Although Pauline Trigère was born into a French family that seemed “tailor made” for fashion design or dressmaking, she never intended to be a clothing designer.
Fleeing the Sino-Russian War, Pauline’s parents opened a small tailor and clothing shop in Paris in 1905. As was common, a young Pauline assisted by picking pins up from the floor. By the time she was fifteen though, she had absorbed enough from her master tailor father and dressmaker mother to be an after school apprentice at Martial et Armond. Within three weeks she had learned all they had to teach.
She continued to work with her parents and brother making military uniforms for Russian aristocracy while selling her sketches and illustration pages to Paris fashion houses. She met and became lifelong friends with the American fashion designer Adele Simpson. Simpson introduced Pauline to Paris couture when they attended one of Jean Patou’s collections.
With the threat of a Nazi invasion of Paris during the Second World War increasing, Trigère left Paris in 1937 with her husband, Lazar Radley, her two small sons, her mother, and her brother Robert. Her father had passed away a few years earlier. Although her intended destination was Chili, she ruled it out after stopping in New York to visit family. New York would become her home.
Utilizing the skills she had gained in Paris, Trigère worked briefly for Ben Gershel where her friend Adele Simpson was a buyer before becoming one of Hattie Carnegie’s many protege’s. She was an assistant to Travis Banton before Carnegie closed her shop in fear of a fabric shortage after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Trigère found herself out of work during the Christmas season.
Pawning her diamonds for $800 and borrowing another $1500, she and her brother Robert opened their own designer clothes business in January of 1942. Her explanation for her new beginnings was, “I had to make a living to support my children.” She had said she was grateful for a small dress shop on Park Avenue named Polly’s who ordered eleven out of twelve dresses from her first collection.
Trigère quickly became a success and moved her salon into the old Hattie Carnegie loft on East Forth-Seventh Street. She would eventually house her showrooms at the fashion industry’s hub of Seventh Avenue.
Within three years she was a respected New York fashion designer who despite her sharp tongue and sardonic personality developed a faithful fan following.
Signature Pauline Trigère looks include the use of fur not only in coats and capes but in evening formal dresses and dress suits. Combining a simple yet elegant cut, Trigère coat’s were often wide lapeled, high waisted, and A lined affairs with one button closures. Fashion patterns included diamond checked plaids, houndstooth, window-pane checks, and tweeds. The cut and fit were always perfect.
Trademark evening wear for a Trigère design often featured a halter dress with bare shoulders, cutaway shoulder evening gowns, and dropped necklines preferred styles. Favored fabrics were peau de soie, pique cotton, silk, crepe, and satin. She frequently used paisley patterns, oriental designs, and leopard prints.
With her ability to master all aspects of 50s dress, Trigère branched out into the perfume, lingerie, and jewelry business. Known as the “Trigère Diamonds” she fashioned barrettes, pins, and necklaces of crystallized strontium titanate. When cut properly, her “diamonds” appeared real. She was most often seen with a diamond encrusted gold turtle attached to her lapel.
Trigère’s talent won her a Coty award in 1949 and again in 1951. She was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame in 1959. In the year 2000 Trigère was honored as one of the finest New York fashion designers with a bronze plaque along Seventh Avenue. This plaque-lined Avenue has been called “The Fashion Walk of Fame.”
Two years later and after enjoying a sixty year career, Pauline Trigère died at the age of 93.
The February 14, 2002 New York Times obituary for Pauline Trigère quotes her reply when asked if she was French as, “No, I am American. I found in this country everything I wanted. This country made me Pauline Trigère.