An African-American model at a Fashion Institute of Technology runway show says she was pressured to wear bizarre, “racist” accessories like “monkey ears” and oversized lips.
“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,” Amy Lefevre, 25, told The Post.
“I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.”
Lefevre, who has been modeling for four years and appeared on more than two dozen catwalks, said she is no stranger to industry bigotry but had never experienced anything as bad as the FIT fashion event on Feb. 7.
“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 ultimately walked the runaway, but without wearing the ears or the bright-red synthetic lips, which came from a sex toy. She stormed out of the event immediately afterwards.
The show during New York’s fashion week 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.
The production was part of a series of celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of FIT. Founded in 1944, the 7,406-student Chelsea school is part of the taxpayer-funded State University of New York (SUNY) system.
The show was directed by Jonathan Kyle Farmer, a FIT professor and chair of the new MFA Fashion Design, and produced by Richard Thornn, creative director of British fashion production company NAMES LDN.
The designs were created by recent FIT grad Junkai Huang. Observers said Huang, who is from China, did not appear to understand the racial overtones of his work. The original concept called for highlighting “ugly features of the body,” according to a witness.
Huang, Farmer and Thornn did not respond to requests for comment.
Lefevre said her agency, Q Model Management, was “furious” when she told them what happened, though a rep for the company told The Post they had received “conflicting reports” about the show and suggested Lefevre’s account was unreliable.
“They just don’t want their name to be anywhere near this,” Lefevre said, explaining the agency response.
She said Thornn repeatedly tried to strong-arm her.
A student who said she was backstage at the show, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, backed up Lefevre’s version of events.
“We brought it up to [Thornn] multiple times,” the witness said. “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.”
The student claimed several classmates made their objections known to Farmer the day before the show.
Other models in the show, who were not African-American, wore the pieces down the runway.
“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,” FIT president Dr. Joyce F. Brown told The Post. “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.”
The meltdown comes at a sensitive time as the fashion industry grapples with the desire to push the envelope with edgy new designs and the landmines of race.
Last February, Gucci took heat for a “blackface sweater” leading to calls from celebs like 50 Cent and Spike Lee to boycott the brand. Italian clothier Dolce & Gabbana was also bruised in 2018 over an ad which apparently mocked a Chinese woman for eating oversized Italian food with chopsticks.
“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,” Sam Reiss, a New York-based fashion photographer, told The Post. “You don’t push the envelope by baiting race issues. That’s not being edgy.”