July 5, 2024

78 years ago today, on July 5, 1946, Louis Réard introduced his two-piece swimsuit design to the press and the public at the Piscine Molitor, a popular public pool in Paris. The swimsuit was modeled by Micheline Bernardini, an “exotic dancer” who worked at the Casino de Paris, because more reputable models refused to wear the suit, which consisted of just four triangles of fabric, totalling about 30 square inches.

There had been two-piece swimsuits before. Just a few months earlier, Ii May 1946, Jacques Heim produced a two-piece swimsuit that he named the “Atome.” Heim hired skywriters to fly above the Mediterranean coast advertising the Atome as “the world’s smallest bathing suit.” Réard’s swimsuit was more daring because it was smaller, and for the first time exposed the wearer’s navel.

Réard introduced his design four days after the first test of a nuclear weapon at the Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946. The newspapers were full of news about it and Réard wanted to capitalize on the publicity so he named is suit the “bikini.” Réard, with an obvious flair for marketing, hired his own skywriters to fly over the French Riviera advertising his design as “smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.”  In the 1950’s Réard advertised that it wasn’t a true bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.”

Less than two weeks from its introduction, Réard applied for French Design protection on his “Costume de bain 2 pièces.” The design was published as 31778 in Volume 374, pages 23-25, on December 17, 1946, and he received Reg. No. 35473-004.

It took a few years for society to catch up to Réard’s daring design, but by the 1960’s the bikini was mainstream. In August 1960, Brian Hyland famously sang about the “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikiini.”

Réard opened a bikini shop in Paris and sold swimsuits until he retired in 1980 and moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he died in 1984 at the age of 87.

An interesting side note is that Louis Réard was a mechanical engineer who took over his mother’s lingerie business in about 1940 and became a clothing designer.