by James Kraus
When one is discussing creatively gifted automotive engineers, a few fabled and legendary names are normally exhumed and bandied about: Ferdinand Porsche, Hans Ledwinka, Dante Giacosa, Alec Issigonis, André Lefèbvre…
Too often in the midst of such discourse, enthusiasts fail to recall the accomplishments of Louis Réard. Monsieur Réard was an engineer at Régie Nationale des Usines Renault SA in Billacourt, where he helped develop and refine such 1930’s models as the Primaquarte and Nervasport. However, what makes Louis notable, and what thrusts him into the pantheon of such august company, is what he accomplished in women’s prêt-à-porter.
On the 5th of July 1946, he summoned the press to the most fashionable swimming pool in Paris, the Piscine Molitor in the exclusive 16ème arrondissement. There he presented dancer Micheline Bernardini, fresh from the risqué Casino de Paris on Rue Clichy. She came out wearing nothing but a bra, two triangles of cotton and some string.
Louis Réard, automotive engineer, invented the bikini.
Just four days prior to its unveiling, the United States Navy had detonated a 23-kiloton atomic bomb over the tiny Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. Thinking his swimsuit would have the same sort of dramatic impact on the public, Louis registered the Bikini name for his creation. His instincts proved correct. Outside France, most thought them scandalous. The Vatican issued a condemnation. Italy and Spain banned them.
Nevertheless, initially meagre sales steadily built momentum, until worldwide moviegoers observed Brigitte Bardot wearing one to great effect as Juliete Hardy in Roger Vadim’s 1956 film, And God Created Woman. Thereafter, Réard was able to enjoy a comfortable retirement at his Swiss villa. Renault. Renault history.