From the battlefield to the runway, from uniforms to ball gowns and skateboards, golf balls and adhesive bandages, camouflage is everywhere.

A new exhibit opening at the Canadian War Museum Friday celebrates the art and science of military concealment and its appropriation by popular culture and haute couture.

Developed by the Imperial War Museum in London, England, and adapted by the museum here, the exhibit is the largest of its kind in North America, said Mark O'Neill, director general of the Canadian War Museum.


Because it spans military history, art and pop culture, Camouflage "is unique in that it will not only appeal to military enthusiasts, but to fashionistas," said O'Neill.

The collection, which includes 150 artifacts from 25 institutions, traces the history and development of military camouflage over the last century, from the earliest hand-painted attempts to hide and disguise weapons, positions and people during the First World War, to the digitally generated patterns of today.

"Camouflage was worn by all of the world's armies and in all of the world's wars," said Dr. Dean Oliver, director of research and exhibitions at the Canadian War Museum. "It's a form of defence, a form of attack, and a form of cultural expression."

Camouflage wasn't just for uniforms. Dazzle painting — paint applied to war ships — confused gunners with only a moment to decide what kind of ship their target was, and the direction and speed in which it was traveling.

Other objects included an observation post designed to look like a tree; British dummy heads to fool snipers, paradummies, which gave the illusion of a larger-scale airborne landing; and a boot which made the imprint of a sandal to fool the enemy about the identity of the wearer.

"The exhibit contains many things you expect to find in the museum, like helmets and jackets, and images of dazzle-painted warships, but also things you don't expect to find, like gowns, skateboards, modern art and even a camouflage bikini," he said.

Big names in couture have also dabbled in camouflage wear. The exhibit features fashions by Philip Treacy, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.

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