It’s a Sunday afternoon and the phone rings, a deep throaty voice with a magnificent French accent “Nena, Pauline….” it could not be anyone else! Most every Sunday for many years I would get this call and the same introduction. Always just a short hello and touch base for the week.
Sit back, pour yourself another cup of coffee or a glass of champagne this is a long one….
A treasured photo that hung on the “designer wall of fame” in my office. The criteria was that you had at least made a personal appearance in the Store. It is now part of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago and I am using it with their permission.
I was a very, very lucky gal to be able to work with the best of the best during my career at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago. I have done several posts of some of the designers I have worked with, I’m trying to do them in some order, not always working, I’m sorry to say, but that is my intent. Having done shows, personal appearances, etc,. with well over 150 fashion personalities we will have lots of time to explore their importance on fashion and, for the purpose of nena’snotes, on my life and career. Of course, there are those who impacted me more than others, Adolfo, Bill Blass, Bob Mackie, Oscar de la Renta, Norman Norell, Mark Heister, to highlight several that I worked with and admired most, and who became friends (sorry all others….loved almost all of you…those are other stories to be told!!) And for this post, Pauline Trigère.
When I began at Saks, Pauline was showing her collections at Millie B. Oppenheimer (located at 1300 North State Parkway in the old Ambassador Hotels) and worked with the dynamic Ellie Pope, one of the Chicago fashion icons. Since I was totally into knowing as much as I could about all the “name” designers, the name Pauline Trigère was totally familiar to me. We did carry her line in Chicago and, of course, in New York. I got to see her garments up close and personal when doing the annual St. Luke’s Fashion Show (now the annual Rush Medical Center Fashion Show) in which Oppenheimer always featured her garments. When Oppenheimer closed we were fortunate to have Pauline join us for personal appearances and formal fashion shows.
I have talked about going to the New York Fashion Weeks for many years and when I began the shows were primarily in the designer’s showrooms, Pauline never varied from this practice. Her shows were intimate (usually done over two days, two per day) and at the beginning of my attending the shows she commentated them, then she became a back of the house last minute check while a number or name of the garment was read. When she did shows for us in Chicago she always commentated the shows and her audiences loved her insightful comments…we sold her clothes like popcorn!!!
Maybe if we look very closely we can find me in the audience….this coat was very typical of the Trigère look (I remember having many conversations with her about her major regret of not “licensing” her coats. She wanted to keep complete control over her garments, rightly so.) You could always identify a Trigère garment it had her creativity all over it.
Her signature coat, it spells PAULINE TRIGÈRE! Two of my coats are in the Columbia College Chicago Fashion Study Collection, one in a royal purple mohair and the other in a cranberry wool with wide notched collar.
Let’s go back to the beginning of her story. Pauline was born in Paris, France in 1908 (some references say 1912) to Russian émigrés, Alexander, a tailor and Cecile, a dressmaker. She wanted to become a surgeon but instead at age 15 apprenticed with a Paris Couture house and afer a few days she was told that they couldn’t teach her any more than she already knew, she stayed a year when she returned to work for her parents where she had begun as a young girl picking up pins and scraps from the floor. Her first design was a party dress when she was in school it was made because there wasn’t money to buy one. .
At age 19 she married a another Russian immigrant and tailor, Lazar Radley with whom she had two sons, Jean-Pierre and Philippe. In 1937 she, her two sons, her brother and mother fled France with the intention of going to Chile. Instead, after having a layover in New York for 6 weeks and a trip to Detroit to visit an uncle, she decided to stay in New York (she has stated that she wouldn’t live anywhere but New York!). She knew no English and learned to speak by watching movies. She became a design assistant at Ben Gershel & Co. and then an assistant to Travis Banton at Hattie Carnetie (FYI Carnegie never had a woman designer, didn’t believe in them) from 1937 until 1941, leaving just after Pearl Harbor. She separated from her husband and opened her own company, the House of Trigère with her brother Robert in 1942, by 1945 she had a respected label and shall we say the rest is history!!!! Throughout her career she made clothes for a woman with an active lifestyle. She designed for herself and was always her best model. She planned her clothes to move with the wearer, using fluid jerseys, chiffon. Her forte was wool, and she loved working on the bias, using sheer wools for afternoon and evening gowns. She usually added a jacket, a full length coat or a cape to go with each dress, and as I mentioned, always cut her garments into the cloth rather than making a pattern or muslin. Pauline won every fashion award, the Coty 3 times and in 1982 the highest decoration of the City of Paris, La Medaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris.
In her workroom working on a garment draping and cutting into the fabric which she then turned over to her pattern maker…you are looking at a genius at work. Image from Pinterest, photo credit unknown.
The finale of one of her shows in her New York showroom. From Pinterest, photo credit unknown.
The finale of her 50th Anniversary Show 1992. The finale was a retrospective of her collections. It was a huge hit with the audience at a private club in Chicago. We did a show for the Club for many years. Photo courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago, www.colum.edu.
She was 5’4″ tall but gave the impression of being 8′ tall with her wonderful personality and unmatched talent. She draped and cut directly into the fabric, didn’t do a model she just DID IT!!! On one occasion I flew into New York to surprise her, she was doing a lecture/demonstration at FIT, I stayed at the back of the room and listened along with the students and guests to her explaining how to design while working on a dress, which she completed at the end of her talk. She looked up and saw me and the smile I got was worth the entire trip! She was thrilled that I thought enough of her to surprise her. I also attended her 50 Anniversary Gala, it was some party!!!!
She adored her home in Connectcut, La Tortue, so named because when she was looking at the property a giant turtle was basking in the sun on a big rock in the pond on the property. I once asked her about her love of turtles, she replied “I didn’t really love them but since the country home is named for them everyone gives me turtles…pins, boxes, paintings, etc.” so now I love them!” Her signature scarf is an abstract turtle print.
At home at La Tortue. Image from Pinterest photo credit unknown.
She adored entertaining at her New York apartment, which had a wonderous red room (think Diana Vreeland!!) and she often did the cooking (I’ve included one of her recipes at the end of this post). When I was in New York, which was at least twice a year sometimes more and I often spent my summer vacations there we would go to dinner in small neighborhood restaurants, always French and always delightful and beyond delicious.
Some stills from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Givenchy did all of Audrey Hepburn’s costumeas and Pauline Trigère did Patricia Neals! Neal’s character was the Trigère woman, elegant, self assured and moneyed, a perfect collaboration. Pinterest photos credit unknown.
She adored men and, in my opinion was quite the flirt in a totally charming way. When she was in Chicago for events I would oftens take her to dinner with some of my gentlemen friends and she found them delightful, so much so that they were invited to join me at her shows in New York on several occasions (on these trips we all stayed in a three bedroom suite at The Mark and would cross the street to the Cafe Carlyle to hear Bobby Short with much champagne and caviar…those were definitely the days). And did I mention the foyer of our suite was always filled with dozens of Cassablanca lillies…glorious! The guys loved going to the shows and were always treated royally by my designer friends…a totally different world from their businesses. She closed her ready-to-wear business in 1994 but continued to design her scarves and jewelry as well as produce her incredibly delicious fragrance. She also designed a collection for Gold Violin a line of accessories for seniors.
Her sketchbooks are housed at Kent State University in her dear friends, Jerry Silverman and Shannon Rogers Collection. Pauline Trigère gave the KSU Museum more than thirty dresses and ensembles, as well as sketchbooks spanning her entire career, from 1944 through 1994. The Trigère sketchbooks are currently housed in the June F. Mohler Fashion Library, located in Rockwell Hall, where they can be viewed by appointment. I visited the archives serveral years ago, they are amazing. In addition, the Pauline Trigère’s papers are held by Brandeis University Archives & Special Collections. And, of course, her work is part of every major costume collection in the world including our own Chicago History Museum Costume Collection, www.chicagohistory.org.
In her red room surrounded by items she created for Gold Violin. Pinterest photo credit unknown.
Pauline was always beautifully dressed, of course she was, coiffed and always, always, always wore a wonderful red lipstick and shaded glasses. She came to all our special shows, such as SFA/USA, our 50th anniversary Party in 1979 and the opening of the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Chicago Place in 1990. Also in 1990 she was an honored guest at the Fashion Group International of Chicago gala held in my honor at the Chicago Hilton…needness to say she was the life of the party!
From New York’s Designer Walk of Fame.
Pauline and Nena at the Mayfair Regent in the main floor lounge. I did many events coordinating with the then PR guru of the Hotel, Biba Roesch as well as many dinners in the Hotel’s Ciel Bleu restaurant, still miss it! This photo was taken at one of the breakfasts with designers we did. Informal get togethers with personalities who would share their stories….always fascinating. I think it’s time to do this again, any takers!!!!???? Photo courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.
Pauline remained active, with her great personal charm, French style and joie de vivre, into her 9th decade, she passed away in her sleep on Valentine’s Day 2002. Oh, how I miss those Sunday “Nena…Pauline” calls!!!!
FROM HELEN O’HAGAN’S COOKING IN STYLE COOKBOOK
PAULINE TRIGÈRE’S CRAB SOUP
2 cans celery soup (PT’s note any brand will do, NI’s note, I use Campbell’s)
1/2 can water or chicken bouillon
1 large onion, grated
Salt and white pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 pint heavy cream
1 pound crabmeat (preferrably fresh can be frozen not canned!!!)
1 cup light sherry
Chopped parsley for garnish
Put celery soup, water or bouillon and the very finely grated onion to heat in a saucepan. Add salt, white pepper and nutmeg. When warm, add the cream and crab, and the cup of sherry. Do not allow to boil, correct seasoning. Top with chopped fresh parsley. Serves 6.