March 21, 2023

By Ahmet Abdulaziz….

Bikini Atoll, situated in the somewhat middle of the Pacific Ocean, are well known for its part played in two important but differing fields of human interest.

The Bikini Atoll, which is a coral reef in the Marshal Islands consisting of 23 islands surrounding a 229.4 square mile central Lagoon, is well known for the series of nuclear tests carried by the USA, in the post second world war era. During the period between 1946 and 1958 United States detonated 23 nuclear devices.  This series of tests, not only changed the overall face of these islands but also led to the dislocation of the people living there.

During the times when the USA was carrying out a series of nuclear tests in that area, Louis Reard, a French mechanical engineer by training who was also involved in the lingerie business, came out with a new swimming wear design, that would ultimately sensationalise the fashion world. The design that he ultimately came out with was nothing else than a “Bikini”, which is now common beach wear for women and girls, but was almost a taboo in those days.

Introduced on 5th July 1946, the “Bikini” was expected to create an “explosive commercial and cultural reaction” that could match the intensity of the nuclear test on the Bikini Atoll. That’s how a link was created between the Bikini Atoll and the “Bikini the beach and swimwear”. Diana Vreeland, a fashion designer, was quoted as describing the bikini as the “atom bomb of fashion”, which indeed it was.

Interestingly the design of the Bikini does not match with the customs of the Marshal Islanders, because it exposes the thighs and shoulders of women. But this fact always remained in the background and was almost ignored.

Prior to the first nuclear test at the Bikini Atoll, the 167 inhabitants were voluntarily relocated to their “temporary” homes away from the area. They were told that the US government would use the place for testing the atomic bombs for “the good of mankind and to end all world wars”. The inhabitants at that time had thought that they would return back, after a short period of time. But unfortunately, it never happened. The whole place is now contaminated with radioactivity. It is said that humans can live there now, but nothing editable could be produced there. So now people can survive only with imported food.

Louis Reard, the inventor of the Bikini (swimsuit), was very lucky to capitalise on the name of “Bikini”, which had already sensationalised the world for nuclear tests there. He was correct to understand the possible reaction from the world, to his new swimsuit sensation. In those days women were usually wearing one-piece bathing suits, and there were stricter laws in Europe and America regarding the length of the skirts.

Photo by Esther Santos on

In this background, introducing a new swimsuit design with a cloth about 30 square inches was indeed a brave decision and risk that Reard had taken. Initially, he found it very difficult to find some model to display the Bikini. Ultimately he hired Micheline Bernardini, a young nude dancer at a Casino in Paris, who successfully demonstrated the new wear. The new design instantly hit the fashion world, and Reard, received almost 50,000 letters of admiration as feedback.

Some European countries went for stricter laws to ban bikinis at public beaches. American authorities would also do so, until the 1960s when the wave of new social order started, among the young generation, which made bikinis the most popular beach wear. Ultimately, as we see now the bikini is now a common sight on all beaches the world over.

Almost 76 years have passed, but “Bikini” the beach wear, and the Bikini Atoll, remain linked to each other, due to the sensation that they both had spread the world over. Though most people,  do not remember the plight of the Bikini Atoll people anymore.

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