It was an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini
that she wore for the first time today…”
US ‘bubble gum’ pop star Brian Hyland, probably best remembered for ‘Sealed with a Kiss’, had remarkable success with his 1960 debut ‘single’, celebrating the arrival of the two piece bikini as fashionable beach-wear for California ‘gals’.
It rocketed to number 1 in the Billboard Hot 100, selling over two million copies and reached number 8 in the UK Top 20.
However, unlike the novelty hit record, the bikini had been something of a slow burner in terms of sales. Despite capturing the public imagination (particularly amongst the male half of the population) following its introduction by Louis Réard, in early July 1946, it was considered rather risqué, far too daring for ‘nice girls’ to wear, at that time, and consequently didn’t take off in a big way until the advent of the more liberated early ’60s. Never the less, this year the bikini celebrates its 65th birthday.
Réard, a Parisian automobile engineer turned fashion designer came up with the revolutionary two-piece in response to a swimsuit called the ‘atom’ developed by rival, Jacques Heim, which had been marketed as ‘the world’s smallest bathing suit’.
Réard’s riposte, ‘smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit’, was a bra top and two inverted triangles of cloth connected by a ‘string,’ fashioned from a mere 30 inches of fabric. Early advertisements claimed that the test of a genuine bikini was that it could be pulled through a wedding ring.
The bikini took its name from Bikini Atoll, a nuclear bomb test site in the Pacific Micronesian Islands. The idea being that its launch would prove equally explosive, literally splitting the ‘atom’ – its one piece rival – and blowing it out of the water!
In recognition of the 65th anniversary of the two-piece swim suit I have given considerable thought, as you can well imagine, to my top five all-time favourite ‘bikini bombshells’.
‘Bikini Bombshell’ briefs (& bras, of course):
Norma Jeane, would have been 85 on 1st June this year, had she not succumbed to an overdose of barbiturates, aged 36, – officially ‘suspected suicide’, but intriguing conspiracy theories still persist, adding to the mystique and legendary status.
In 1951, five years after the bikini had been introduced, the Hollywood sex symbol posed in her own polka dot number for Time Magazine. It could hardly be described as ‘itsy bitsy teeny weeny’ and was extremely conservative by modern standards, modestly covering her navel. But Marilyn’s curves could make anything look good.
The French sex kitten is credited with popularising the bikini in the 1956 film which made her name, ‘Et Dieu… Crea La Femme’- ‘And God Created Woman’, directed by Roger Vadim. The movie, which pushed the boundaries in its representation of sexuality in the cinema, made Bardot a world-wide overnight sensation, following its 1957 release in the States.
3. Ursula Andress (1936 -)
The Swiss film star will forever be the quintessential Bond girl, after her iconic entrance, as Honey Ryder, in the first ever 007 movie ‘Dr No’ (1962), surfacing from beneath the blue Caribbean, and striding towards the beach in a belted white bikini, with hunting knife, clutching a conch shell.
It certainly created a few waves, earning the actress a 1964 Golden Globe Award and as recently as 2003, in a Channel 4 survey, it was voted number 1 in the ‘100 Greatest Sexy Moments’.
4. Raquel Welch (1940 -)
Raquel created something of pre-historic a stir, as statuesque beauty ‘Loana the Fair One’, cavorting with dinosaurs in her fur bikini, in the 1966 Hammer Movies production, ‘One Million Years BC’.
The movie poster, a classic, held a prominent position in my student flat, hiding a nasty stain on the wall, long before becoming a centrepiece in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.
5. Halle Berry (1966 -)
Halle Berry famously reprised the iconic Ursula Andress moment in the 20th Bond movie to hit the big screen, ‘Die Another Day’ (2002), a 40th anniversary celebration which includes references to all the previous films. Halle played NSA Agent ‘Jinx’ Johnson, making a big splash as she emerged from the sea in Havana, Cuba.
While Réard’s coined the term ‘bikini’, and his ‘invention’ of the modern two piece swim suit is deservedly celebrated as a 20th century design classic, it is strictly speaking a ‘reinvention’ – from somewhat earlier times.
Bikini like suits have been found on wall paintings dating as far back as 1600 BC, and are famously depicted in the glorious Roman mosaics of the 4th Century Villa Roman del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 5km from the town of Piazza Amerina, in Sicily.
During a sizzling Sicilian holiday, in 2008, while Chris* slipped into a bikini of her own, and settled down for a sunbed session by the hotel pool, I set off in the hire car, on a four hour cross-island trek, to ‘discover’ the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world, including the Chamber of the Ten Maidens, where the celebrated ‘bikini girls’ can be seen strutting their stuff – weight lifting, discuss throwing, running and playing ball games!
It’s well worth the time and effort if you’re ever down Sicily way.
*It goes without saying, that Chris is my number one all-time favourite bikini bombshell but I was expressly forbidden from posting any embarrassing holiday ‘snaps’!