This week my series on Mad Men-era designer patterns continues with four designers who established their labels between the early 1940s and 1950: Jacques Griffe, Pauline Trigère, Pierre Balmain, and Pierre Cardin.
Jacques Griffe (1917-1974)
Jacques Griffe was born in the medieval city of Carcassonne, France. After two apprenticeships, first with a tailor and then with a local dressmaker, he worked as a cutter for Vionnet until the house’s closure in 1939. Griffe established his own house in 1942. During the later 1940s he also worked as assistant to Molyneux and moved into Molyneux’s salon after the couturier’s 1950 retirement. Griffe himself retired in 1968. As may be expected from a designer who worked with Vionnet, Griffe was known for the cut and drape of his garments.
Vogue 1264 is a pattern for a dress and matching coat. (Click here to see back views.) The slim dress, which buttons at the left shoulder, has front princess seams and concealed pockets; an optional half belt ties at the back. The coat with cowl back and seven-eighths sleeves is the ensemble’s centrepiece. The cowl is created by an applied shoulder yoke that ties in front like a scarf:
Pauline Trigère (1908-2002)
Pauline Trigère is unique among this week’s designers in that, despite being Parisian by birth, she established an American label rather than a French couture house. Born in Pigalle to Russian-Jewish parents—a dressmaker and tailor in whose shop she worked as a child—Trigère worked as a cutter at Martial et Armand before emigrating to New York City in 1937. She founded her own label in 1943. Like Vionnet before her, Trigère designed using the draping method. According to her New York Times obituary, she was the first designer to use an African-American model, in 1961. Trigère stayed with McCall’s through the 1960s when most of McCall’s designers were moving their licensing agreements to Vogue Patterns. She continued to design clothing collections until 1994. If you’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) you’ve seen some of Pauline Trigère’s work: Patricia Neal’s character was dressed entirely in Trigère designs.
McCall’s 6599, an evening dress with side drape and ribbon belt, dates to 1962. I have this one in my collection. There are grander ’60s Trigère patterns, but I find McCall’s 6599 epitomizes the elegant simplicity for which the designer was famous. The bodice has French darts, and the side drape (which may be faced with contrast fabric) is sewn to the dress front, with an opening at the waist for the ribbon belt:
Pierre Balmain spent a year studying architecture before beginning his fashion career at the houses of Robert Piguet and Molyneux in the 1930s. Before and during the Second World War he worked at the house of Lucien Lelong, where Christian Dior was a fellow employee. Pierre Balmain established the house of Balmain in 1945, and soon became one of the most successful designers of the New Look. He remained chief designer for the house until his death in the early 1980s. Balmain’s architectural training shows in his emphasis on simplicity, form, and perfect construction.
Vogue 1340, modelled by Maggie Eckhardt, is another short evening dress. The dart-fitted dress has cap sleeves, a straight front neckline that dips into a low cowl back, and a curved belt at the raised waist. I love how the belt, cowl and front neckline create a series of curves that undulate around the body:
Pierre Cardin (1922-)
Born in Venice as Pietro Cardini, Pierre Cardin is well-known as a brilliant businessman as well as a fashion innovator. Like Balmain, he studied architecture briefly before turning to a career in fashion. He worked at a number of major houses including Paquin, Schiaparelli, and Dior, where he was head of the tailoring (coat and suit) atelier. The house of Pierre Cardin was established in 1950. Cardin moved his pattern licensing from McCall’s to Vogue in the early 1960s. (See my earlier post for an image of a Cardin/McCall’s pattern from 1960.) Even before his 1964 Space Age or ‘Cosmocorps’ collection, which presented the futuristic sixties look most associated with Cardin today, he was known for his architectural, sculpted garments.
Vogue 1278 is a perfect little skirt suit. The slim skirt falls just below the knee, and the belted jacket has three-quarter sleeves and a link-button closure below the broad, pointed collar. The photograph shows the suit made up in what looks like a stiff, textured wool that accentuates the jacket’s forms:
(Where is Givenchy, you ask? In the early 1960s Hubert de Givenchy seems to have taken a break from pattern licensing. I have seen only one early ’60s Givenchy pattern, and Givenchy’s last set of patterns for McCall’s—four designs for Audrey Hepburn in “How to Steal a Million” (1966)—falls outside our period. You can see Fuzzylizzie’s post on the 1966 patterns here.)
Although I’m organizing designers strictly by the date each founded his or her business, this week’s designers happen to fall into two camps: the first two are drapers (both of whom worked as cutters for venerable Paris couture houses), and the last two are former architecture students. It’s interesting to see evidence of their training in their designs.
Next: London’s Old Guard: Ronald Paterson, John Cavanagh, Michael, and Molyneux.