A school teaching fashion designing and technology in the United States came under fire recently after it used accessories that have been deemed "racist" as part of a recent fashion show featuring works by alumni.
The Fashion Institute of Technology recently hosted a Master of Fine Arts fashion show earlier in February to feature the works of ten alumni students who had passed out in the school's inaugural batch. A collection by designer and alumnus Junkai Huang was chosen as the show's highlight. The event was meant to mark the presenting of MFA degrees in fashion designing to the ten alumni and also celebrate the school's 75th anniversary.
However, the use of accessories and masks that allegedly evoked "blackface" imagery were deemed racist by observers, marring the festivities. One of the models of colour, Amy LeFevre, who walked for the show straight-out refused to wear the accessories, CNN reported.
The 25-year-old model who refused to walk with the offensive monkey ears and big lips said in an interview to New York Post, "I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.”
While the models were dressed in bright, flowy outfits designed by Junkai, their accessories included a mask with a protruding red mouth and big round ears. The models were also given fake bushy eyebrows to complete the look, giving the models a seemingly apish look. However, critics found the masks similar to blackface masks and make up that white actors in earlier days donned in the US and other white countries to mock people of colour.
The incident was roundly criticized on social media as well as US media with many such as popular Insta fashion account Diet Prada calling out the racist accessories and expressing disbelief that a reputed institute like FIT could engage in such vulgarity.
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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
Why do they keep doing this? Do racists ever learn?— Ugly Guy (@JawnSith) February 23, 2020
Everyone from the administration to the students knew what was behind this. This is inexcusable and everyone involved should clearing out their desks— Cuban Pete (@Halfmykingdom) February 23, 2020
how isolated and fucked in the head are these fashion runway people to even think something like this is appealing? are they hitting Coke that expired from the height of the 80's?— Vic Sage (@18milesout757) February 16, 2020
Following the outrage, the institute vowed to investigate the matter and two academic administrators of the school have been suspended. Meanwhile FTI President Joyce F. Brown said in a statement that the school apologized for the incident.
"...We apologize...to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw," she wrote. "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."
The issue of blackface is one that often pops up in pop culture representations and fashion experiments around the world. In December 2018, fashion brand Prada pulled down a series of offensive "blackface" keychains that were part of its "Pradamalia" collection following severe backlash.