On this day in 1888, the world’s first modern beauty contest is thought to have taken place in the small Belgian municipality of Spa. It’s impossible to tell exactly when beauty pageants began, but they certainly existed in some form or other in the classical world: they were, for instance, a type of entertainment in ancient Troy, where they were judged by an illustrious jury of artists, philosophers, poets and even warriors. In the Ottoman Empire, rulers also entertained themselves with competitions to choose the most gorgeous wife in their harem. And across Europe the traditional pagan May Day festivities usually included the selection of a symbolic king and queen, with a young woman chosen as a fertility symbol because of her beauty.
During the summer of 1888, local newspaper advertisements in Belgium Spa announced that “the most beautiful girl on the planet” was to be selected that autumn in a Concours de Beauté, and girls were encouraged to submit some photographs (still a relatively new technology) of themselves alongside a short written description. It was a popular concept, and there were over 350 applications. The (mostly male) jury selected a shortlist of 21 to appear in the actual pageant, which was a modest affair by today’s standards: men wore tuxedos, women wore long dresses, and the contestants were hidden from the wider public in a secluded wing of a private house and closed carriages that took them to and from the main hall.
On this September day “the most beautiful girl on the planet” was judged an eighteen-year-old Creole girl from Guadeloupe: Marthe Soucaret. She was rewarded with an impressive prize fund of 5,000 francs, as well as the honour of appearing on the cover of French magazine L’Illustration. Sadly, almost nothing is known about what became of Soucaret, and how she lived her life. However, the idea of the beauty queen (as well as the glamorous magazine cover girl) itself certainly became a huge success. The Belgian initiative was taken up by other countries. International beauty pageants gained in popularity, most notably the big four: Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss International and Miss Earth.
It all started in 1847 when Loeb Strauss, an 18-year-old emigrant from Bavaria, Germany, came to New York with his mother and sisters. Strauss spent the first couple of years in New York where he worked for his two older brothers, who under the name J. Strauss Brother & Co. had opened a wholesale company that specialized in dry goods (textile products). Here, young Loeb quickly learned how to succeed in the industry and around 1850 he became known among family and customers as “Levi.” At the end of January 1853, Strauss received U.S. citizenship and in February 1853 he ravelled to San Francisco to seek his fortune in the wake of the Gold Rush. Originally conceived as a west coast branch of the family business, he started a company under his own name. He imported dry goods ranging from clothes, underwear, umbrellas to handkerchiefs and raw fabrics, and resold them to the many shops that had sprung up after gold miners’ arrival.
In 1863 the name was changed to “Levi Strauss & Co.” Not until the early 1870s did the company begin to produce the so-called “Riveted overalls”. Levi Strauss was approached by a tailor from Nevada named Jacob Davis, who got the idea to reinforce pockets and other exposed areas of the pants with copper rivets. They began manufacturing LEVI‘S brand overalls for the Populace of Miners, Muleskinners and Mercantile-Minders. People didn’t wear Belts in Those Days, it was Suspenders or even Rope or Whatever to hold your Britches Up, so Levi put Big ‘Ol Buttons on the Front & Back to Strap in. Levi had the stout, rough canvas made into Waist Overalls. Miners liked them, but complained that they tended to chafe. He substituted a Twilled Cotton Cloth from Nimes, France called “Serge de Nimes.” The fabric later became known as Denim and the pants were nicknamed BLUE JEANS.
Levi Strauss died in September 1902 and left no heirs. Earthquake in 1906 caused massive damage to Levi Straus & CO.’s headquarters and factories around the city Almost all archives, patent papers, factory equipment and photographs were lost.
Post World war II, in 1946, Western Europeans joyously greeted the first war-free summer in years, and French designers came up with fashions to match the liberated mood of the people. The modern term “bikini” for a particular bathing suit design was first used by two Frenchmen Heim and Reard separately. Of course, Heim and Reard didn’t create the idea of the bikini; drawings of bikini-like suits have been found on wall paintings dating back to 1600 B.C. Heim was a couturier designer from Cannes, France, who had designed a very small bathing suit called the “Atome” (french for atom). He hired a skywriting plane to advertise his design by skywriting “Atome — the world’s smallest bathing suit”.
Three weeks later, Louis Reard, a mechanical engineer, had another skywriting plane write “Bikini — smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.” Named after the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the site of atomic bomb testing, Réard hoped his swim suit’s revealing style would create an “explosive commercial and cultural reaction” similar to the explosion on the Bikini Atoll. In planning the debut of his new swimsuit, Reard had trouble finding a professional model who would deign to wear the scandalously skimpy two-piece. So he turned to Micheline Bernardini, an exotic dancer at the Casino de Paris, who had no qualms about appearing nearly nude in public. The bikini was a hit, especially among men, and Bernardini received some 50,000 fan letters.
Many western countries declared bikini illegal and Vatican declared it sinful. Popularized by filmstars like Brigitte Bardot and Ursula Andress it became common in most western countries by mid 1960s. The film An Evening in Paris (1967), is mostly remembered because Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore was the first Indian actress to wear a bikini in a film. She also posed in a bikini for the glossy Filmfare magazine. The costume shocked the conservative Indian audience, but it also set a trend of bikini-clad actresses carried forward by Zeenat Aman in Heera Panna (1973) and Qurbani (1980), Dimple Kapadia in Bobby (1973), and Parveen Babi in Yeh Nazdeekiyan (1982).