The bikini museum: All about the tiniest piece in your wardrobe From France to Brazil.

July 17, 2020

Have you ever wondered why a two-piece swimsuit is called a bikini? And did you know that there is a bikini museum, a place entirely dedicated to the tiny piece of clothing? As you enjoy the fantastic weather, hopefully sunbathing by the lake, pool or sea, read here all you need to know about the most popular bathing suit. Trust me; you’ll be surprised by the history behind the bikini. I know I was. Despite having grown up in Brazil and worn bikinis since my teenage years, I had no idea where its name came from nor realized that the two-piece swimsuit is called bikini in every language.

The first bikini museum in the world

Three views of the BikiniART museum in Germany.

Believe it not, the world’s first bikini museum is not in Rio de Janeiro but in Bad Rappenau, Germany. The BikiniART museum has just opened its door with an impressive collection that covers three centuries of our beloved swimwear history. It includes the most valuable bikini, ”The Golden Réard”. The only surviving hand-made bikini of Louis Réard was created for the winner of the “Miss Réard” competition. You can also see pieces that were worn by Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot, among others bathing memorabilia.

Alexander Ruscheinsky, the bikini museum’s creator, had the idea of creating the first worldwide swimwear museum after a fascinating conversation with a 70-year old woman in Rio de Janeiro who made bikinis. He decided to create BAM to show, through accurate research, all about the bikini. For example, the socio-political aspects of the bikini and the liberation of women against unacceptable regulations.

The bikini is undoubtedly a measure of the freedom and equality of women in society.

According to the Bikini Museum’s creator Alexander Ruscheinsky

Where it all started

Campaign photos of the swimwear SS20  label Adriana Degreas

Women’s swimsuits have come a long way, from wool or linen multi-piece garments that included corset, stockings and shoes in the 19th century, to the barely there-Brazilian bikini of the ’70s, the “fio dental” or dental floss. But the real birth of the most scandalous swimsuit in history was France. More precisely, at the Parisian Molitor pool in 1946.

Bikini, an explosive name

In the bikini museum, you will learn the amazing story when the French swimwear designer Louis Réard organized a pageant at the famous swimming pool on 5th July 1956. There, he presented the smallest two-piece swimsuit to date, that covered only the most intimate parts, leaving the woman’s navel naked, a scandal for that time. It was so shocking he couldn’t find a model who’d accept to wear the newsprint bikini. So Réard had a showgirl come from the Casino de Paris. The 19-year-old Micheline Bernardini presented his tiny creation, causing even more outrage in society.

Réard’s invention was named after the Bikini Atoll of the Marshall Islands, in the Pacific Ocean. Only a few days before Réard presenting his scandalous swimwear, the Americans had detonated the first of a series of 23 nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll. The immoral swimsuit was as explosive as the nuclear tests! In fact, the provocative bikini was banned in many places around the world. Only a few stars like Rita Hayworth and Ava Garner would dare to wear it. And Brigitte Bardot, of course. The actress famously posed for photographers at the beach in a bikini during the Cannes Festival in 1953. It took almost 16 years to become popular among women. 

Campaign photos of the swimwear SS20 label Adriana Degreas

The father of the bikini, or maybe not

Louis Réard was an automotive engineer before turning into swimwear designer. And although he is known as the father of the bikini and 50.000 fans (mostly male) wrote letters thanking him for his invention, he wasn’t the first one to have this idea. In reality, the French fashion designer Jacques Heim had already created a two-piece swimsuit that he called Atom, like the smallest particle. But it was Réard who dropped the bombshell with the perfect name.

Brazilian swimwear in Germany

Images from the outside and inside of the Bikini Museum in Germany.

Of course, when talking about the bikini, one must include swimwear from the country of the bikini par excellence, Brazil. The couture swimwear brand Adriana Degreas has a full display in the bikini museum. The designer from São Paulo is well known for her elegant silhouettes and statement prints. Her luxurious swimsuits and resort wear are so beautiful they transition easily from the swimming pool to evening parties. Degreas’ first contact with fashion was through her grandparents. They owned a textile factory in São Paulo. Additionally, they had a store that housed the likes of Pierre Cardin, Emilio Pucci and Azzedine Alaia. The designer launched her namesake brand almost twenty years ago. Among her clients are Naomi Campbell, Rosie Huntington-Whitley, Gigi Hadid and Poppy Delevigne.

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All photos courtesy of Adriana Degreas