Paula Stafford, the iconic Gold Coast designer who brought the bikini to Australia, dies 102 years old.

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Iconic Gold Coast fashion designer Paula Stafford, who introduced the bikini to Australia, has died at the age of 102.

Stafford’s fashion empire included swimwear, day and evening wear, and menswear, and in 1964 it was the second largest industry on the Gold Coast behind sand mining.

But when she cut her first swimsuit in two, Stafford said she had not even “heard the name ‘bikini'”.

“I called mine a two-part,” she said in a 2014 interview with ABC.

Woman fits a bikini on a model while she is being photographed.
Paula Stafford with a model wearing one of her bikinis in Surfers Paradise in the 60s.(Provided by: Alan A Richards, City of Gold Coast Libraries Local Studies Collection)

While the bikini was invented in 1946 by the Frenchman Louis Réard, Stafford popularized the then controversial swimwear design and put the Gold Coast on the map in the process.

No need to pay for advertising

While making her first two-piece for personal use, Stafford said “people kept wanting what I was wearing”.

“So I decided it might be a good idea to have an extra income,” she said.

black and white photo of a woman in a store with rolls of fabric holding fabric up to a woman wearing a bikini in front of a mirror
Miss Teenage Victoria was one of many competition winners in the 1950s who enjoyed a Surfers Paradise vacation and visited Stafford as part of her award.(Provided by: Alexander McRobbie, City of Gold Coast Libraries Local Studies Collection)

The bikini grew in 1952 when a woman wearing a Stafford design was ordered to leave a beach to be immodest.

Stafford responded by sending five women wearing their bikinis to the beach in what became a notorious PR stunt.

“It was quite incredible.”

More than a brand

Stafford said swimwear became “an industry” for her, with her company exporting bikinis to London and New York, employing at least 50 women and her family members.

“It was growing so fast that we had to build a special factory where we could place the machines,” Stafford said.

While her business started with just four machines, it ended with more than 40.

The Stafford bikini became synonymous with the Gold Coast at a time when the city was considered more of a beach town.

“It was a lot of work and time involved in it, but I was happy to do it,” she said.

Paula Stafford
Paula Stafford, credited for introducing the bikini to Australia, poses with a design on Queensland’s Gold Coast in 2008.(ABC News: Sara Hicks)

Lydia Pearson of famed Queensland fashion brand Easton Pearson told ABC in 2020 that Stafford was a pioneer in Australian industry.

‘You can not regret’

Stafford was born in 1920 and studied mathematics, chemistry and physics at the Melbourne Girls Grammar.

While she wanted to become an architect, Stafford said the headmistress advised her to pursue a “more feminine” career.

“That’s why dress design came into the picture,” she said.

Elderly woman with white hair smiles as she sits in front of a colorful dress with a colorful jacket over her legs.
Australian bikini designer Paula Stafford is celebrating her 100th birthday.(Delivered: The Stafford family)

Stafford said she gave up the business in the 1990s before it eventually collapsed.

“It’s no use looking back and saying ‘I should have done this, I should have done it’. I did what I did and that was it.

“You can not regret, well.”

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