2 juill. 2015


In my first post, we saw that two-piece bikini-like garments were worn by women for athletic purposes in Ancient Greece, as far back as 1 400 BC.  It seemed like a natural thing that, even in these times : design followed function.  But it was not as simple as that.  You know the adage : other times, other morals.  What seems natural in some societies is often inadmissible or licentious in others, even in our world that we call the "global village".  The way different peoples see things depends of who (political authorities, interest group, etc) has the power to rule the society.

In occidental countries, the Catholic Church had such a powerful influence up until the middle of the last century, that it could determine what was right and what was wrong.  Kings, dictators, or even democratic leaders could not govern without the advices or the rules imposed by the religious authorities.  In the fist two millenniums of our era, as a citizen or an inhabitant of a christian country, you were not allowed to do or say something that the priests and the Pope would condemn.  They hold the truth and nobody could challenge them on almost any question even for matters, like those related to sciences, they did not have the competence to understand or judge.  They would even threaten, imprison, torture or kill people who did'nt agree with them on some conflicting issues.

For examples, great discoverers like Copernicus and Galileo were forced by the Church to deny their brilliant theories about the earth, because these findings went against the dogmatic views or the superstitions of the christian religion.  Galileo was found guilty of heresy even if he provided evidence for his heliocentric theory by using a telescope.  Later, when Charles Darwin elaborated his theory of the evolution, it was impossible for the Catholic Church to accept that we "were all apes".  It was in complete contradiction of the "official story" told in the Genesis (first book of the Old Testament).

Of course, we can not compare the invention of the "modern bikini" to the great discoveries made by Copernicus, Galileo or Darwin.  But the creation of this new bathing suit in 1946 had a shocking impact too.  And, for the religious authorities, it was a unacceptable scandal !  A monster of indecency !  In many countries, not long after his invention, the bikini was condemned and banned.  His inventor, French engineer Louis Réard (1897-1984), knew that his new creation would be a "bomb" !  That's the reason why he named it after Bikini Atoll, in the Pacific, the site of an atomic bomb test on July 1, 1946.  And, compared to the beachwears of the first 30 years of the century (picture above), the bikini was so small that it seems to "split the Atome", like Réard used to say.  This innovation was to expose the navel.  How shocking !

If Réard did "split the Atome", it was because one of his competitor, fashion designer Jacques Heim (1889-1967), had already created the "Atome" (picture above), which, he claimed, was, in 1932, the smallest bathing suit ever.  Réard, who was running his mother's lingerie boutique near "Les Folies Bergères", in Paris, wanted to challenge this title.  Like all the great inventors, he was a very good observer.  He had noticed that women were rolling up their beachwear to get a better tan.  By doing so, they were expressing a need.  Réard found the solution.  He sliced the top off the bottoms and advertised these new two-piece as "smaller than the smallest swimsuit".

But Réard's invention was so audacious and ahead of his time that he could not find a model to wear his first bikini.  He ended up hiring Micheline Bernardini (picture above), a nude dancer from the "Casino de Paris".  She was first seen, wearing the famous tiny two-piece, on July 5, at Piscine Molitor, a public pool in Paris.  Her bikini was a string one, with a g-string back of 30 square inches (194 cm²) of cloth with newspaper type print.

And yes !  It was quite a hit (a bomb), especially among men.  The beautiful Micheline Bernardini received 50 000 letters, and Réard's business soared !  We can see him (picture above, in 1946) adjusting his popular "polka dot strapless bikini" on another queen of beauty.  But if the bikini was a success on the beaches of France, as early as in 1947, it would take time to be welcomed elsewhere...  We will see that in the next posts...

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