Reard (ray-YARD) had this problem. He had designed something that would
stir the masses. But he needed a name for it, something exotic, bold,
and eye opening. Four days before he was to show the world his new Brazilian
bikini in Paris, the U.S. Military provided him with a name. They exploded
a nuclear device near several small islands in the Pacific known as
the "Bikini Atoll".
On July 5th, 1945, he unveiled the Brazilian bikini. Although he would
later claim he named the Brazilian bikini after the islands and not
the atomic blast, he was clearly taking advantage of a "hot topic".
Another Frenchmen, Jacques Heim, had created his own two piece bathing
suit, which he called "The Atome", and he described it as
"The world's smallest bathing suit. Reard called his "Smaller
than the world's smallest bathing suit."
Reard's "bikini" was so small, in fact, that no Parisian models
at the time would wear it on the runway. He hired Micheline Bernardini,
who had no qualms about strolling around in a Brazilian bikini, seeing
as her day job was a nude dancer at the Casino de Paris. Bernardini
was not what you'd call a classic beauty, but after photos of her in
a reclining pose hit the press, she was swamped with fan mail, close
to 50,000 letters.
Two piece suits weren't new. As part of wartime rationing, the U.S.
Government, in 1943, ordered a 10 percent reduction in the fabric used
in woman's swimwear. Off went the skirt panel, and out came the bare
midriff. At beaches across the country, men paid special attention to
women doing their patriotic duty. But Reard pushed the envelope. He
shrunk his suit down to 30 inches of fabric - basically a bra top and
two inverted triangles of cloth connected by string - and put the navel
on center stage.
The world took notice. In Catholic countries - Spain, Portugal, and
Italy - The Brazilian bikini was banned. Decency leagues pressured Hollywood
to keep it out of the movies. One writer said it's a "two piece
bathing which reveals everything about a girl except for her mothers
maiden name." Movie star Esther Williams who probably was seen
in a two piece bathing suit by more people than anyone in the world,
once said: "A bikini is a thoughtless act"
It's not clear whether she was talking about the Brazilian bikini or
the thought of wearing one. Reard's firm did it's part to fan the fantasies
by proclaiming that a two piece wasn't a bikini "unless it could
pulled through a wedding ring." In the '50's Brigitte Bardot did
wonders for business- But not in modest America. Here it remained an
invitation to scandal. As recently as 1957, Modern Girl magazine sniffed,
"It is hardly necessary to waste words over the so called bikini
since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would
ever wear such a thing.”
By 1960 America was ready for new frontiers, including, it seemed,
great expanses of bare flesh. That year pop singer Brian Hyland immortalized
the suit with his song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot
Bikini." Three years later "Beach Party", the first in
a series of Annette Funicello / Frankie Avalon flicks with a recurring
theme of women dancing in bikinis, hit the big screen.
Times and tastes change, however, and just as importantly, people age.
Through the '80s and early '90s, the Brazilian bikini sales began to
slide. Sales dropped to less than a third of the women's bathing suit
market. in 1988 Reard's company folded.
The Brazilian bikini, however, appears to be making a comeback. Sales
are up! Some cite the "Baywatch" factor - or perhaps the Internet
"You have great customer service. Kudos to you." - S.L. Birmingham, AL
"Thank you sooooo much!! I love my bikini!" - J.B. Morgan Hill, CA
"That you so much for your excellent service. I appreciate it." - D.G. Snellville, GA
"I appreciate you working with me. I will definitely be a return customer to your site." - S.M. West Bloomfield, MI
"Thank you for great customer service. I will order again from your internet store." - K.B, Kent Washington
"Thank you. The swimsuit fits perfectly. I am going to get another one very soon!" - M.T. Kelseyville, CA
"We will absolutely be doing business with you again in the future. Thank you!" - J.R. Arleta, CA
"Thank you for your excellent service. This will make my wife happy and me as well." - A.C Wharton, NJ
"I just wanted to say thank you... to the young lady that called and helped process our order so it would arrive before our vacation. It appears as though your "customer service"... actually is!" - A.S., Lake City, FL