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From Scandalous Outfit to Must-Have - the Bikini celebrates its 60th Anniversary
 
On 5 July 1946 the Molitor swimming pool in Paris was the scene of a scandal. As part of a beauty contest nude dancer Micheline Bernardini presented the bikini designed by engineer Louis Réard – since “decent“ models had refused to do so. An invention that entailed a wave of moral indignation and thereby proved to be just as “explosive“ for society as the first nuclear-bomb test after WWII carried out by the Americans over the lagoon of the Bikini atoll shortly before. 60 years later the bikini celebrates itsanniversary embodying female sex appeal as scarcely any other garment does today.
 
It would not have taken much and womankind would have romped about the world’s beaches in a two-piece suit referred to as the “atom” instead of the bikini. Because this was the name by which Paris couturier Jacques Heim extoled a garment he had developed in early summer 1946. His slogan was: “The world’s smallest swim suit.“ However, the more business-minded Louis Réard landed the real coup on 5 July 1946 when staging his beauty contest at the Molitor and presenting a garment that was “even smaller then the world’s smallest swimsuit.” And this although – or probably because – famous models had refused to present the bikini and even the stripper Bernadini in an interview later admitted to having made her appearance not without some trepidation. The presentation generated enormous publicity and 18 July 1946 saw Réard file a patent on his invention.

As big as the bang caused by Réard’s bikini (printed with newspaper clippings and tiny even by today’s standards) -its invention was only a matter of time. Two-piece swimsuits had already featured in some Hollywood movies as early as the late 30s.

BUT: The navel had never been shown – according to the Hays Production Code actresses were even officially prohibited from revealing their navel to rolling cameras in the USA. It took quite a bit of courage to wear swimwear so revealing that the navel became visible when arms were stretched upwards. So this was the actual revolution triggered by former automobile engineer Réard, who had set himself the goal of selling beach and swimwear to well-heeled customers since the 30s.

As big as the bang caused by Réard’s bikini (printed with newspaper clippings and tiny even by today’s standards) -its invention was only a matter of time. Two-piece swimsuits had already featured in some Hollywood movies as early as the late 30s.
 
 
BUT: The navel had never been shown – according to the Hays Production Code actresses were even officially prohibited from revealing their navel to rolling cameras
in the USA. It took quite a bit of courage to wear swimwear so revealing that the navel became visible when arms were stretched upwards. So this was the actual revolution triggered by former automobile engineer Réard, who had set himself the goal of selling beach and swimwear to well-heeled customers since the 30s.

The media hype, however, not only generated the hoped-for mega sales. The bikini was too “offensive“ and broke too many taboos, which is why Réard had to design most follow-up styles in a far less “revealing” cut in order to boost sales. The moral backlash reached its climax with a Church ban on bikinis in Italy, Spain and Portugal. In Rio de Janeiro opponents joined forces in an anti-bikini society in 1947 and even the French, otherwise quite open-minded to fashion innovations, took several years before they accepted that “little bit of nothing”. With her appearance in “And God created Woman” Brigitte Bardot substantially contributed to whetting the masses’ appetite for bikinis. She at least made sure that the Côte d’Azur suffered from transitional supply bottlenecks. After Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth posed in bikinis for photo shoots and Jayne Mansfield featured on the cover of the otherwise conservative Life Magazine in the hitherto “disreputable” 2-piece suit, this style also became socially accepted in the USA.

In German-speaking countries, however, the situation was different. In 1957 the
magazine “Das moderne Mädchen“ (The Modern Girl) still read as follows: “We don’t need to waste any words on the so-called bikini. After all, it is unthinkable that a decent girl with tact would ever wear such a thing.” Even eight years later a Munich student was punished to 6 days’ cleaning work at an old people’s home because she had strolled across the central Viktualienmarkt square –dressed in nothing but a bikini. Nonetheless, the 2-piece swimsuit also gained ground here in Germany in the 60s, not least because of Ursula Andress’ unforgettable appearance in “James Bond Vs Dr. No“ in 1962. 40 years later Halle Berry 40 re-interpreted this scene in “Die another Day“. 60s chart hits like “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny“ are clear evidence: the bikini has “arrived” and is accepted.

A long journey indeed from its initial debut 60 years ago to the generally and globally accepted, indispensable “backbone” of beachwear it has become today! Especially considering that as early as 44 BC a 2-piece suit was depicted on an Attic bowl and that the precursors of the bikini featured in ancient wall paintings and in an ancient mosaic at the Villa del Casale in the Sicilian mountain village of Piazza Armerina in the 4th century AD. This is why the proverb “Slow and Steady wins the Race” applies to the bikini more than to any other garment!