Louis Reard (ray-YARD) had this
problem. He had designed Something that would stir the masses. But
he needed a name for it, something exotic, bold, and eye opening.
Four days before he was to show the world his new bikini in
, the U.S. Military provided him with a name. They exploded a
nuclear device near several small islands in the Pacific known as
the "Bikini Atoll". On July 5th, 1945, he unveiled the
bikini. all though he would later claim he named the bikini after
the islands and not the atomic blast, he was clearly taking
advantage of a "hot topic". Another Frenchmen, Jacques
Heim, had created his own two piece bathing suit, which he called
"The Atome", and he described it as "The world's
smallest bathing suit.
Reard called his "Smaller than
the world's smallest bathing suit."
Reard's "bikini" was so
small, in fact, that no Parisian models at the time would wear it
on the runway. He hired Micheline Bernardini, who had no qualms
about strolling around in a bikini, seeing as her day job was a
nude dancer at the Casino de Paris. Bernardini was not what you'd
a classic beauty, but after photos of her in a reclining pose hit
the press, she was swamped with fan mail, close to 50,000 letters.
Two piece suits weren't new. As
part of wartime rationing, the U.S. Government, in 1943, ordered a
10 percent reduction in the fabric used in woman's swimwear. Off
went the skirt panel, and out came the bare midriff. At beaches
across the country, men paid special attention to women doing
their patriotic duty. But Reard pushed the envelope. He shrunk his
suit down to 30 inches of fabric - basically a bra top and two
inverted triangles of cloth connected by string - and put the
navel on center stage.
The world took notice. In Catholic
- The bikini was banned. Decency leagues pressured
to keep it out of the movies. One writer said it's a "two
piece bathing which reveals everything about a girl except for her
Mothers maiden name." Movie star Esther Williams who probably
was seen in a two piece bathing suit by more people than anyone in
the world, once said: "A bikini is a thoughtless act".
It's not clear whether she was
talking about the bikini or the thought of wearing one. Reard's
firm did it's part to fan the fantasies by proclaiming that a two
piece wasn't a bikini "unless it could pulled through a
wedding ring." In the '50's Brigitte Bardot did wonders for
business- But not in modest
. Here it remained an invitation to scandal. As recently as 1957,
Modern Girl magazine sniffed, "It is hardly necessary to
waste words over the so called bikini since it is inconceivable
that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing.
was ready for new frontiers, including, it seemed, great expanses
of bare flesh. That year pop singer Brian Hyland immortalized the
suit with his song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot
Bikini." Three years later "Beach Party", the first
in a series of Annette Funicello / Frankie Avalon flicks with a
recurring theme of women dancing in bikinis, hit the big screen.