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This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on September 8, 2006.

Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) — “For a long time I wanted to do a show about underwear and armor,” declares Valerie Steele, the erudite, ebullient director and chief curator of the Museum at FIT.

The vivid result, “Love & War: The Weaponized Woman,” opens tomorrow and runs through Dec. 16. It juxtaposes the “hard body,” defended and protected, with the “soft,” which is vulnerable and seductive.

Lingerie items range from conventionally sensuous second- skin concoctions to a Comme des Garcons outfit that combines leather, satin and lace in hues of scarlet and black. Steele has nicknamed it “The Avant-Garde Harlot.”

The examples of armor include authentic historical war gear — often as painstakingly decorated as high fashion — and theatrical costumes like the gleaming golden armor worn by Katharine Cornell playing Joan of Arc.

Most striking are the riffs on battle garb by couturiers with rampant imagination. These range from Christian Dior’s billowing, gauzy ball gown with a camouflage pattern to a suave, dark-hued outfit by Yeohlee suggesting fascist inspiration.

Questioned about the morality of high-end designers making outre glad rags out of war themes, Steele replies, “The fashion system is like a giant Hoover. It sweeps up everything that’s going on and makes you think about it. Seriously.”


© 2006 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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