On Thursday I was invited to attend a launch party at a chic venue in SoHo for the lingerie brand Triumph. It was a slightly unusual evening, because unlike some launch parties, Triumph isn’t a new brand at all. In fact, they’ve been one of the world’s foremost experts in lingerie since 1886. I’ve seen their bras available on some of the UK-based e-commerce sites, like Figleaves, but this year marks the first time Triumph will put down roots on U.S. soil, with two retail stores opening in Long Island in August, followed by the US e-commerce site in November. The event celebrated Triumph’s impressive history and showcased the Autumn/Winter 2013 collection that will launch at the end of this year.
The Triumph representatives I spoke with were all deeply excited about the US launch, and rightly so. The evening began with a tour around a display of some the garments from Triumph’s archives, beginning with corsets (including a “sports” corset, for horseback riding) and moving right on through each decade of the 20th century. I can’t lie: this was one of my favorite parts of the evening. As an unabashed lover of late 19th and early 20th fashions, getting the opportunity to see garments like this up close and personal was a huge treat.
As some of you have heard, Paris is currently playing host to an exhibition called “Behind the Seams: an Indiscreet Look at the Mechanics of Fashion” all about foundation garments through the centuries. I can’t even handle how badly I want to go see it, but it’s in, you know, Paris. There’s a bit of ocean between us. One of the items in the exhibition that intrigued me most was described as a maternity corset, with panels designed to accommodate a changing figure and breast-feeding, and lo and behold, Triumph brought one from their archives to me! Yep, that’s it, above. There are gathered side panels, flexible lace-up panels that can be unlaced to expand along with the body, and the top portion covering the bust is gathered so that it can easily be pulled down to allow for breast-feeding. It was such a treat to see such a rare piece of fashion history!
With the 1920s, of course, came newer, straighter silhouettes, along with the earliest bras. The girdle was worn low on the hips, de-emphasizing the waist, and the bust was held firmly against the chest, rather than behind lifted from below by a corset. I loved the delicacy of this set, with its radiating seams, fine net, and shining silk.
The 1930s brought about another silhouette shift, with a return to undergarments that created or emphasized a more hourglass shape. The bra was refined, with the band becoming slightly more rigid in order to lift and emphasize the bust. When we turned to the 1930s display, my jaw dropped. Can you see why?
Yeah. An open-bust bra. Indie and luxury designers like Playful Promises, Karolina Laskowska, Agent Provocateur, and Lascivious all design hugely popular, slightly scandalous open-bust or “quarter-cup” bras, but I had no idea they were around as early as the 1930s. I asked if this would have been considered a risqué or unusually daring item, and the response surprised me: not at all.
It probably belonged to a women from the upper-middle class, to be sure, but she would have worn several other undergarments with it as well, like slips and camisoles. There wasn’t as much concern about achieving a rounded or globelike shape (or about nipple-show-through in a t-shirt, for example), so a full cup wasn’t deemed necessary. This bra also featured some of the early appearances of details we take for granted, like elastic in the band (a small elasticized strip appears at the very back), an “underwire” (not a true underwire, obviously, but cups with a rigid base), and adjustable straps.
By the middle of the 20th century, lingerie has evolved into the shapes that are still popular today, and which indeed are even experiencing a bit of a revival thanks to unflagging interest in TV shows like Mad Men, as well as the pin-up, rockabilly, and burlesque lifestyles. Powermesh, lycra, elastic, and rubber have replaced the cotton coutil and steel bones of corsets, the bra is now cupped, and certain styles begin to feature underwires, particularly strapless bras, as more women embrace strapless dresses for evening wear.
Having access to these archival pieces really helped set the stage for the unveiling of the A/W 2013 collection on the next floor of the venue. Guests could trace design elements, core constructions, and even colors and shapes through Triumph’s history, watching as they evolve into contemporary shapes and styles. Triumph offers several different ranges, each with a unique feel, shape, and palette. They offer some molded cup bras made out of lovely spacer fabric, lace-covered and embroidered mesh bras that bask in their European routes, embellished collections for the holidays, and even their own take on shapewear.
Some of the more stand-out pieces on display were from a capsule collection designed for Triumph by supermodel Helena Christensen. These mores sophisticated, complex designs stood out from some of the other ranges, but they felt like a great fit for Triumph: sleek and sophisticated designs that seem both feminine and timeless.
My favorite was this beautiful set, consisting of a molded plunge bra and an open-bust shaping slip.
Open-bust slips are godsends for full-bust women– they’re much more accessible than pieces with built-in bras, as you don’t have to worry about sacrificing fit for fashion!
Finally, on the top floor, guests could walk on a beautiful rooftop terrace (although GOODNESS it’s been hot in New York, so I didn’t venture out) or sip drinks while waiting for personal fittings. I went for a fitting, even though I knew that most of Triumph’s fashion styles stop at a DD/E or F. They do make some styles going up to a European H, which translates to a UK FF, and which the fitter sought valiantly to convince me fit well. They did not. It didn’t make them any less lovely though.
While I might wish some of the girlier, more fashion-focused styles were carried in the full size range, I think Triumph is poised to bring some really pretty new choices to the American lingerie consumer. Even the simplest pieces offer something a little different, a little special: the shapewear features aloe vera embedded into the fabric for comfort, and is designed to coordinate with the bras and accessories. Multiple shapes of bras and knickers are available, there are padded, non-padded and wire-free bras, and the boutiques will all offer in-store fittings and style consultations. I’m looking forward to seeing the full collection once Triumph’s e-commerce site goes live, and I’m interested to see where Triumph finds its niche in the American market. The size ranges strike me as being pretty limited: some bras are only available in 32-38 B-D, F cups are only available in some styles, and even then only in 36 bands and up, and accessories are sized S-XL. I do think Triumph is poised to offer women in the U.S. beautiful, elegant lingerie at a moderate price point– Triumph feels like a good mid-way point, both in terms of price and design, between a more “basic” brand, like Wacoal, and some of the pricier European brands like Empreinte or Aubade.
Have you tried a Triumph bra before? What do you think of the styles?