25-year-old model Amy Lefevre was told to wear accessories reminiscent of colonial-era minstrel shows.
A black model was left shaken after a fashion designer made models walk down the runway wearing "bizarre, 'racist' accessories like 'monkey ears” and [oversized] lips," The New York Post reports. Amy Lefevre, a 25-year-old who has been modeling for about four years now, walked the runway without the accessories against the designer's wishes. The incident took place at a runway show for the Fashion Institute of Technology as part of a series of celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the institution. The designer, recent FIT grad Junkai Huang, allegedly did not recognize the racial overtones of his designs, reminiscent of the costumes and makeup worn during colonial-era minstrel shows.
"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 revealed in an interview. "I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds." As someone who has been a part of the industry for almost half a decade, the model said she is no stranger to bigotry within the fashion industry. However, she claimed she had never experienced something as bad as what occurred on February 7. She stated, "I was literally shaking. I could not control my emotions. 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 show, which took place during New York Fashion Week, took place at Manhattan’s Pier59 Studios. It was organized to showcase the work of the 10 alumni from FIT’s first-ever Master of Fine Arts class in fashion design. It was directed by FIT professor and chair of the new MFA Fashion Design Jonathan Kyle Farmer and produced by Richard Thornn, creative director of British fashion production company NAMES LDN. According to a student witness who was backstage at the show, Lefevre’s complaints were ignored. "We brought it up to [Thornn] multiple times," the witness revealed. "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." Reportedly, several students brought up the problematic connotations of the accessories with Farmer a day prior to the show - to no avail.
At present, an investigation into the matter is ongoing. FIT president Dr. Joyce F. Brown stated, "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. 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." Meanwhile, Lefevre's agency, Q Model Management, refuses to get involved. "They just don’t want their name to be anywhere near this," she said.
The industry has previously come under fire for its tone-deaf approach to issues of racism. In February last year, Gucci received major backlash for a "blackface" sweater, for instance. Several celebrities spoke out against the design house and boycotted them. As per Sam Reiss, a New York-based fashion photographer, trying to be "edgy" shouldn't come at the cost of being racist. "You want to push people’s boundaries of what people think is beautiful or cool, but you don’t just want to be trying to get a reaction," he said. "You don’t push the envelope by baiting race issues. That’s not being edgy."