Paula Stafford, the iconic Gold Coast designer who brought the bikini to Australia, has died at the age of 102.

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

Stafford’s fashion empire included swimwear, casual and evening wear, and menswear, and by 1964 was the second largest Gold Coast industry after sand mining.

But when she cut her first one-piece swimsuit in half, Stafford said she had not even heard the name “bikini”.

“I named my duo,” she told ABC in a 2014 interview.

Woman applies bikini to model while being photographed.
Paula Stafford with a model wearing one of her bikinis at Surfers Paradise in the 60’s.(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 swimsuit design and put the Gold Coast on the map in the process.

You do not have to pay for publicity

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

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

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

The bikini became famous in 1952 when a woman wearing a Stafford design was ordered to leave a beach because it was indecent.

Stafford responded by sending five women in bikinis to the beach at a famous PR bay.

“It was incredible.”

More than one brand

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

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

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

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

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

Pola Stafford
Paula Stafford, who is believed to have introduced the bikini to Australia, posed with a design on the Gold Coast of Queensland in 2008.(ABC News: Sara Hicks)

Lydia Pearson from the famous Queensland fashion company Easton Pearson told ABC in 2020 that Stafford was a pioneer in the Australian industry.

“You can not regret”

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

While wanting to become an architect, Stafford said the director advised her to pursue a “more feminine” career.

“So the design of the dresses came into the picture,” he said.

An old 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.(Provided: The Stafford family)

Stafford said it left the company in the 1990s before eventually shrinking.

“It’s not good to look back and say, ‘I should have done this, I should have done that.’ I did what I did and that was it.

“You can not have regrets, it is not.”

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