The Real French Woman

A bomb exploded at the Molitor swimming pool in Paris on July 5, 1946, revolutionizing the status of French women and sending shockwaves through the rest of the world. The culprit behind this figurative blast was none other than the bikini.

Its designer Louis Réard, an automobile engineer by trade, had risen to a challenge doing the rounds in the fashion world: creating the smallest bathing suit possible. Réard named his invention “bikini”, after the explosion — a real one this time — of the first American thermonuclear bomb at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. As Réard was unable to recruit a professional model to present his new product, he called on the services of a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris music hall. Some 70 years later, the bikini is de rigueur on French beaches, and has become a symbol of the acceptance of republican, secular and universal values.

I am exaggerating, but only a little, as the antithesis of the bikini — the burkini, a garment covering a woman’s entire body — is now seen as


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