Born: Paris, 4 November 1912; immigrated to the U.S., 1937, naturalized, 1942. Education: Jules Ferry and Victor Hugo Colleges, Paris, 1923-28. Family: Married Lazar Radley, 1929 (separated); children: Jean-Pierre, Philippe. Career: Trainee clothing cutter, Martial et Armand, Paris, 1928-29; assistant cutter, fitter, in father's tailoring business, Paris, 1929-32; freelance designer, Paris, 1933-36; design assistant, Ben Gershel, New York, 1937; assistant to Travis Banton, Hattie Carnegie fashion house, New York, 1937-42; cofounder/designer, House of Trigére, from 1942; one of the original cofounders of the Council of Fashion Designers Association, 1962; closed firm, 1993; launched jewelry collection, 1994; introduced fragrance, Liquid Chic, circa 1995; retired 1997; worked for various charities, including Citymeals-on-Wheels; launched accessories line with Gold Violin web company, 2000. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics
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I've always found it difficult to talk or write about FASHION. I think FASHION—clothes, garments—should be enjoyed and worn, and certainly fill a certain purpose in one's life… I love my work, I love designing, I love folding, draping, molding the fabric in my hands and producing new shapes, new designs.
I have never gone up-up, or down-down like a yo-yo. I have tried to keep my women, my customers, happy in their Trigére clothes— hoping they bought them and wore them with pleasure, and that they were right for their lives—PTA, business meetings, concerts, theater, etc. In thinking back, I don't think that I would have enjoyed anything else but doing collection after collection, four to five times a year…(oh yes, maybe I could have been an architect, or most certainly a surgeon…).
Pauline Trigére was more than a designer of women's clothing, she was a fabric artisan. Trigére left her native France in 1937 and arrived in New York with practical training gathered from her parents' tailoring shop and the Parisian couture house of Martial et Armand, plus a natural talent for working with fabric. She started her own business in 1942 with a collection of just 12 dresses. During World War II, when the American fashion industry was cut off from inspiration normally coming from Paris, Trigére's combination of French elegance and American practicality proved successful. Her constant commitment to excellent design and workmanship kept her in business for 60 years.
During the 1940s Trigére become known especially for her impeccable and imaginative tailoring of women's suits and coats. She made use of all weights of wool, from sheer crêpes for eveningwear to thick tweeds for daytime coats. She was recognized early in her career as an innovator for such fashions as evening dresses made of wool or cotton, reversible coats and capes in all shapes and sizes. Another characteristic Trigére feature is the luxurious touch of fur trim at necklines, cuffs, and hems. Before the 1960s, her palette was fairly subdued and she rarely used printed fabrics; during the 1960s and 1970s she began to use more prints and softer fabrics, always retaining a tailored touch. Her use of prints is bold and deliberate, the pattern is often used to complement the structure of the piece. Notwithstanding her extensive use of wool and tailoring techniques, Trigére's clothing has always been unmistakably feminine.
While she was an acknowledged innovator of fashions, she was also known for repeating and perfecting her most successful themes. For example, her princess line dress has consistently been considered to have no equal, and her rhinestone bra top, first introduced in 1967, was revived in 1985 and again in 1992. Throughout the evolution of fashion in the six decades, Trigére worked within the mainstream while retaining her signature style. Simple elegance and timelessness are descriptions often applied to her work, but style was not her only concern. She insisted on the highest quality of materials to assure her clothing served her customers for years to come. Her collections were carefully planned so many pieces worked together, and complement past seasons' collections.
Trigére's work has been compared to that of two legendary French couturiers, Cristobal Balenciaga and Madeleine Vionnet. These designers were known for employing complex and unusual construction techniques to create simple, elegant silhouettes. Trigére herself rarely sketched her ideas; like Balenciaga and Vionnet she designed by draping and cutting the actual fabric on a dress form or live model. The fabric itself is an important part of Trigére's design process; it is her inspiration and her guide as it reveals what it is capable of doing. Trigére's continued involvement with the creative process and her insistence on quality made her unique on New York's Seventh Avenue.
Though she officially retired in 1997 at age 85, amazingly, Pauline Trigére was still going strong in the 21st century. In her 90s, she organized benefits, was inducted into the New York Fashion Walk of Fame, and launched an accessories line for seniors with Internet company Gold Violin in 2000. Time finally caught up with Trigére in February 2002 when the 93-year-old died at her New York City home; in true Trigére style she has asked to be cremated wearing her trademark red lipstick.
—Melinda L. Watt;
updated by Nelly Rhodes