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Fashion Institute of Technology under fire for racist imagery

Fashion Institute of Technology under fire for racist imagery

Two Fashion Institute of Technology administrators have been placed on paid leave after the graduate program’s fashion show featured models walking down the runway in blown up lips and monkey ears. Public backlash transpired after black model Amy Lefevre refused to walk in the February 7th show, calling the accessories, “clearly racist.” Now, three weeks after the show took place, the college held a town hall on campus to discuss the culturally insensitive moment, but many students are saying the college’s attempt at conversation is too late and insincere.

Mary Davis, the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, and Jonathan Kyle Farmer, the Chair of the MFA Fashion Design Department, are the two administrators that have been placed on leave while an investigation takes place to figure out what exactly happened during the MFA show. 

It was student Junkai Huang’s collection that featured the accessories, which drew strong comparisons to racist stereotypes and caricatures, though Huang has stated that his idea was meant to emphasize body features that should be “celebrated and embraced.” Farmer apparently urged Huang to buy the oversized accessories off of Amazon, after the originally designed accessories were too small to be seen from the audience.  

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The use of the accessories in the show made many of the students involved feel uncomfortable and hesitant about participating. According to a report by The Daily Beast, students told Farmer the day before the show that they were concerned about the accessories. Model Amy Lefevre refused to use the accessories during the show. In a statement for the New York Post, Lefevre said, “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 told the New York Post. 

“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.”

Model Amy Lefevre

FIT President Joyce Brown, who was seated front row at the fashion show, released a statement last week, writing, “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.” At this week’s campus “Town Hall,” the conversation opened up to discuss not only the fashion show but other experiences of racism felt around campus. While some students were grateful for the chance for discussion, others were less enthusiastic. 

“She didn’t react until the New York Post wrote about it,” said one senior at the college, continuing, “The New York Post making your moral decisions for you? That’s ridiculous.”

What happened at the FIT Fashions Show isn’t an isolated incidence. The use of racist imagery in the fashion industry has been a source of controversy for decades. Just this past January, Comme Des Garçons came under fire after white models wore cornrow wigs at the Paris men’s fashion week show. Gucci withdrew one of their sweaters from sale after it was called out for resembling blackface, and Prada pulled a keychain after it was criticized for being reminiscent of Sambo, a racist children’s book character.

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