Pauline Trigère was born in Pigalle, a neighborhood in Paris, on November 4, 1908. Her parents, Alexandre Trigère, a tailor, and his wife Cecile, a dressmaker, were Jewish. Pauline, who was proficient in sewing by the age of ten and would often assist her mother, began designing clothing for herself in her early teens. Once of her first jobs was as a trainee cutter at the salon of Martial et Armand in the Place Vendôme, Paris. It was while working there that she met her future husband-to-be, Lazar Radley, a Russian Jewish tailor.
The pair had two sons before the family, accompanied by Pauline’s mother, left France due to increasing concerns about the rise of Hitler. The family settled in Manhattan in 1937 and Trigère found work first at Ben Gerschel, and then as an assistant to Travis Banton at Hattie Carnegie.
In 1942, Pauline established Trigère, Inc., managed by her brother Robert Trigère, in order to produce her own designs. Her brother took her first small collection of 12 custom-made dresses to department store buyers all across the country and by 1945, Trigère was a respected New York label. In the late 1940s she expanded her collection to include a ready-to-wear line.
In 1947, Mr. Radley walked out on the marriage, leaving his wife to bring up the two children. They were divorced a few short years later, and though Pauline had many meaningful relationships as the years passed, she never remarried.
In the tradition of couturiers Lanvin and Chanel, Trigère did not sketch her designs—she cut and draped from bolts of fabric right on the model or mannequin. Her exquisite draping, tailoring, and sophisticated bias cuts, all precisely fitted and often constructed with no obvious seams, were in high demand by the wealthy and the famous. Her signature design is the turtle, which can be found in many of her fabrics. Over time, her collection expanded to include a jewelry, fragrances, and accessories. Trigère’s work was forward-thinking and inventive in many ways: In the 1950s she was among the first designers to use cotton and wool in evening wear; In the 1960s she introduced the jumpsuit to the high-end fashion crowd, and; In 1967, she designed the first rhinestone covered bra. Trigère is also credited with creating the first reversible coat. Often outspoken and noted for her strong beliefs, she became the first well-known designer to employ an African American model. Despite industry backlash at her hiring of Beverly Valdes, she held firm against racist threats and finally the Memphis-based store at the heart of the matter relented.
Described by her peers as a truly intellectual designer, Trigère didn’t bother with either polite niceties or convention. Take, for instance, her fashion shows—while other designers would send a collection down the runway, only emerging as the last model took the stage, Trigère usually stood on stage describing each design as it appeared, sharing information with her notoriously sharp charm. Trigère is reputed to have practiced yoga decades before it became fashionable, standing on her head every morning to “bathe her brain.”
In addition to three Coty Awards and inclusion in the Coty Hall of Fame, Trigère received the National Cotton Award, as well as both the silver and the vermeil medals of the City of Paris. In 1992, Trigère celebrated her 50th anniversary in fashion with a benefit fashion show and dinner, seating 600 guests at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. The following year, Trigère received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and, in 2001 she was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor. She passed away in 2002.
“Fashion is what people tell you to wear, style is what comes from your own inner thing.” ~ Pauline Trigère
Wikipedia. (2017). Pauline Trigère. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_Trig%C3%A8re
Herman-Cohen, V. (2002). Pauline Trigere, 93; Fashion Designer Bridged Cultures. [Online]. Available: http://articles.latimes.com/2002/feb/15/local/me-trigere15
Nemy, E. (2002) Pauline Trigère, Exemplar of American Style, Dies at 93. [Online]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/14/nyregion/pauline-trigere-exemplar-of-american-style-dies-at-93.html
Petkanas, C. (2011) Fabulous Dead People | Pauline Trigère [Online]. Available: http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/fabulous-dead-people-pauline-trigere/?_r=0