Trigere, Pauline

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TRIGERE, PAULINE (1908–2002), U.S. fashion designer. Trigere was born in Paris to parents who had emigrated there from Russia. As a child, she thought about becoming a doctor, but her father, Alexandre, a tailor, and mother, Cecile, a seamstress, persuaded her to learn dressmaking. She studied at Victor Hugo College, designed her own party dresses, and at 19 married Lazar Radley, a Russian-born tailor. Trigere and her brother, Robert, opened a store in Paris that became known for its smart suits and dresses, but in 1937, the looming Nazi threat forced Trigere and her family to head for New York City. In 1941, she and her husband separated, eventually to divorce. To support her two sons, she took a job as an assistant designer at Hattie *Carnegie for $65 a week. In 1942, with her brother, she opened her own business with an 11-piece collection. Her strength was being able to make dresses in the French style: instead of sketching a garment, she would actually cut the fabric to shape while it was draped on the model, wielding her scissors like a sword. It was a skill she was able to demonstrate for the rest of her life. Trigere was among the first to use common fabrics like cotton and wool in evening wear. She developed a thin wool called Trigeen that she used for 50 years. Her clothes, which combined elegance with practicality, were sold in the finest stores and became popular with such style icons as the Duchess of Windsor and Bette Davis. Trigere became known for her reversible capes and coats, and her jumpsuits, which became a fashion staple in the 1960s. In 1949 she won the first of three Coty Awards and in 1959 was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. In 1961 she was among the first major U.S. designers to hire an African-American model for an important runway show. She was honored by the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1992 on the 50th anniversary of her company. A year later, she closed the business, citing increasing retail consolidation as a reason. Its volume had peaked about a decade earlier at some $5 million. More honors followed: a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, induction into the Fashion Industry Walk of Fame and the French Legion of Honor. In 2001, Trigere – then 92 – went into a new business with an online retailer, designing accessories for older people: canes, pill boxes, cases for eyeglasses, and hearing aids. Although her clothes had become collectibles, she had never licensed out her name, something she said she regretted. She was a fiercely independent woman whose individual sense of style was evident not only in the clothes she designed, but in the life she lived. She learned English by sitting through multiple showings of Hollywood movies, collected turtles, practiced yoga, and never hesitated to speak her mind.

[Mort Sheinman (2nd ed.)]