When Cecile Reinaud launched her label Séraphine 15 years ago, there wasn’t much of a maternity fashion scene to break into. “To be honest it was nonexistent,” she laughs. “Brands assumed that women would need baggier clothes, but they were badly cut. No one had thought about the fact that a woman might want a sexy pair of jeans while she was pregnant.”
Reinaud had started thinking about her business plan several years earlier, after witnessing the impact of Demi Moore’s now-iconic, bump-baring Vanity Fair cover and appreciating that stigmas around motherhood were changing. Where once women may have wanted to cover up their pregnant figures, the new generation wanted to maintain their personal sense of style, right up to their due date.
“She really was the first person to bring some sex appeal to being pregnant,” Reinaud says of Moore. “Before that, women generally felt embarrassed, or that they should be hiding their figure. In the last 15 years though, so much has changed. There is now a whole generation of career-driven women who are having their children whilst working, returning to work and even nursing when at work, and so workwear is one of our big markets now.”
Reinaud launched her label after inventing the UK’s first designer maternity jeans in 2002 - “great-fitting jeans in nice washes, but with a discreet band over the belly. It was the star product. It was before the internet so we started an old fashioned waiting list with people leaving their phone number.”
After starting with the essentials, Reinaud has gradually built Séraphine into a business on track to turn over £20 million this financial year, and a recipient of The Queen's Award for Enterprise. “I started with the essentials like jeans, then expanded each time we saw a new demand,” she explains. “Now the range is really broad, from maternity underwear to swimwear to a corporate wardrobe to ballgowns. The average woman now attends three weddings during her pregnancy, so people need something great to wear at these events.”
“The biggest part of our business now is selling dresses, because when it comes to denim we’re not the only brand doing maternity jeans anymore,” she continues. “From a dress, the customers want something stylish, flattering and versatile - you need to be able to style it up or down, because however many pieces you buy, your maternity wardrobe will never be as big as your normal one. The other successful things about our brand is the pricing. Even though we dress famous celebrities and royal families, an average dress is £55-£60.”
A pivotal moment for Séraphine came in 2013, when the Duchess of Cambridge wore the brand’s £49 Jolene Knot Front Dress for her first official family portrait after giving birth to Prince George, an image that made front pages around the world.
“That picture gave us a huge springboard and we became an internationally recognised brand because of it,” Reinaud says of the interest she received, particularly from American audiences who were infatuated with getting Kate’s look. “For me as an entrepreneur it gave me such a boost to think of this dream endorsement. I had to run with it.”
The timing, she reflects, was perfect, as the brand was approaching its 10 year anniversary, the business was profitable and an established production system was in place. When the picture was released, the dress sold out in two hours, but the team was able to swiftly restock making the style a staple in every collection going forward.
“We were prepared to an extent because we knew that she was our customer in the store,” Reinaud explains. “But you don’t know where and when something will be worn, or whether it will be in the public eye. We had read articles about what [the Kate effect] was doing for brands like L.K. Bennett and Reiss before us, so we were slightly aware that you need to be quick to react. We put an enormous amount of logistical work in to make the most of that opportunity.”
Since that first picture, the Duchess has returned to shop at Séraphine several times. Now expecting her third child, she was pictured earlier this month in the brand’s Marina coat, a piece that she had originally bought when pregnant with Princess Charlotte back in 2015 and had worn on a visit to New York with the Duke of Cambridge.
Look back at the Duchess of Cambridge's best maternity fashion moments
“To see her bring it back out was really nice because she’s just like any regular person - you have these pieces that you love and want to keep hold of,” Reinaud says. “On the third pregnancy, why shouldn’t you refer back to your clothes from the second? A lot of women have children two years apart or so, and they want to have these essential things that they can come back to again in their maternity wardrobe. It’s such an important factor for us when designing.”
Reinaud says that the biggest achievement, for her, is considering the diverse range of women that make up her clientele. From Holly Willoughby to Anne Hathaway, she’s managed to provide solutions for all tastes and all body shapes - no mean feat when dealing with customers who are expanding, breastfeeding, and trying to carry on as per. “Your body changes and it is a challenging time where you don’t know what to expect,” she says. “You need more than ever to feel empowered by a good wardrobe.”
“When I dress a rockstar like Gwen Stefani, who likes to wear leather pants, and someone like the Duchess of Cambridge who needs to be the epitome of elegance, I think I’ve covered a full spectrum of women. I feel proud that each person can recognise themselves in a part of the collection, but more importantly find something that suits them at a time when their body is changing and there is a lot going on.”