The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), one of the top fashion schools in the world and a part of the taxpayer-funded State University of New York, issued an apology on February 20th for a fashion show that was understandably deemed racist for having models wear extremely oversized ears and red lips, along with bushy eyebrows, on the catwalk.
Model Amy Lefevre, a 25-year-old Black woman, told the New York Post she felt pressured to wear the “monkey ears” and extremely large lips at a February 7th runway show to highlight alumni from FIT’s inaugural Master of Fine Arts class. Ultimately, Lefevre walked the show without wearing the accessories, and said she left the venue immediately after the show.
Other models, who aren’t Black, wore the accessories, which could lead one to assume Lefevre was the sole Black model in the show.
“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,” Lefevre said to the Post.
“I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.”
The accessories were the brainchild of recent FIT graduate Junkai Huang, who is from China. His original concept sought to highlight “ugly features of the body,” a witness told the Post. Observers said to the outlet that the designer didn’t appear to understand the racial overtones of the accessories.
Ah, the ignorance defense … As if East Asian entertainment, specifically anime/manga, doesn’t have a pattern of presenting Black people in an extremely racist way, often with large red lips and in comparison to monkeys. Or maybe Huang never considered a Black model would be cast to wear his accessories at the FIT show.
The fashion show was directed by Jonathan Kyle Farmer, a professor at FIT and chairperson of the new FIT MFA Fashion Design program. Richard Thornn, creative director of British fashion production company NAMES LDN, produced it.
A student who spoke to the Post under the condition of anonymity said several students made their objections known to Farmer and Thornn before the show.
“We brought it up to [Thornn] multiple times,” the witness told the Post. “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.”
Huang, Farmer, and Thornn didn’t respond to the Post’s requests for comment, but FIT’s president released a statement addressing the controversy.
FIT president Dr. Joyce F. Brown defended the intent of Huang’s concept, saying it wasn’t meant to be about race, but the school failed to recognize how the accessories would be perceived.
“Currently it does not appear that the original intent of the design, the use of accessories or the creative direction of the show was to make a statement about race; however, it is now glaringly obvious that has been the outcome,” said Brown in a lengthy statement. “For that, we apologize — to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw.”
Brown didn’t mention Thornn nor Farmer in her statement, but said the institution should’ve stopped the offensive accessories from making a debut on the catwalk.
Not impressed by that apology?
Brown also highlighted the diversity work FIT has supposedly already put in. “This is not the moment to simply remind ourselves of all of the good and productive efforts we have made in the name of diversity, inclusion[,] and civility,” Brown said in the statement.
In addition, she mentioned the vague steps the school would take to prevent another offensive incident like this from students and alumni. According to Brown’s statement, there will be discussions with the school’s Diversity Council, Faculty Senate, the United College Employees (UCE), and the Student Government Association.
“Consequently, we must, as educators, be certain we are providing students the cultural and historical perspectives they need as they realize their artistic vision,” Brown continued in the statement. “Simultaneously, we must provide guidance so that they recognize and respect potential risks and unintended consequences of their creativity.”
And to think some people question why Black History Month is still necessary.