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Take it to the limit

February 12, 2010

Sol, Apollo, Helios, Ra… Whatever his name, Helene was the Sun God’s most devoted devotee. She could hear the others calling from the water, but stayed in her position of silent worship- she was his most ardent acolyte.
Besides, there was no way she was getting her new suit wet…

I love the simplicity of this pattern’s illustration and the bold the use of colour! It’s a French pattern by a company I hadn’t heard of before, Les patrons de Marie-Claire, Elegance de Paris. I was listing it for sale in my Etsy store (click on the pic for the listing) and was really struggling to date it. You see, the way the grain of the fabric runs, and the illustration, say 1940s to me, but the relatively high legged bottoms look a little on the daring side for the 1940s?

A little googling of bikini history took me over to the Metropolitan Museum’s site, which has a page on bikini history which is worth a look (especially for an amazing blue knitted 1940s bikini with fish all over it!). Thanks to the Met, I now know that couturier Jacques Heim and mechanical engineer Louis Reard both claimed to be the first to launch the bikini in Cannes in the summer of 1946:

The design, two triangles on top, positioned to cover the bosom and two triangles, one front, one back, on the bottom, was basic. Though Reard patented his version and Heim is now remembered as a couturier and an early supporter of sportswear, there is much debate over who “invented” the bikini.

A likely scenario is that both gentlemen had seen the local jeunes filles of Cannes sunning themselves in the most abbreviated beach costumes in order to achieve the bronze of the newly fashionable suntan. The bathers had pushed the fashion to the acceptable social limit, and both businessmen took advantage of this show of youthful daring. Officially, the first time the bikini appeared in a fashion event was at a poolside show at the Piscine Molitor in Paris on July 5, 1946.

Though a success in postwar France, Americans deemed the bikini too risqué until Hollywood stars like Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner were photographed wearing them.

Isn’t that last sentence fascinating?! It seems to back up my feeling that the basic-but-daring bikini in the Marie-Claire pattern could be from the 1940s. (I love to imagine  a mademoiselle wearing this nonchalantly on the beach at Cannes while over in America (and no doubt the UK) modest knitted two pieces were about as racy as it got….)

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