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Trigère, Pauline (1912—)

Trigère, Pauline (1912—)

French-born American couturiere. Name variations: Pauline Trigere. Pronunciation: Tree-JAIR. Born on November 4, 1912, in Paris, France; daughter of Alexandre Trigère (a tailor) and Cécile (Coriene) Trigère; educated in Paris schools; attended Collège Jules Ferry; Collège Victor Hugo, B.A.; married Lazar Radley (a Russian-born tailor), in 1929 (separated 1941, eventually divorced); children: Jean-Pierre and Philippe.

Cofounded Trigère Inc. (1942); received numerous awards, including three Coty American Fashion Critics' Awards and induction into the Coty Fashion Hall of Fame (1959); named a chevalier of the Legion of Honor (2001).

The daughter of tailor Alexandre Trigère and Cécile Coriene Trigère , who often worked as a seamstress, Pauline Trigère was born in Paris on November 4, 1912. She and her family lived in quarters behind her father's tailoring business off Place Pigalle in the French capital. By age ten, Pauline had mastered the use of the family's Singer sewing machine, and she often helped her mother with custom tailoring jobs. Shortly after she entered her teens, she was making many of her own clothes, creating fashions that were much admired by her classmates.

After completing high school, Trigère studied for a time at Collège Jules Ferry and later at Collège Victor Hugo, from which she eventually earned a B.A. degree. She helped to finance these studies and herself after graduation by working in the Place Vendôme salon of Martial et Armand. There she learned the importance of construction and fabric choice, qualities that later would be the hallmarks of her designs.

Trigère married in 1929, a union that produced two sons, Jean-Pierre and Philippe, but was dissolved only a few years later. In 1937, she and her children joined her mother and brother in moving to the United States. For her first five years in New York, she worked for local fashion houses, including those of Hattie Carnegie and Ben Gershel. In 1942, with the help of her brother Robert and three sewing machines, she launched her own clothing-design business in a New York City loft. Her first line of designer clothing, completed soon thereafter, consisted of 12 women's outfits. Her brother packed Trigère's creations into a large suitcase that he trundled across the country by bus to show to buyers at leading department stores. Retail executives quickly bought up the collection, and her designs were such a hit that buyers soon began to make the pilgrimage to her tiny loft to see what else she might have to offer. Lacking adequate space and facilities, the designer was forced to hang some of her dresses and other creations from light fixtures.

It was clear that Trigère had truly arrived on the American fashion scene when, in 1949, she was named winner of Coty's seventh annual American Fashion Critics' Award. The citation on the award read: "For her high and original talent in fashion design … and for her imaginative ideas which have set major trends." This first Coty fashion award was quickly followed in 1950 by a Neiman-Marcus Award and a Return Award and a second Coty a year later. The Coty award was particularly coveted among contemporary fashion designers because it reflected a decision by a jury made up of the most influential fashion editors in the country.

In 1944, Trigère became an American citizen, declaring that the United States had been "wonderfully kind to me," and that "Despite my love for France, I have found my niche here." She was active for years in Democratic politics and served on fund-raising committees for such charitable organizations as the Damon Runyon Fund, the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, the Philharmonic Pension Fund, and the Visiting Nurses Service Association.

More recognition for Trigère's work came in 1959, when she won the Fashion Critics Award

for the third time, making her eligible for induction into the Coty Fashion Hall of Fame. Only three other American designers—Norman Norell, Claire McCardell , and John Galanos—previously had been so recognized. That same year, New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner presented her with the Cotton Award, the U.S. cotton industry's salute to the individual designer who has made the most innovative use of cotton during the previous year. "Cotton is a fabric to which you can talk," she said. "When it comes to designing, the fabric is my master. I can't draw, I can't paint, I can't even sew, but put a piece of fabric in my hands and magic happens." Trigère experiences "sheer joy from seeing something new coming out of a piece of material." One of her production assistants described Trigère's designing techniques: "She will put a bolt of material on a model and cut, just getting the feel of the cloth. I have never in my thirty-five years' experience seen another designer do this."

Although she is usually considered a conservative designer, noted especially for the reserved elegance of her clothes, Trigère is credited with the development of such fashion innovations as the sleeveless coat, the reversible coat, the mobile collar, and the spiral jacket. Only 16 years after its humble beginnings in a New York City loft, annual sales of Trigère Inc. had topped $2 million.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Trigère occupied a position at the forefront of American fashion, releasing some eighty outfits a year in four seasonal collections. Her views of matters of style and taste were closely followed by women throughout America and around the world. Although she made her fortune as a designer of clothes, she personally counseled women to buy fewer but longer-lasting garments. Every woman, she suggested, should have two suits, one black and one gray. Accessories, Trigère believed, were the key to expressing one's own individuality and personality. In line with the general air of restraint in her clothing, she recommended that fashion be approached with a degree of caution: "Just because a new hemline looks well on a model in a photograph," she observed, "there is no reason to think it will look well on you."

Fashion critics hailed as prophetic Trigère's 1960 collection, which included dresses and gowns with a pliant and distinctly medieval look. The following year, a number of the avantgarde designers, including Trigère, revived the high Empire bust line, marked by a sash or fabric band, which she called the "high-pitched" silhouette. She remained a significant presence on the American fashion scene in the 1970s, receiving the Silver Medal of the City of Paris in 1972, and in 1979 introduced an adaptation of the tuxedo for women's evening wear. In 1980, the designer showed she had lost none of her sense of humor over the years. At her spring show, she spoofed the revival of the mini-skirt by showing a collection of knee-baring designs which turned out to be Trigère designs from the 1960s. When the designer received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1993, she had kept her design firm in business for over 50 years, a unique accomplishment. In May 2001, at age 92, she was named a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government. A month later, Trigère attended the 20th annual American Fashion Awards in New York City, where she lives on Park Avenue.

sources:

Current Biography 1960. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1960.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

The New York Times. June 17, 2001.

suggested reading:

"Ageless Chic," in People Weekly. April 23, 2001.

Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania

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