Most fashion-related articles at the moment are sadly reminding us that summer is almost over, but there are ways to make it last for a little bit longer, such as heading to an exhibition revolving around swimwear. Mind you, not any exhibition about swimsuits, but "Le Bikini a 70 Ans" (until 30th August) at the Joseph-Froissart Gallery, in Paris.
As its title annouces, the event celebrates the 70th anniversary of the two-piece suit and does so through pictures, advertising posters and actual bikinis.
An irresistible poster of Ava Gardner in a high-waisted vivid yellow two-piece suit with a brassiere-like top invites people to step into the gallery, and admire images of stars including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Bettie Page, Brigitte Bardot, Raquel Welch, and Ursula Andress (the latter in her iconic bikini from the 1962 James Bond film Dr. No) while getting inspired by the bikinis on dummies.
People interested in fashion and history will also be able to discover a few notions about this iconic garment.
While it may be possible to spot women wearing bandeau tops and matching bottoms and in the mosaics of the ancient Villa Romana del Casale (built in the first quarter of the 4th century) near Piazza Armerina in Sicily, showing women exercising, running, or receiving the palm of victory and crown for winning an athletic competition, the two-piece suit as we know it is attributed to Louis Réard, a mechanical engineer turned designer.
Louis Réard saw women in St. Tropez trying to roll up the edges of their swimsuits to get a better tan and was inspired to design a swimsuit that left the midriff exposed.
In May 1946 Jacques Heim produced a two-piece bathing suit, calling it the "atome" because of its dimensions; as a reaction, Réard produced his own design that he called "bikini", after the Pacific atoll where the US conducted atomic tests in the same year. At the time, the piece was rather basic and not really flattering and consisted in four triangles printed with a newspaper pattern.
In 1946 Réard's bikini broken more or less all the moral rules of good taste: French showgirl Micheline Bernardini accepted to wear it at a fashion show at the Molitor pool in Paris, but many other models refused to do so.
The design was a flop, but Réard patented it and, when the two-piece outfit became popular also thanks to films (mind you, the Hollywood Hays code introduced in the 1930s prohibited movie stars from showing navels on screen...), he was able to unleash a legal action against any kind of unwarranted use of the name.
There are interesting bits and pieces in this event, including the Simplicity and Vogue bikini patterns, plus plenty of images showing women wearing bikinis on boats, on the beaches of famous seaside resorts or during swimsuit competitions.
There is actually more behind the seduction of the bikini: its history does indeed touches upon issues of copyright protection, while the bikini was initially also a weapon to destroy morality laws and a symbol of cultural revolution.
Last but not least, it could interestingly be seen in conjunction (rather than in contrast...) with the burkini: people in the '40s were indeed offended by scantily dressed women; now they seem to be offended by covered women, as the recent burkini ban in France proves.
Being a very compact exhibition, unfortunately it stops around the '60s (so don't expect to see Ursula Andress in her weapon of seduction/destruction in Elio Petri's La decima vittima) and, at times, it includes prints of questionable quality. But there are still aspects that can inspire visitors, including some of the bikini shapes and patterns and there is a trick that you can still try at home: Réard's adverts stated that a two-piece suit wasn't a genuine bikini "unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring". Go on and check out if you're the proud possessor of a scandalous bikini in Réard's original style.
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