In a time when fashion has been under fire for racist campaigns that have led to boycotts, re: Gucci blackface sweater, the hope would be that extra measures are taken to ensure that those instances do not continue to happen. However, it appears that New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology has placed itself in the center of the latest racist controversy in the fashion industry, as a Black model recently had to push back against wearing racist accessories during a fashion show at the school.
Amy Lefevre said that she was pressured to wear “monkey ears” and oversized lips, but refused, according to the New York Post. The model said she was uncomfortable wearing the pieces but was told it was “fine” to feel uncomfortable for the short period of time that she would be on the runway.
“I stood there almost ready to break down telling the staff that I felt incredibly uncomfortable with having to wear these pieces and that they were clearly racist,” she said. “I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.”
Lefevre said she has been modeling for four years and walked on numerous runways, but has never witnessed such blatant racism as she did at the show she participated in on Feb. 7.
“I was literally shaking. I could not control my emotions,” the model explained. “My whole body was shaking. I have never felt like that in my life. People of color are struggling too much in 2020 for the promoters not to have vetted and cleared accessories for the shows.”
The model said she walked the runway without wearing the racist accessories, which apparently came from a sex toy, but “stormed out of the event immediately afterwards,” the Post reports.
The fashion show, which was held during New York’s fashion week, showcased work from 10 alumni of FIT’s Master of Fine Arts class in Fashion Design, a press release stated.
The show was directed by FIT professor Jonathan Kyle Farmer, who is also the chair of the new MFA Fashion Design. The show was produced by Richard Thornn, who is the creative director of a British fashion production company called, NAMES LDN. As for the racist accessories that were in the show, those were created by a recent FIT grad named Junkai Huang, whom witnesses said did not understand the “racial overtones of his work.”
Lefevre said her modeling agency was “furious” over the incident. However, the Post reports that the agency received “conflicting reports” about the fashion show, discrediting Lefevre’s account of what happened. To that, the model said, “They just don’t want their name to be anywhere near this.”
The model said Thornn tried to force her to wear the pieces. A student who was backstage at the show backed Lefevre’s version of what happened. “We brought it up to [Thornn] multiple times,” the student said. “We said she cannot wear this. This is wrong. He screamed in my face, ‘You need to back down and get away.’ It was such a grave lack of judgment.”
The president of the school has released a statement, saying that the school will “investigate and take appropriate action.”
“This program protects a student’s freedom to craft their own personal and unique artistic perspectives as designers, to be even what some would consider to be provocative, so that they find that voice,” FIT president Dr. Joyce F. Brown told The Post. “However provocative design and fashion might be though, my commitment to ensure that people are not made to feel uncomfortable, offended, or intimidated is also of the utmost importance not only to me personally but to the college community as well. We take this obligation very, very seriously and will investigate and take appropriate action regarding any complaint or concern that is made in this situation.”