Black model says she was pressured to wear ‘racist’ oversized monkey ears and lips at NY fashion show

Mildred Europa Taylor February 18, 2020
The model pictured here with a "styling shot" of what she would have looked like in the accessories. Photo: The New York Post

An African-American model says she was recently asked to wear “racist” accessories like “monkey ears” and oversized lips during a fashion show at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York.

This comes at a time when brands and fashion entrepreneurs are being asked to move away from using racist stereotypes.

“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, 25, told The New York Post.

“I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.”

The show was staged at Manhattan’s Pier59 Studios and was designed to “showcase the work of the 10 alumni from FIT’s inaugural Master of Fine Arts class in fashion design,” according to a press release cited by The New York Post.

The event, held on February 7, also formed part of the celebrations of the school’s 75th anniversary.

Lefevre thought she had seen it all being a model for four years now. She said she did not expect anything as bad as what she experienced at the FIT fashion event.

“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.”

Lefevre eventually walked the show but without wearing the racist accessories. She left the show right after. Other models, who were not African American, wore the pieces down the runway.

Fashion Institute Of Technology's Fine Art Of Fashion And Technology Show
Other models, who were not African American, wore the pieces down the runway. Photo: Getty

Sources told The New York Post that the designs were created by a FIT grad Junkai Huang, who is from China and doesn’t seem to “understand the racial overtones of his work.”

They added that the original concept of the show was to highlight “ugly features of the body.”

Organizers of the event are yet to comment on the development but FIT president Dr. Joyce F. Brown told The New York Post that the school will investigate the complaints.

“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,” Brown said.

“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.”

Brands have over the years continued to fall foul with consumers over racist imagery, perhaps in their bid to pursue creativity in their works.

From ‘monkeys’, ‘Nigga’, to ‘slavery’, scores of luxury brands have raised eyebrows with designs that have racist connotations.

Experts have blamed the situation on the increasing pressures facing the industry to push products to stores and online within short notices without taking time to thoroughly review products.

“There is such pressure on speed that there is no time for consideration,” said Allen Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce, a marketing firm. “When you are moving this fast, there is no time for perspective.”

The speed with which these mistakes are made is the same speed with which consumers take to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to lambast these brands.

Brands would subsequently be compelled to apologize for their inability to be sensitive to cultures and black people in their operations.


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