Fashion Institute of Technology President Apologizes for the School's 'Racist' Fashion Show - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

The president of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a prestigious fashion school in New York, issued an apology after a graduate held a controversial fashion show at the college that was labeled “racist.”

The runway show made headlines after an African American model said she was pressured to wear monkey ears and oversized lips in a runway show during New York Fashion Week. The accessories were reportedly from MFA graduate Junkai Huang’s collection and was meant to highlight the “ugly features of the body,” reports Diet Prada.

“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,” Amy Lefevre, a 25-year-old model, told the New York Post. “I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.”

Although Lefevre still participated in the show, she walked down the runway without the ears or the exaggerated synthetic lips while the other models in the show, who were not African American, wore the accessories. Afterward, Lefevre says she was visibly shaken.

“I was literally shaking. I could not control my emotions. My whole body was shaking. I have never felt like that in my life,” she said, reports The Post. “People of color are struggling too much in 2020 for the promoters not to have vetted and cleared accessories for the shows.”

According to some observers, Huang, who is from China, did not appear to understand the racial overtones of his work. “It was such a grave lack of judgment,” said an anonymous witness who was backstage when the show took place.

 

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It shouldn’t be down to the models to have to refuse wearing blatantly racist accessories on the runway, especially not in a show thrown by an institution like @fitnyc. In an alumni show celebrating their 75th anniversary, MFA graduate Junkai Huang showed a collection that was meant to highlight the “ugly features of the body”. The choice of exaggerated bright red fake lips and “monkey ears”, as well as the school’s response, are leaving us shaking our heads. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Nearing a breakdown, African-American model Amy Lefevre (@lefevrediary ) spoke up about the accessories, but was told by staff it was “ok to be uncomfortable for only 45 seconds”. It’s one thing when it’s a pair of tricky heels, but quite another when you’re made up to look like racist caricatures from the not-so-distant past. Multiple complaints had been made in the days leading up to the show as well, with several people objecting. One anonymous student who was witness backstage, said the show’s producer @richardthornn told the group to “back down and get away” when they brought up the issue again. The accessories didn’t end up making it onto Lefevre, but that didn’t stop them from going down the runway on other models. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In a statement to the NY Post, FIT president Dr. Joyce F. Brown emphasized allowing the students the “freedom to craft their own personal and unique artistic perspectives as designers, to be even what some would consider to be provocative”, but said they would investigate further. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In a time when luxury brands are taking swift action by pulling offensive products and implementing diversity councils in response to similar scandals, it’s a shame to see a learning institution dragging their feet. Shouldn’t they be the ones broadening insights for the ones who will lead fashion in the future and not reinforcing the same aspects that have made the industry notoriously problematic? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ • #fit #fitnyc #suny #cuny #fashionschool #college #mfa #mastersdegree #alumni #fitalumni #fashiondesigner #design #designer #runway #model #blackface #racism #monkey #grotesque #sexdoll #bodyimage #lumpsandbumps #wiwt #ootd #runwaymodel #nyfw #fashionweek #dietprada

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On Wednesday, FIT President Joyce F. Brown issued a statement apologizing for the show held on Feb. 7 to showcase the work of the 10 alumni from the college’s inaugural Master of Fine Arts class in fashion design.

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. For that, we apologize—to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw.

 

Let me be clear: no person should be made to feel uncomfortable—particularly about race—in service of their work, job, livelihood, or course of study. Right now, we are actively investigating how this happened. And as you’ll read, we have outlined several steps to address the concerns and questions of students, faculty, and our community. We take this very seriously and our response and actions going forward will reflect that.

In addition, Jonathan Kyle Farmer, the chair of the modern fine arts fashion design course which ran the show, also apologized to the model Lefevre in an Instagram post, writing:

“I deeply apologize for any harm and pain I’ve caused to those involved with the show. I take full responsibility and am committed to learning from this situation and taking steps to do better.”