The bikini – women’s two-piece swimsuit with a bra top and underwear – design was coined in 1946 by French engineer Louis Réard. He named the swimsuit after Bikini Atoll, where testing on the atomic bomb was taking place. Fashion designer Jacques Heim, also from France, re-released a similar design earlier that same year, the Atome.
More revealing than a one-piece swimsuit, the bikini was slow to be adopted, and in many countries it was banned from beaches and public places. The Vatican declared it sinful.
While still considered risqué, the bikini gradually became a part of popular culture when film stars – Brigitte Bardot, Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress, and others – began wearing them on public beaches and in film.
The bikini design had become common in Western countries by the mid-1960s as beachwear, swimwear, and underwear.
By the late 20th century it had also become common as sportswear, particularly in sports such as beach volleyball and bodybuilding.
By the early 2000s, bikinis had become a US$811 million business annually, and boosted spin-off services such as bikini waxing and sun tanning.
Following, Magnum photographers capture the famous champions and daring early adopters of the ‘fashion atom bomb’.