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The bikini is 70 years old

Seventy years ago, French engineer Louis Reard designed a little swimsuit worn at a fashion show in Paris in 1946. He called the two-piece swimsuit the ‘Atome.’

In the 1940s fashion houses were rationing material during war time, so designers had to be creative with less. As a result, when Reard created the bikini, the midriff was exposed, which created a lot of controversy.

On 5 July 1946 Louis Reard (1897-1984) launched the bikini four days after the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands (in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia). He called his bikini the Atome – one garment divided into two parts like ‘a Bikini-divided atom.’ The Atome was designed to be the world’s smallest bathing suit. There were similar swimming costumes in the 1930s but they covered the navel – the belly button.

Trying to find a model to wear the bikini in the fashion show was a challenge for Reard until nude dancer Micheline Berardini agreed. On 11 July 1946 Micheline became the first woman to wear the bikini. It was so small that it could fit into a match box.

In 1951 the bikini was banned following the first Miss World Contest in London. The Vatican said it was sinful, and it was soon banned in Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Austria.

French actress Brigitte Bardot ignited interest in the two-piece swimming costume when she wore a floral bikini to the beach at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953. Sales soared. The bikini endures to this day.

MARTINA NICOLLS is an international aid and development consultant, and the author of:- The Shortness of Life: A Mongolian Lament (2015), Liberia’s Deadest Ends (2012), Bardot’s Comet (2011), Kashmir on a Knife-Edge (2010) and The Sudan Curse (2009).


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