Paula Stafford, Australian inventor of the bikini, dies at 102

Australian inventor of the bikini, Paula Stafford, has died aged 102, nearly 80 years after her iconic swimsuit made history on a Gold Coast beach.

Now a common icon of Australian beach culture, Stafford said she had no idea her ‘two-piece’ would cause such a stir.

The self-made design made its debut at Surfers Paradise in 1943, shocking Queensland’s conservative community.

Paula Stafford, who introduced the French bikini design to Australian beaches, died peacefully in her sleep this morning aged 102. (Nine)

“I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it has been or what a tremendous impact it had when I started making them,” Stafford said in a previous interview.

“They started in Surfers, it’s a natural place where they should be shown: bikinis worn on the beach in Surfers Paradise and everywhere in Australia.”

The piece, previously known as the ‘French bathing suit’, was created by cutting a piece in half, at a time when bathing suits were becoming more scarce due to fabric shortages during World War II.

Paula Stafford (right) is credited as the woman who brought French bikinis to Australia. (Queensland State Archives)

Soon Stafford’s pieces were exhibited in places like London and New York, the designer, who previously wanted to be an architect, made a name for herself in the fashion world.

But in the 1950s, Stafford’s tiny, colorful pieces were still turning heads.

Stafford had a boutique near Surfers Paradise Beach on the Gold Coast where he created custom designs for Australian women. (Alexander McCrobbie)

In 1952, model Ann Ferguson was asked to leave the beach at Surfers Paradise by inspectors while wearing a Paula Stafford two-piece.

Eventually, the trend caught on, cementing Stafford’s fame as a pioneer of the Australian bikini.

“The city clerk said it was fine and the police liked it too, so everything was fine and Surfers Paradise became the beach where anyone could use anything at any time,” Stafford said.

“The joy of making people happy is worth every minute of time you put in, overnight… all night sometimes.”

Stafford is a recipient of an Order of Australia medal and is in the Queensland Business Leaders hall of fame for his role in shaping Queensland culture. (Nine)

Stafford passed away peacefully this morning.

On the Gold Coast, the locals honor his legacy.

Baslyn Beel said Paula Stafford designed her first bikini, adding that she begged her family to let her wear the risque item.

“I had to convince my mother that times were changing,” he said.

“Everyone’s figure is different and she would always make them to match us.

“She was an absolute icon of a fabulous lady.”

Stafford’s designs were considered incredibly risky in the 1950s. (Nine)

Regina King said that Stafford would create custom pieces at her boutique near the beach and was never afraid to push the boundaries.

“She didn’t care how small she had them and that was back then,” he said.

“We would see all the fabulous fabrics there, all the floral cottons and you would pick your color and she would have it done by the time you were done at the beach.

“Paula was going around, always happy that she really was a wonderful woman.”

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