This Day in History (3-Jun-1946) – The first bikini swimsuit is displayed in Paris

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).