There was a time, not long ago, when Piscine Molitor was the place to be. Tucked away in the leafy outskirts of Paris, the pool opened with Art Deco splendor in 1929, and soon became a magnet for all things chic. Sunbathers would lounge among celebrities and starlets, stretched out in white deck chairs and very often topless. One of its first lifeguards was an Olympic gold medalist-turned-actor who would go on to star in the film Tarzan.

During winters, the pool was converted into an ice skating rink, and in summers it hosted galas and fashion shows, its cruise ship-like design providing an understated backdrop for some of the most provocative trends. It was here that the world's first bikini debuted in 1946, followed by the ill-fated "monokini" nearly two decades later. Outside of Paris, the venue is perhaps best known for its role in Life of Pi, the award-winning novel whose eponymous main character, Piscine Patel, is named after Molitor. In the book, Patel's father says he chose the name because he "wanted his soul to be as clean as the pool's water."

"It was an iconic place," says Frédéric Maynier, president of SOS Piscine Molitor, a local community group devoted to the preservation of the pool. "You didn't go there just to swim, you went to be seen. It has always been like that."