In 1946, French fashion designer Louis Réard hired a nude dancer to sport his two-piece creation after the runway models he approached refused to wear it.
Réard and Jacques Heim, his rival designer, were competing to produce the world’s smallest swimsuit. Heim
developed his swimsuit and called it the “atom” and advertised it as “the world’s smallest bathing suit.”
In 1946 Réard introduced the bikini. His swimsuit was basically a bra top and two inverted triangles of cloth connected by string and it was significantly smaller. Made out of a scant 30 inches of fabric, he promoted his creation as “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit.” He called his creation the bikini, named after the Bikini Atoll. The idea struck him when he saw women rolling up their beachwear to get a better tan.
Réard could not find a model who would dare to wear his design. He ended up hiring Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris as his model. That bikini, a string bikini with a g-string back made out of 30 square inches (194 cm2) of cloth with newspaper type printed across, was “officially” introduced on 5 July 1946 at a fashion event at Piscine Molitor, a popular public pool in Paris. The bikini was a hit, especially among men, and Bernardini received some 50,000 fan letters. Heim’s design was the first worn on the beach, but the genre of clothing was given its name by Réard. Réard’s business soared, and in advertisements he kept the bikini mystique alive by declaring that a two-piece suit wasn’t a genuine bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.”