A Black model in New York City said she was asked to wear Sambo-like accessories during a fashion show at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).
For a February 7 FIT fashion show, 25-year-old Amy Lefevre was asked to don monkey ears and red, oversized lips as part of FIT grad Junkai Huang's showcase.
She was also told that it "was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds" in response to her refusal.
According to the New York Post, Lefevre has been modeling for four years. During this time she has experienced her share of racism, however, this incident according to her, was by far the most blatant.
"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 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."
Other models, who weren't Black, showcased the accessories. Lefevre walked the runway without wearing the accessories and left shortly after.
The show was held during fashion week at Manhattan’s Pier59 Studio, and the aim was to highlight the work of 10 alumni from FIT’s inaugural Master of Fine Arts class in fashion design, as stated in a press release.
The show was part of a series produced to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the esteemed institution. The school was founded in 1944 and is a part of the taxpayer-funded State University of New York system.
The fashion show was directed by Jonathan Kyle Farmer, a FIT professor and chair member of the new MFA program. It was produced by Richard Thornn, the creative director of British fashion production company NAMES LDN.
Huang is from China and meant to "highlight ugly features of the body" as relayed by an unnamed witness. However, the witness recalls raising a concern that fell on deaf ears.
"We brought it up to [Thornn] multiple times, we said, ‘She cannot wear this. This is wrong.’ He screamed in my face, ‘You need to back down and get away,’" the witness said.
The model said Thornn also tried to be intimidating by "strong-arming" her.
Several classmates also raised their concerns to Farmer one day prior to the show.
Lefevre's agency, Q Model Management doesn't appear to want to ruffle any feathers and has not come to the defense of their client.
The agency claims to have received conflicting reports about the show and considers their client's account of events unreliable, according to The Post.
"They just don’t want their name to be anywhere near this," Lefevre said.
"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, 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," FIT President Dr. Joyce F. Brown told The Post in response to the incident.
So far, Farmer, Thornn and Huang haven't commented on the events that unfolded before or at the fashion show.