Louis Réard: Never to be Forgotten

by James Kraus

Engineer Louis Réard

Engineer Louis Réard

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.

Micheline Bernardin

Under the watchful eye of Louis Réard, Micheline Bernardin introduces the bikini to the press, Paris, 1946

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.

Brigitte Bardot

Brigitte Bardot, Cannes Film Festival, 1956

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.

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6 thoughts on “Louis Réard: Never to be Forgotten

  1. Compared to working with automobiles, it must have been much more of a pleasure to put in the long hours developing and, in this case, “fitting” the prototypes!

  2. I wish I had his life; a life of smooth curves and bright lights. Is there anyone today that even remotely resembles this man? A retorical question, yes. But, I thinnk we all know the answer.

    Well done J. Kraus! Encore! Encore!

  3. I believe the Society of Automotive Engineers should honor this man’s memory with a special commendation for services rendered over and above the call of duty.

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