A versatile designer, Trigère was an integral figure behind the development of the New York fashion industry. Her designs merged European craftsmanship with the contemporary American spirit.
The daughter of Russian immigrant parents, Trigère was born in the Pigalle district of Paris in 1908. She grew up behind her father’s Montmartre tailor shop, the place where, at a young age, she learned to cut and fit fabric. Although she did not recall having an early desire for working in fashion—initially preferring a career as an actress or surgeon—Trigère designed her first dress at the age of 14. While attending Collège Victor Hugo in Paris, Trigère was apprenticed at the couture house of Martial et Armand on the Place Vendôme. After graduating, she took work with the famous tailor and designer Monsieur Arnold, from whom she learned the fundamentals of draping and preparing muslins. With her brother Robert she went on to open a store at 19, Avenue de l’Opéra, which was quickly recognized for its chic suits and dresses. It was through her brother that Trigère met Russian-born tailor Lazar Radley, whom she married in 1929. Fearing the imminent threat posed by the rise of Nazi Germany, Trigère and her family left France bound for Chile in 1937. Their ship, however, stopped for a few days in New York, and, impressed by Bergdorf Goodman’s window displays and the other fashion splendours of Fifth Avenue, Trigère made the city her new home.
Trigère and Radley, partnered anew with her brother Robert, opened a small tailoring business on West 47th Street. Unfortunately, their marriage and new business came to an end in 1941. Following a brief stint working for Ben Gershel, Trigère earned a position as an assistant designer at Hattie Carnegie, where Norman Norell was also employed. However, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 prompted Hattie Carnegie to close down most of her workrooms, leaving Trigère unemployed. Months later, in 1942, Trigère partnered with her brother once more to start her own business in a work space she had rented from Hattie Carnegie. Consisting of just under a dozen dresses, Trigère’s first collection was personally advertised to retailers by her brother, who travelled by bus across the country to do so. In a time when World War II was interrupting the flow of fashion ideas from Europe, Trigère’s designs, which combined the luxury and craftsmanship of French fashion with a contemporary American vibe, were well received. Within three years her label had become a recognized name in fashion.
Trigère’s strength lay in her perfection in cut, while her designs were known for their elegance and restraint. She preferred to drape her fabric on a mannequin and to cut directly onto the model, eschewing the drafting of initial design sketches. Acting as her own principal model, Trigère wore only her own designs, decorating them with her signature turtle pins. Her most successful designs were wool evening dresses, capes, reversible double-face coats, empire coats, backless jumpsuits and little black dresses with sheer tops. She also succeeded in developing a thin wool fabric she called ‘Trigeen’, which was widely used in her designs.
In 1949, she won her first of three Coty Awards for design excellence, and in 1959 she was inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame. In 1961, Trigère was commissioned to design the costumes worn onscreen by actress Patricia Neal in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That same year she was among the first designers to hire a black model. A progressive thinker with strong convictions, she once ordered a customer out of her store when the woman refused to purchase a dress the black model was wearing. Steel-willed and outspoken, Trigère was as much known for her volatile personality as she was for her impeccable sense of style. In 1973, Trigère launched an eponymous signature fragrance, the bottle decorated with a gold turtle—her good luck charm.
In 1992, a ceremony at the Fashion Institute of Technology celebrated her 50th year in the business. Trigère Inc. closed its doors the following year in 1993. Despite her retirement from the fashion industry, she remained a prominent figure in the New York social scene and an exemplar of style until her death in 2002.