Louis Réard (French pronunciation: ; 1897 – 16 September 1984), a French automobile engineer and clothing designer, introduced the modern two-piece bikini in July 1946. He opened a bikini shop and ran it for the next 40 years.
Réard was an automotive engineer who took over his mother's lingerie business in about 1940 and became a clothing designer near Les Folies Bergères in Paris. While on St. Tropez beaches, he noticed women rolling up the edges of their swimsuits to get a better tan, which inspired him to design a swimsuit with the midriff exposed.
In May 1946, Jacques Heim produced a two-piece swimsuit that he named the "Atome," which he advertised as the world's "smallest bathing suit". The bottom of Heim's swimsuit was just large enough to cover the wearer's navel. To promote his new design, Heim hired skywriters to fly above the Mediterranean resort advertising the Atome as "the world’s smallest bathing suit."
Réard quickly produced his own swimsuit design which was a string bikini consisting of four triangles made from only 30 square inches (194 cm2) of fabric printed with a newspaper pattern. When Réard sought a model to wear his design at its debut presentation, none of the usual models would wear the suit, so he hired 19-year-old nude dancer Micheline Bernardini from the Casino de Paris to model it.
He introduced his design four days after the first test of a nuclear weapon at the Bikini Atoll. The newspapers were full of news about it and Reard hoped for the same with his design. Not to be outdone by Heim, Réard hired his own skywriters to fly over the French Riviera advertising his design as "smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world." Photographs of Bernardini and articles about the event were widely carried by the press. The International Herald Tribune alone ran nine stories on the event. Fourteen days later, Réard applied for a patent for his design, and was awarded patent number 19431.