Pauline Trigère (c.1909 - c.2001) MP

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death: Died in New York, NY, USA
Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
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About Pauline Trigère

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Pauline Trigere was one of the world's greatest fashion designers.

If Pauline Trigère’s only legacy were her grooming — the thin, perfectly drawn mouth; the magnificently shaped brows; the sculptured hair whooshed behind one ear — it would be quite enough. For brittle, Gallic chic she will always be the gold standard. You can still encounter the look in Paris if you know where to look (side streets in the far reaches of the 17th Arrondissement), but in New York the rigor, the discipline and the polish died when Pauline did, at age 93 in 2002.

As a designer of classy, frill-less ready-to-wear, Trigère’s toilette wasn’t useless to her. With her broomstick bearing, sensational arms (which she loved to show, teaching her customers to show theirs) and elegantly expressive hands freighted with rings as big as turnips, she was her own best model. “The clothes have to perform for me” is the way Trigère, who was born in Paris and grew up steps from Place Pigalle, usually put it.

With cut and form placed above ornament, her designs could be plain to the point of abstraction, but in a good way, like a straight pour of diamond checks for a 1950 mid-calf topper with neither collar nor belt nor a single button. At 5-foot-4, she felt she would have been happier and maybe even more alluring as a size 14. But she was a resolute 12, the better to wear her princess-line dresses, lavishly fur-tipped suits, coats with detachable scarves and black capes that reversed to shocking pink. After Pauline herself, it was perhaps Lena Horne and Dina Merrill who carried her clothes best. Anyway, you get the type.

It was a great day for American women who appreciated good, sustainable fashion but hadn’t the purse for it when Trigère and the Seventh Avenue manufacturer Abe Schrader ran into each other on the dance floor at El Morocco. The meeting resulted in a line of outerwear that delivered the muted fireworks of Trigère’s high-priced collection but at a gentler cost. With a sense of ceremony equal to the occasion and Pauline’s healthy sense of self-worth, each garment had a label sewn into the lining that read: “A Trigère Coat.”

You don’t have to spend the afternoon with Jean-Pierre Radley, one of Pauline’s two children, to know she could be forbidding and autocratic. Pictures of her by Horst and Scavullo and portraits by Kenneth Paul Block (in his book “Drawing Fashion”), Michael Volbracht (“Nothing Sacred”) and Joe Eula (“American Fashion”) tell you that. But Radley confirms it.

“She had, in a way, too tight a grip on everything. We had various licensing deals, for men’s sport shirts, sunglasses, bedding, plastic tableware. But the problem was she couldn’t leave those people alone,” says Radley, who ran his mother’s business for years before finally convincing her to fold it in 1994. “She’d say, ‘It’s my taste, my knowledge — what I’ve achieved means something and I don’t want it ruined!’ She would tell them how to train their salespeople and decorate their showrooms. So most of the deals lasted a year or two and then just fizzled out. I blame a good part of it on my mother. She couldn’t just let the money roll in.”

It was no easier being Trigère’s son than her CEO. “As usual,” Radley says, “having little faith in what other people might do for her, she took over La Grenouille for a black-tie dinner for 200 for her 90th birthday.” With a coquettish streak that might have been annoying in someone without her charisma, Pauline was the only woman at a table of 11 men, including Pat Moynihan, Schrader, her doctor and her consort, Julio Werthein, a wealthy Argentinian banker 10 years her junior who survives her. Press accounts suggest that their relationship was up and down. Two years after the big birthday fete, The Times reported that “until recently [Trigère] enjoyed the company of Julio Werthein.” The next year she told People magazine they’d been together since 1952.

“He’s a very nice man but lives very much in Argentina,” she deadpanned. Since moving to South America was a condition of marriage, she said, a wedding was off the table. Among Trigère’s personal effects, the family found the key to the room at the Pennsylvania Hotel where she and Werthein apparently had their first tryst. According to Radley, the only other men of significance in her life were his father, Lazar, and the jeweler Nino Bisso.

Lazar Radley was a Russian-Jewish emigre who fled Odessa for Paris, like Pauline’s parents. Both her father and her husband were tailors, her mother a dressmaker. Trigère père did contract work for Galeries Lafayette and Bon Marché in an atelier at one end of the family apartment; the living quarters were at the other end. Publicly, at least, Pauline nursed no regrets about Radley — they divorced in the early ’50s — thanking him only for getting them out of France in 1936 and onto the Normandy. Arriving in New York, “I was really a little housewife with two small children and I had a husband who really didn’t want his wife to work,” Trigère told Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel in a 1984 interview taped before an audience at Parsons and viewable in its entirety on YouTube. “He didn’t like the competition. That’s why I’m not married to him anymore.”

In her trademark, tortoise shell shades, a flaming red trouser suit with pumps and lipstick to match, Trigère gave a bravura performance, equal to the dream she had of Lauren Bacall portraying her. (The idea had undoubtedly come from Katharine Hepburn playing Chanel on Broadway.) Pauline spoke beautiful English with wonderful diction and a husky accent as thick and French as a bowl of garbure. That she was always bedeviled by contractions only added to the charm.

A PBS documentary on DVD follows the creation of her fall 1966 collection and covers some but not all of the same ground as the Parsons interview. Students of Trigère will want to consult both. One of her first jobs in New York was assisting the great Travis Banton at Hattie Carnegie, whom she disdained as having a low opinion of women designers, pointing to Carnegie’s hiring of not just Banton but also Norman Norell, Jean Louis and Bruno. When Trigère left Carnegie in 1941 “after something called Pearl Harbor,” she was making $65 a week. “It wasn’t too much money,” she said, “but it was $65 a week.”

The following year, she took over Carnegie’s lease, paying double the rent. In 1947, Radley, who worked for his wife’s company as an independent contractor, left home. “Just disappeared,” says their son. Running her own business had nothing to do with Trigère longing to be famous or having something new to say with crepe de Chine. “There was no drive because I wanted to become a great designer. … I had two small children and a mother, and we all had to eat. That’s the drive I had.”

As the owner of the Trigère name with his brother Philippe, Jean-Pierre Radley says it has “hardly any value today. By and large, people under 40 have never heard of her.” Carven can be revived but not Trigère? You have to wonder. In 2004, a canvas coat from 1973 with vinyl lapels and “Trigère” spelled out as part of the design brought almost $5,000 at Doyle New York.

Not to mention the rich marketing possibilities to be mined in Pauline, the personality, à la Chanel. Trigère practiced yoga decades before it became fashionable and stood on her head every morning to “bathe her brain.” Better than a facial, she liked to say. At 70 she did not hesitate to be photographed for a book without makeup and in curlers the size of Toulouse sausages. Staring hard in the mirror at the salon of the man who did her hair in the 1970s — Raymond Payne, a name lost to history, hairdressers having the half-life of a cicada — Pauline looks like she is trying to figure out how to push a big rock up a very steep hill. But unlike every other woman, and that would include Catherine Deneuve, she never had to make that dreaded coin toss between her face and her caboose. Both looked marvelous to the end. Source

    Pauline Trigère, the Paris-born designer who was not only her own best model but also an elegant and chic symbol of the American fashion industry for more than half a century. 

Fashion is what people tell you to wear, she often said. Style is what comes from your own inner thing. She herself was an exemplar of style, and was described by her peers as a truly intellectual designer and a creator of timeless fashion in ready-to-wear clothes.

Her 50th anniversary in fashion, a milestone reached by no other designer in this country, was celebrated in 1992 at a benefit fashion show and dinner at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. It was attended by 600 of the most influential names in design, manufacturing and retailing, as well as by scores of social and theater personalities who were both clients and friends. The following year, at a ceremony at Lincoln Center, Miss Trigère received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.  Source

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Pauline Trigère's Timeline

1909
November 5, 1909
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
2001
February 14, 2001
Age 91
New York, NY, USA
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