Story at a glance
- At a Fashion Institute of Technology show, models were outfitted with prosthetics for large ears and lips as well as bushy eyebrows.
- The imagery parallels racist caricatures of black people that exaggerate their features, leading to accusations of blackface.
- A black model refused to wear the prosthetics when she walked down the runway, but other non-black models did.
Models walked down the runway of the Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT) alumni show during New York Fashion Week in large prosthetic ears and lips and fake bushy eyebrows — exaggerating the same features as blackface. The college is now apologizing, saying they failed to recognize the “negative consequences” of the designs.
But Amy Lefevre, a 25-year-old black model at the show, told the New York Post she told organizers backstage that the accessories were racist. The imagery mirrors racist caricatures of black people that have been around since the days of minstrel shows comparing them to monkeys. Lefevre said Richard Thornn, creative director of NAMES LDN and producer of the show, tried to strong-arm her into wearing the prosthetics.
“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, 25, told the Post. “I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.”
She did not wear the accessories when she walked down the runway in front of more than 100 attendees, but other models, who were not black, did.
"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," said Joyce Brown, FIT’s president, in a statement.
The collection was reportedly designed by Junkai Huang, a FIT alumnus from China, and featured in a show at Pier59 Studios organized by Professor Jonathan Kyle Farmer, the founding chair of the college's MFA program.
Farmer apologized in a statement on Instagram taking responsibility for the situation.
"I deeply apologize for any harm and pain I've caused to those involved with the show, including Amy LeFevre," he wrote. "It was never our intent for the show's styling to be interpreted as racist or to make people feel uncomfortable but I now fully understand why this has happened."
Lefevre told the New York Post she's seen her share of bigotry in four years as a model, but nothing as bad as what happened at the show on Feb. 7.
“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. “People of color are struggling too much in 2020 for the promoters not to have vetted and cleared accessories for the shows.”
A year and one day before the show, Gucci apologized and pulled a sweater resembling blackface with a red outline around the lips from their store. Similar offenses by other high fashion houses such as Prada have led prominent black artists like filmmaker Spike Lee and rapper T.I. to call for boycotts of the brands.
“Regardless of intent or artistic vision, we must be continually aware of that which constitutes an authentic artistic expression, and that which creates a risk to the intended message and interpretation of the art form. There is no room for error which can be interpreted as racism, homophobia, religious intolerance or any other kind of bigotry,” Brown said in her statement.