Réard commissioned coachbuilder Henri Chapron to design a ship-like car. It is a nice story to tell, because we own two Delahayes with Henri Chapron coachwork. Originally this very special coachwork of Henri Chapron was built on the chassis of a 866 Hotchkiss, but the engine was not strong enough for the heavy car. Therefore the chassis was later replaced by that of a Packard Super Eight from 1937. Thereby the steering wheel was moved from the right to the left. The photograph blow shows the Hotchkiss version of the road yacht.
Louis Réard was an automobile engineer from Paris, until he also started to design swimwear in the early forties. In 1940 he had taken over the lingerie business from his mother. His creative mind came up with the ingenious idea of designing a two-piece swimsuit. It was because he noticed that on the beaches of St. Tropez, the ladies constantly rolled up the ends of their swimsuits to get better tanned by the sun.
In May 1946, Jacques Heim came up with the smallest swimming suit in the world, the “Atome”, a two-piece swimsuit that was just big enough to cover the navel. To promote his design, he hired skywriters to advertise above the French Riviera his ‘smallest swimsuit in the world’. Réard immediately reacted with his design, in an attempt to defeat Heim.
The end-result was the bikini, four triangles made from only 30 square inches of fabric with a newspaper print on it. Réard responded with his bikini as ‘smaller than the smallest swimming suit in the world’. Réard called the swimsuit after the Bikini Atoll, where nuclear tests by the French took place. The reason why he chose this nam e, kept the shrewd inventor for himself. Probably because it was supposed to have the same kind of impact as the explosion of an atomic bomb. It was also a time when the word atom was getting a lot of interest.
The launch of the bikini did not go entirely smooth, because no model wanted to show such an inappropriate attire. So the resourceful Réard eventually hired the 19-year-old nude dancer Micheline Barnardini of the Casino de Paris. Was it a coincidence that the name Bernardini rhymes with bikini? It sounds like even that had been thought of. On July 5 1946 Réard introduced the bikini to the media at Piscine Molitor, at that time a public swimming pool in Paris. Réard’s bikini was controversial because it was the first swimsuit that kept the navel uncovered.In many countries the bikini was banned on beaches and in public places. It was only once movie stars started to wear bikinis in films that this trinket was slowly incorporated into our culture. Réard was a clever adman and to give the bikini maximum publicity he commissioned to build a striking advertising vehicle, which looked like a road yacht. The design, created by Henri Chapron, was absolutely stunning with a real bow, boat cabin with portholes and a rear deck with the mast of a boat, where the mannequins were showing off the bikini to the general public. On the roof was a large boat-searchlight and a large triangular flag with ‘MAILLOT DE BAIN REARD, 9 AVENUE DE L’OPERA’. On the back of this road yacht it said ‘REARD le Premier Maillot de Bain du Monde’. In the adjoining photos you can see that over time the ‘road yacht’ has seen quite some changes.
During the late forties and the fifties, the extravagant ‘Réard’ toured a lot, inter alia, several times with the Tour de France. The mannequins in bikini caused quite some commotion in many prudish French villages. In the fifties the Packard also won an advertising prize. When my father saw the car for the first time in 2007, it was still in exactly the same condition as in the fifties. Nothing was missing, even not the flag on the roof. The car was still in pretty good condition. In the eighties (1987), the extraordinary ‘Réard’ was shown at Retromobile and after fell into oblivion.
Written by Rosemarijn Atalante Veenenbos