FIT Addresses Racism on the Runway

FIT apologizes after accessories from their show were considered offensive.

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) apologized Tuesday for portraying runway models with demeaning facial features. The alumni fashion show held on Feb. 7 showcased several models wearing overexaggerated adornments, including bushy eyebrows and enlarged ears and lips. The prosthetics, created by MFA graduate Junkai Huang, were meant to accentuate the “ugly features of the body” for his collection. Viewers, however, deemed these accessories as racist due to their resemblance of coon caricatures – a series of 19th century illustrations that depicted African Americans as monkeys and other dehumanizing traits. 

One African American model, Amy Lefévre, objected to wearing these prosthetics for the FIT fashion show. “I stood there almost ready to break down, telling the staff I felt incredibly uncomfortable with having to wear these pieces and that they were clearly racist,” she told the New York Post. “I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.” 

In a statement of apology, FIT president Dr. Joyce F. Brown affirmed that there were no racial intentions behind the designs, but did acknowledge the offensive outcome: “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.” 

Brown also claimed that FIT, in response to the backlash, will be taking “several steps to address the concerns of [their] community.”

“This is not the moment to simply remind ourselves of all of the good and productive efforts we have made in the name of diversity, inclusion and civility,” Brown wrote. “We have to recognize as individuals and as a community that we cannot be complacent and that there is still much work to be done–and I am personally committed to making that happen.”

Bennett Raglin / Getty Images
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