The first BikiniNow here’s an obituary you wouldn’t think much about, “Louis Réard (1897 – 1984) was a French (of course!) automobile engineer…” until you read “… and inventor of the bikini.” Wait, of the what? Why aren’t there statues of this man at the entrance to every public beach on Earth? Louie will just have to settle for


It was said that Louis Reard had an eye for a classy chassis, which perhaps explains the man’s leap from designing cars to engineering bathing suits.

When Reard inherited his mother’s lingerie business near the world famous Follies Bergére in Paris, a whole new world opened for him. His mechanically trained eyes took notice of the design and construction of ladies’ undergarments and swimsuits, and he began marketing his own designs.

After World War 2, the world was breaking the grim mindset of war and annihilation with a burst of creative and physical freedom. Art grew bolder, and people were more honest about their pursuit of earthly pleasures. Seven devastating years of war proved life can be fleeting, and there was fun to be had while it lasted.

One result was the shrinking of women’s bathing suits, formerly clumsy body sleeves designed to disguise a woman’s assets rather than celebrate them. Reard entered a contest with fellow designer Jaques Heim to design the smallest bathing suit.

Heim thought he had it won with his “Atome” suit, a two piece whose bottom barely covered a woman’s navel. Turns out Reard was a bellybutton man, and on July 5, 1946 he hired nude dancer Micheline Bernardini to model his Bikini, and it was an instant sensation.

So was Mademoiselle Bernardini, who received 50,000 fan letters and countless proposals of marriage. Reard said of his own invention, “A bikini is not a bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring.”

•Suggested Activities: Appreciating genius

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