The postwar West was not quite ready for the bikini. Reard, unable to find any respectable models willing to wear his design, hired exotic dancer Michele Bernadini to show it to the French fashion press. With string-waisted briefs, a tiny triangle top, visible navel and plenty of cheek, it exposed far more than contemporary two pieces—which used shorts or sheaths, and shelf-bras, and never revealed the navel—did, and indeed far more than most bikinis would until the '70s. Self-appointed bikini expert Judson Rosebush, author of the website, BikiniScience.com, maintains that of all exposed by Reard's bikini, the navel was most controversial. "Reard reverts to less daring designs," writes Rosebush, "but never retreats on the navel."
Heralded as 'the smallest swimsuit in the world' in skywriting over Cannes, Reim's tiny two-piece was soon one-upped by an even more revealing suit developed by Parisian engineer Louis Reard. Taking advantage of the globally televised event, and Reim's premature superlative, Reard also hired a skywriter, and introduced the world to 'the bikini—smaller than the world's smallest swimsuit.'
Exposure increased—or coverage reduced—from the '60s onward. Throughout the '70s, waistlines plunged further below the navel and eventually beyond the hip, as panels for both top and bottom continued to shrink. By the end of the '70s the bikini had been reduced almost to its logical (and legal) minimum. Credited to Gernreich (as is the terribly gauche, window-paned "pubikini"), the string bikini, or thong, had arrived. The late-'70s and early-'80s saw the introduction of the high-hipped "v-kini," as focus shifted from the bust to the hips and glutes. By the '90s the thong, the "ultramini" and other borderline-pornographic designs could be found all over MTV.
In '62, Swedish bombshell Ursula "Undress" Andress emerged from the Caribbean as the first Botticelli-Bond girl, and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue was first shoved beneath adolescent mattresses.
From left, bikinis by Eres, Rosa Chá, and Luiza Bonadiman.