Fashion Influential #33: Louis Réard

 MIcheline Bernardini in Louis Réard's original bikini next to a model on Ashley Paige's Fall 2008 runway. Photo via

1897 in Paris, France
September 18, 1984 in Lausanne, France
Micheline Bernardini
Louis Réard was an automobile engineer, but he also ran his mother's lingerie boutique in Paris in the 1940s. The summer of 1946 was the first in years that no war was waging, and French designers wanted clothing to match the free-spirited mood of the people. Réard jumped into the challenge.

Career Highs. 
Réard and another designer, Jacques Heim, competed to develop a smaller bathing suit than those that already existed, which showed only a sliver of midsection. Heim came up with what he called the "atom," or the world's smallest swimsuit. Réard introduced the bikini (named after the Bikini Atoll), which consisted of a bra top and two triangles of fabric sewn together to make the bottom. Réard's creation was significantly smaller, and he marketed it as "smaller than the world's smallest bathing suit." Before long, the Mediterranean coast was swarming with women in bikinis.
A bikini is not a bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring.
- Louis Réard
Réard next to a mannequin in one of his bikinis.
Career Lows.
At first, the bikini was so skimpy that Réard couldn't find anyone willing to model it. Finally he turned to Micheline Bernardini, who was an exotic dancer at the Casino de Paris, and therefore had no hesitation about wearing the bikini. He printed newspaper type across the bathing suit that Barnardini wore, hinting at the headlines he was sure that the getup would generate. (Indeed, he received about 50,000 fan letters, mostly from men).

On a contemporary beach, you are much likely to see a bikini than a one-piece suit. Modern-day swimwear designers focus most of their attention on the bikini, finding new ways to spin an old classic and making them tinier than ever before. Designers like Ashley Paige, La Perla, Dolce & Gabbana, and every other fashion house that has dabbled in swimwear, clearly reference Réard when their models strut down the runway in bikinis.

Nicollette Sheridan in a barely-there bikini.
Get the Look.
It's easy enough: Show some skin! Pick something daring in any print or color of your choice, but make sure it's a two-piece.
- Olivia

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