GC Magazine - Galleria Cavour

Fashion Story: the birth of the bikini

13 July - 2022

As bold and flamboyant as Versace‘s, as sophisticated for Louis Vuitton, as bon ton at Miu Miu‘s, beachwear is a field declined in a thousand styles and facets, as evidenced also by the stores in Galleria Cavour, which in these weeks welcome visitors ready to buy beachwear and accessories to take with them on vacation.

There is no doubt, however, that the true symbol of the beach season is unquestionably the bikini. How did the famous costume, nowadays a must-have in every woman’s wardrobe, originate? Although traces of the two-piece swimsuit can already be found in some mosaics from Roman times, fashion history traces the birth of this cult object much further back, namely to 1932 when fashion designer Jacques Heim, presented the world with the Atome, advertised as the world’s smallest swimsuit.

The times, however, were still immature and the uproar and scandal over this garment, considered outrageous, immediately decreed its failure on the market, at least momentarily. It would have to wait until 1946, when, on the island of the same name in the Marshall archipelago, then famous for nuclear testing, the explosive idea of the bikini would take shape again. The intuition was due to a former automotive engineer who later reinvented himself as a designer in the field of clothing: Louis Réard.

Indeed, that of the two-piece was a real bombshell in the fashion system market. Inspired by the European women who, on the glamorous beaches of Saint Tropez, were already daring to uncover their navels by rolling up their swimsuits, Réard launched his weapon of mass seduction on the market: the bikini. To make sure he didn’t miss anything, he chose a stripper, Michelle Bernardini, as his testimonial, having her parade in a two-piece whose patterning was reminiscent of newspaper prints, foreseeing, with good reason, the uproar that the news would occupy the front pages of every newspaper.

Controversy was not long in coming: opposed by conservative vetoes and banned in Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, the bikini was also considered outlawed in several American states until 1959. Things changed when Hollywood divas began to casually flaunt this garment, emulating French actress Brigitte Bardot who, on the set of the film “And God Created Woman“, consecrated her own image, and that of the French Riviera, as a paradise of freedom, glamour and sensuality thanks in part to a seductive bikini flaunted with malice and audacity.

It was 1956, and shortly thereafter other stars of the caliber of Rita Hayworth and Jayne Mansfield broke the taboo for good. Some of them owe their immortal fame precisely to the succinct costume, such as, for example, Ursula Andress, who entered the myth precisely thanks to a flesh-colored bikini, sported in the first 007 film. In our country it was Lucia Bosè who upset the dreams of Italians by winning the crown of Miss Italy precisely by wearing a bikini that made history. Between the 1980s and 1990s, sales of the two-piece outpaced those of the one-piece swimsuit, consecrating this garment as an object that symbolized freedom and social independence.

In France, meanwhile, toplessness was beginning to depopulate-but that’s a whole other story.