When Brigitte Bardot cavorted on the sand in a gingham bikini in St Tropez in 1955, while her husband Roger Vadim trained his camera on her for the film And God Created Woman, she established not only the popularity of the two-piece but the reputation of St Tropez as the beachwear capital of the Western world.
The bikini began life 880km away, in Paris, and was initially reviled.
Louis Reard was a car engineer by training, but by 1946 he was running his mother’s lingerie shop.
This was clearly a time of experimentation in the world of swimwear design, because not so far from Madame Reard’s shop, the designer Jacques Heim was working on a prototype for a new kind of beach costume. It comprised two pieces but, crucially, the bottom was sufficiently generous to cover its wearer’s bellybutton.
Heim’s deference to prudence, however, was to be his downfall. Scarcely had he christened it “the world’s smallest bathing suit’’ than Reard was slicing the top off the bottoms and offering up his new elaboration as “smaller than the smallest swimsuit’‘.
When the United States army conducted its atomic bomb tests on the Bikini atoll in the Pacific on July 1 1946, Reard found a name for his creation that would stand the test of time. Four days later, his “bikini’’ was modelled by Micheline Bernardini, the only woman willing whom Reard could find. Italy and Spain issued immediate bans. Early sales were not encouraging. But then, of course, came Bardot, whose “mobile contours’’ (as a reviewer for the New York Times put it) would finally sell the bikini to the US.
To modern eyes, though, the most striking thing about Reard’s prototype is not how small it is, but how large. The briefs trace a triangle that extends to an inch below the navel. At the celebrity hangouts in St Tropez nothing comes close to these proportions.
So, what is the St Tropez look? “The people here have courage to be what they are not at work. Here they can use their imagination. St Tropez wakes up something in people, an exuberance,’’ says Sanja Jandric. She points to a jungle-print bikini in mock suede as a classic example of the St Tropez look.
Isabelle Gainche, Byblos’s director of sales, marketing and communications, tells us what one would need to look in place come July when the fashion crowd arrives. “Bikini. Two pieces. Yes, yes, definitely,’’ she says. “A cowboy hat. Sunglasses, of course. Very large. The shoe is a flip-flop. And the mobile also has to be very spicy. And a pareo to match your bikini; if it doesn’t match it’s no good.’‘
She pauses to admit one last thought. “It’s very interesting. The people who come here are all nice-looking people. Nice,’’ she explains, “physically.’‘
So one last accessory for the right kind of bikini: the right kind of body.—Â