Fashion Institute Of Technology Apologises For Hosting ‘Racist’ Fashion Show With Monkey Ears And Lips
The president of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) has apologised after a school fashion show ignited a furore for its ‘glaringly obvious’ racist accessories.
The MFA program’s event took place on February 7 in New York, with models taking to the runway in an array of ‘large prosthetic ears and lips and bushy eyebrows’, reminiscent of discriminatory caricatures.
Designed by FIT alumnus Junkai Huang, from China, the event brewed near-immediate controversy after Amy Lefevre, a 25-year-old African American model, refused to wear the ‘clearly racist’ items.
FIT President Joyce F. Brown has now penned an open letter addressing the event, apologising for any offence caused by the ‘glaringly obvious’ outcome of the designs.
In the letter, Brown wrote:
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 apologise – 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.
As other models – who weren’t African American – took to the stage equipped with the ears, lips and eyebrows, Amy 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. I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.’
She added: ‘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.’
While FIT’s president initially said ‘the program protects a student’s freedom to craft their own personal and unique artistic perspectives as designers’, the letter acknowledges the need for a balance between provocative voices and creating a safe atmosphere where people don’t feel offended or intimidated.
The letter adds:
There is a balance that must be struck between these two imperatives, one that is not always easy to find, but it is the college’s responsibility to find it. As both a former faculty member and an administrator, I appreciate how fine a line there is to draw between these two.
… 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.
In recent years, the fashion industry has come under fire a number of times for allegedly racist, naively displayed designs. For example, in February 2019, Gucci withdrew a $890 jumper following complaints it resembled blackface. In 2018, Prada removed ‘fantasy charms’ designed like monkeys with large red lips from its store front in Manhattan after accusations of blackface.
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