not only cutting-edge maternity fashion, but also a welcoming environment that includes cupcakes, mocktails, and gangsta rap, if the mood strikes. “Every day is a baby shower at Rosie Pope Maternity,” she said. As for her design ethos, it’s a simple one: “If you wouldn’t wear it before you were pregnant, don’t wear it now,” she said.
“People shopping for maternity clothes suddenly allow themselves to wear things they would never wear before—bows on their bums, polka-dots, or horrendous patterns… I like to look at what’s going on in women’s fashion in general and translate that into styles that will work on a pregnant form.” The result is fashion-forward clothing that women would want to wear, whether pregnant or not.
While Pope’s Bravo show demonstrates her pulling off elaborate and often bizarre requests with a good deal of humor and British can-do spirit, Pregnant in Heels has a serious undercurrent as it follows Pope’s struggles to conceive a second child (her adorably blond first son, J.R., is 3). Born with a heart-shaped uterus, Pope underwent IVF treatments on-camera, and when she finally became pregnant, her joy was replaced by horror when she learned that the embryo was lodged in her fallopian tube. In a moment of brutal realism that’s vastly removed from the egocentric demands of her clients, Pope was forced to terminate the pregnancy via chemotherapy and, when that didn’t take, have the embryo and one of her tubes surgically removed. (Fortunately, there is a happy ending, as the couple was blessed with a second child, Wellington, earlier this year.)
“One of the reasons I decided to do the show in the end was because we were going to tell that story,” said Pope. “People come to me, not for clothes or classes, but because I tend to be a person that they can just talk to. I believe I’m good at what I do because of what I’ve been through. It’s a sick twist of fate that I’ve had to go through all of these struggles to become pregnant, but it’s made me appreciate both being pregnant and being a parent much more.”
“I felt not telling my story just paints a picture of reality that isn’t true: the perfect couple with this perfect business,” she continued. “That was not what was going on… Despite society’s obsession with pregnancy, nobody is talking about the darker side, the more difficult side, and I wanted to be the person who brought it into the light… I didn’t know the story was going to be quite as involved as it became. But I definitely don’t regret doing it.”
In fact, the decision to include this struggle is in keeping with Pope’s focus on education. Last year she opened MomPrep, a studio offering prenatal, postpartum, and fitness classes. “Just as much as the clothes, the education part of becoming a mom is just as hokey and old-school,” said Pope. “If you’ve ever taken a class at a hospital for Lamaze, it’s in a nasty, old room and they put you down on the floor and tell you to hunker down and breathe and give birth. If that’s not your cup of tea, there’s nowhere else to go.”
Pope said that her education clients are typically women who wanted all of the facts to be able to make informed decisions, women like her friends who maybe didn’t have the skills that their mother’s or grandmother’s generations did.
“I think our generation is a little bit unprepared,” said Pope. “I think we’re missing this generation of women in our lives and in our families that know how to take care of children. We’re also spread across different states and different countries. It’s not that they’ve lost that female instinct; it’s that we’ve lost those women in our families that can teach us all of those skills.”
While Pregnant in Heels has become a buzzed-about show within Bravo’s stable of reality programming—and has grown as the season has gone on—it’s also become a bit of a parlor game for viewers to puzzle out whether Pope has a speech impediment. Pope and the show were recently the target for a Saturday Night Live sketch that featured an exaggeratingly lisping Pope and her wiglet-wearing assistant, LT. (“Well, I was born in England and then moved to America,” Abby Elliot said as Pope. “And every morning, a thousand bees sting my tongue.”) Pope, however, seemed to be flattered by the attention.
“Apparently, everyone thinks I’m deaf or I have a speech impediment, which I think is kind of awesome that that’s the most negative thing people have to say,” said Pope. “It’s just really funny with everything else that’s happening on the show—I’m being injected in the butt with IVF medication—what people are being really obsessed about is the fact that I might I have a lisp. I didn’t even know I had one!”
Jace Lacob is The Daily Beast's TV Columnist. As a freelance writer, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, TV Week, and others. Jace is the founder of television criticism and analysis website Televisionary and can be found on Twitter. He is a member of the Television Critics Association.