When the burkini appeared in the news a decade ago, it carried with it a dense web of historical associations, political connotations and moral valences. The histories of the bikini and the burka – including the ways that each garment has been framed as the other’s antithesis – played an important role in shaping how the burkini was represented and interpreted in the new century. In Europe and the Anglophone World, modest swimsuits and the figure of the burkini-clad women were appropriated as catalysts for contemporary debates about the possibilities and limits of cultural pluralism in an era of economic globalisation, mass migrations, war and terrorism and ethnic nationalist movements.
Austrian-American designer Rudi Gernreich is best known for his topless bathing suit, or the ‘monokini’ as it was dubbed, embodied by Peggy Moffitt. However the designer’s influence was more profound: from his involvement in the early strands of America’s gay rights movement, to his bold and often controversial statements he made as a designer that questioned the role of fashion in culture.