In Depth

The return of Reard: The original bikini bombshell

Businessman Richard Emanuel on reviving a fashion icon for a new generation

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Louis Reard invented a product we've all heard of: the bikini. In the early 1930s, Reard inherited a small swimwear boutique (now a religious book store) from his mother in Paris and began to develop and expand the business. Things came to an abrupt halt at the end of 1939 with the onset of World War 2 and the occupation of France and Paris in the summer of 1940.

Like many tens of millions of people across Europe and around the world, the focus was on survival, not on selling swimwear. With the end of the war in September 1945, however, he began slowly to resume business and consider how he could revive the Reard brand with his extremely limited resources. It was in early 1946 that he came up with what would be a transformational idea – a two-piece costume where you could see a woman's navel, which was scandalous at the time. The Americans had just been testing the atomic bomb in the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific and this gave Reard the name for his invention: his 'bikini' would be an explosion of freedom, liberation and change for women.

He first presented his designs to the world at an event at the beautiful Piscine Molitor in Paris on 5July 1946. The impact was instant. More than 2,000 people attended the launch and many hundreds of thousands – and in turn millions – would consequently hear about the new addition to the fashion movement.

Reard was quite the marketer and used a fabric adorned with newsprint for the unveiling of his very first bikini, correctly forecasting the media furore that would ensue. The brand went on to have great success through the 1950s and 60s, with iconic women such as Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe and Ursula Andress – and Reard – catapulting the bikini to fame.

However, as the years passed, Reard and his wife began to find the demands of running their growing enterprise more challenging and, with no direct successor, they were forced to make the difficult decision to wind their business down and retire, with the Reard brand disappearing from the market. The bikini, however, was certainly here to stay.

I first became aware of the Reard brand and its wonderful heritage some years ago and began to research its history and disappearance. I had fallen in love with the story and the events surrounding the creation of the bikini, while revelling in the empowerment it had provided for women. I resolved to acquire the brand rights and available assets to revive the company. I saw a gap in the market to design the most beautiful swim and resortwear and I wanted to continue Louis' vision and capture his passion and innovation.

The Reard brand and the bikini have a distinct place in history and could be made relevant and appealing to women again today. It is mine and my team's utmost aim to continue to design quality, timeless and innovative swim and resortwear. Looking at it from a business and commercial perspective, no matter how wonderful this brand story and heritage is, unless you can actually produce something that people would like to buy today, it doesn't really matter.

We will be opening the first standalone boutique in Paris in spring next year. It's nice that, after 70 years, a Reard store is opening in the city once again. The story has gone full circle.

RICHARD EMANUEL is a self-made businessman, investor and developer of a number of companies in the fashion, beauty and wellness sector; reard.com

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