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    Fashion History Classics: Who invented the Bikini?

    The Bikini was invented by French automobile engineer Louis Réard (1897 – 1984) and fashion designer Jacques Heim (1899 – 1967) in Paris in 1946. Réard was a car engineer but by 1946 he was running his mother’s lingerie boutique near Les Folies Bergères in Paris. Heim was a Parisian fashion designer and manufacturer of women’s furs and couture. In May 1946, Réard introduced the bikini as a smaller version of a swimsuit to the public. The idea struck him when he saw women rolling up their beachwear to get a better tan. Réard named his swimsuit the “bikini” after Bikini Atoll, one of a series of islands in the South Pacific, the site of atomic bomb testing.

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    His swimsuit was basically a bra top and two inverted triangles of cloth connected by a string. Since it was made out of a scant 30 inches of fabric, he promoted his creation as “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit”. According to that, Réard could not find a model who would dare to wear his design. He ended up hiring Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris, who was introduced at a photo shoot on July 5th 1946 at Piscine Molitor, a public pool in Paris.

    Today, the bikini is perhaps the most popular female beachwear around the globe; according to French fashion historian Olivier Saillard due to “the power of women, and not the power of fashion”.

    By the mid 2000s, bikinis had become an $811 million business annually, according to the NPD Group, a consumer and retail information company.

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