“Seduction,” the latest exhibition to bow at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, examines how clothing plays into temptation and enticement.

The show, which opened Tuesday and runs through June 16, is not a celebration of come-hither-type attire, but more thought-provoking pieces, such as a 1931 nude-colored silk, satin-back crepe gown designed by Jane Regny, an accomplished sportswoman. An even better backstory is involved in the 1958 Cristóbal Balenciaga cocktail dress with black peekaboo lace and a fuchsia bow that once belonged to Ann Woodward, who shot and killed her husband, banking heir William Woodward Jr., mistaking him for a prowler.

This story first appeared in the December 11, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Seduction” curator Colleen Hill said, “The proximity of clothing to the body is inherently sensual, conveyed through the strategic interplay of exposure and concealment.”

A 1785 gown with an open-front bodice is the oldest piece on display that illustrates that point. The museum’s director and chief curator, Valerie Steele, said, “A lot of this doesn’t seem particularly sexy to us by today’s standards.”

Of course, there are more contemporary examples, such as a 2004 Olivier Theyskens for Rochas wedding gown, a 2000 lambskin leather and black silk evening dress and a Playboy bunny suit, which apparently is only made in two sizes — 34D and 36D — and is to be worn only at the Playboy Mansion. “That’s a very controlled sexiness,” Steele said.

Designers Jean Yu and Sarka Siskova attended the preview Tuesday morning to inspect their work in the museum’s gallery. For Yu, who sells solely by working directly with clients in her downtown store and atelier, “Seduction” is in sync with her non-wholesale approach to sales. “It’s a more romantic way of doing business,” she said.

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