Saturday, June 24, 2006

Two things bug me about the upcoming anniversary of the bikini

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY - Here's the skinny.

My first complaint is rather shallow.
Bikini season is upon us and I'm not ready! For the first time, I can almost pinch an inch. Avoiding indecent exposure has meant wearing no bikini this Memorial Day weekend and submitting to a bikini boot camp-like regimen to shape up by July 5. That's the date that is erroneously but popularly being touted as the 60th anniversary of the minimalist two-piece swimsuit.

Happy birthday, bikini! According to history, barely there swimwear reached the beach long before 1946, when French automotive engineer-turned-fashion designer Louis Reard unveiled the first skimpy two-piece called a "bikini" at a Paris fashion show. As reveals:

Drawing evidence from 300 A.D. Roman mosaics, historians point to the bikini as the swimsuit of choice for ancient Roman women. The history of the bikini, however, may begin nearly 2000 years sooner than even ancient Rome! Minoan wall paintings from approximately 1600 B.C. also depict women wearing the seemingly quite popular two-piece bathing costume.

In 1946, World War II had ended, the world was working to recover from its devastating effects, and two French designers were engaged in a race somewhat different from mine. Mr. Reard (who produced the bikini for his mother's lingerie boutique), and Jacques Heim (another fashion designer who owned a beach shop in Cannes), were competing to be the first to introduce a revolutionary two-piece swimsuit.

Mr. Heim got on deck first. Early in the summer of 1946 he introduced the Atome (named after the particle) at a beach in Cannes. As noted in "BIKINI TRIVIA: History of the Bikini,"

Heim sent skywriters high above the Cannes sky, proclaiming the new Atome to be "the world's smallest bathing suit."

Not to be outdistanced, Mr. Reard fashioned an even more risque suit. To herald its introduction in July, he hired a skywriter to inscribe this announcement above the French Riviera: "The bikini - smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world." Reard named his creation after a tiny South Pacific atoll (in the Marshall Islands), where the USA conducted nuclear tests in the 1940's.

Sacramento Bee Fashion Writer Leigh Grogan and illustrator Margaret Spengler describe Mr. Reard's Brazilian style thong bikini in History: Birthday suit" (see image, top left):

Reard, who was working with a mere 27 1/2 inches from a bolt of cloth, took his design a step further -- dropping the bottom half of his two-piece suit below the navel.

What separated his suit, said Mr. Reard, was the fact that a two-piece was, "not a bikini unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring."

Does the box the model is holding contain a ring or a bikini? *

* These black and white images of Michele Bernadini are from "The First Bikini" at Bikini Science.

Such explosive promotions and the associations between their swimwear creations and atomic detonations brazenly exposed Heim's and Reard's goals to make a splash on the fashion front. However, Reard's navel-baring suit was so skimpy that no mainstream model would sink so low as to wear it. He resorted to hiring Michele Bernadini, a cheeky exotic dancer at the Casino de Paris (where Josephine Baker also performed), to sport the garment on the poolside runway.

Bombshells wearing bikinis made quite an impact. According to Bikini Science:

RĂ©ard's famous fashion statement changes the world; like the bomb, the bikini is small and devistating. Vogue editor Diana Vreeland calls the bikini "the atom bomb of fashion," and a Paris fashion writer suggests it is the image of a woman emerging tattered from the blast. Perhaps the shock of seeing the Marshallese islanders in the nuclear age enable the Technologists to discover seeing themselves in the tribal age. And to enjoy it.

Source: 1945-1950: The Very First Bikini

This blog post inspires a riddle:

Q: If Batman and Robin were bikini-wearing women, what would they be called?

A: Flatwoman and Ribbon.

Not funny? Neither is the sweat equity required to become beach-worthy. That is one situation wherein contemplating one's navel can actually inspire productive, vigorous action.

The other bee in my bonnet relates to the song: Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. I'm sure you've heard it in recent Yoplait fat free yogurt commercials. According to Wikipedia, "The song was a smash hit, reaching #1 on the American charts," when Brian Hyland released it in August 1960. Dalida also recorded a French version entitled, Itsi Bitsi Petit Bikini, to popular acclaim that year and many other artists have covered the song since then.

Here's the problem. Some of the articles commemorating the bikini's splashdown incorrectly cite Mr. Hyland as the song's author. In actuality, the dynamic songwriting/music production duo Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss penned the tune.

In future posts, I'll wax on more about the bikini, Mr. Vance and his itty bitty ditty. Ray Aydelott and I had planned to interview Mr. Vance on the Lisa Tolliver Show during Black Music Month. (Mr. Vance wrote songs for many black artists, including one of my favorite crooners, Luther Vandross.) However, we scuttled those arrangements when Mr. Vance's wife was injured in a vehicular accident and Ray's father died on June 12 from complications related to a ruptured brain aneurysm. Ray and I eagerly anticipate Mrs. Vance's recovery and we look forward to interviewing her husband in the near future.

Surely by then, I'll have reclaimed my bikini abs.###