Fashion Institute of Technology apologizes to anyone offended by racist runway show

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On February 7, FIT held its first show during New York Fashion Week in honor of its inaugural Fashion Design MFA class. It was an event that should have been fun and a chance for alumni to share their work with a wide audience, but was marred by an atrocious, totally preventable choice: One of the collections, by Junkai Huang, included racist accessories. One of the models refused to wear them. FIT has apologized and put two administrators on leave while an investigation is underway. CNN has more on this complete disaster:

The Fashion Institute of Technology has apologized and placed two academic officials on leave, after its graduate fashion show used accessories that many — including a model scheduled to walk in the show — called racist.

The incident occurred earlier this month during the school’s MFA Fashion show, which featured works designed by 10 alumni of the school’s inaugural class to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Fashion Design. The school highlighted a collection by alumnus Junkai Huang. The school’s production included models wearing prosthetic ears and lips and bushy eyebrows.

But one model, Amy LeFevre, refused to wear the items, calling them racist. She walked down the runway without them. CNN reached out via phone and email to LeFevre’s agency but did not immediately receive a response.

The incident was immediately criticized on social media and elsewhere. Diet Prada, a fashion industry watchdog, said on Instagram: “It shouldn’t be down to the models to have to refuse wearing blatantly racist accessories on the runway, especially not in a show thrown by an institution like @fitnyc…”

Joyce F. Brown, president of FIT, released an initial statement Tuesday, writing that while the original intent of the collection was not race-related, “it is now glaringly obvious that has been the outcome.”

“For that, we apologize — to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw,” she wrote. “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.

[From CNN]

Racism in fashion shouldn’t be surprising, but it makes me ill. Diet Prada is right: Amy LeFevre shouldn’t have had to say a thing about the accessories, because she shouldn’t have been asked to wear them in the first place. Someone at FIT should have vetoed that decision long before Amy and the other models were told what they would be wearing. Buzzfeed wrote a lengthy article about the incident, including more about Amy’s experience, which is heartbreaking and enraging to read:

In addition to students who protested the prosthetics, model Amy LeFevre, who is black, told NBC News that she “almost broke down in tears” when she found out she was supposed to wear them during the show, and said she felt “pressured” by those in charge.

She said she told the runway show’s organizers that the prosthetics called back to offensive caricatures of black people.

LeFevre said FIT students “did come to support me, realizing how inappropriate [the accessories] were,” but said that they were yelled at to move away from her.

[From Buzzfeed News]

This makes my blood boil. There should never have been a debate! After the accessories got by everyone (a gigantic fail), the moment that Amy refused to wear them, someone in charge should have backed her up. An investigation into how the accessories were approved needed to happen. But no one should have pressured the models to wear them. No one should have yelled at the students who were supporting Amy. There should have been more administrators overseeing the show, though I suppose everyone assumed it was going to go well.

Dr. Joyce F. Brown, the president of FIT, has issued two letters to the community, including one on Friday, to provide an update about how the school is going to deal with the response to the show. She writes, in part:

First and foremost, we have commissioned an independent investigation of ourselves. Bond, Schoeneck & King, an external law firm, will immediately conduct a thorough and objective probe into the incident, including what led up to the show and what followed.

Second, we are urging a pause—and a request for context—around the role of Junkai Huang, the young FIT alumnus whose collection at the runway show is at the center of this controversy. Junkai has said, and his thesis notes and sketches support, that the collection he designed and produced was not aimed at invoking or provoking racial implications.

It also appears—based upon information available—that the styling and accessorizing used in the show were provided to him rather than chosen at his discretion. To us, this indicates that those in charge of and responsible for overseeing the show failed to recognize or anticipate the racist references and cultural insensitivities that were obvious to almost everybody else. That’s inexcusable and irresponsible—but also why we are commissioning an independent investigation.

With this in mind, as the investigation unfolds, we would ask the community to hold us—rather than Junkai—accountable.

[From FIT]

Brown is sending letters of apology to Amy LeFevre and the other models in the show. She’s going to hold a Town Hall with current students and other meetings with students, faculty, staff, and alumni. She’s going to be meeting on Monday with the school’s Diversity Council and Faculty Senate on Monday and her “cabinet has already held multiple meetings with faculty and students to begin a deep and serious dialogue about the immediate, long-term, and systemic implications of the MFA-FIT runway show.” It sounds like the steps that are being taken are good ones, but it’s too little, too late. This never should have happened in the first place, and I can’t imagine that the two administrators who were placed on leave were the only ones who knew about the content of the fashion show. That is highly, highly unlikely, so I’m interested to see, as the investigation progresses, what else is discovered about exactly who at FIT knew about the fashion show and when. And what of the designer, Junkai Huang? He spoke with CNN, and had this to say:

Huang denied that his collection was racist, telling CNN that he was “sad and shocked” by the allegation. “The saddest part is I am not a racist, and as an Asian person I had bad experiences here too,” he said.

“The accessories used during the show were intended to be reflections of my own body features and perceptions of their enlarge proportions, which should be celebrated and embraced,” Huang added. “They are not ‘ugly features’ as noted in previous media coverages.”

[From CNN]

Ugh. What a mess. I wondered how it would have been possible “that the styling and accessorizing used in the show were provided to him rather than chosen at his discretion,” as President Brown wrote. If it’s his collection and his designs, why would he have been given anything, or been given a limited number of options to choose from for his outfits? It sounds like he made that choice, and no one from FIT stepped in to say that the accessories were racist, despite his belief that they aren’t. They didn’t discuss what was racist about the designs and ask whether he could remove them. By taking the onus onto themselves for that, the administrators at FIT are also attempting to show that they are in control of the show and that two people in charge are the ones who showed the lapse in judgment. They’d rather people believe that than that FIT doesn’t care or pay attention to the content that is going to be shown at its events. Amy and the other models deserve more than an apology letter from Dr. Brown. All of the staff at the show who pressured her about wearing the accessories and who yelled at the students need to be disciplined, too.

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46 Responses to “Fashion Institute of Technology apologizes to anyone offended by racist runway show”

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  1. Lala11_7 says:

    At this point in human history…if you don’t know those articles are racist AF…you don’t deserve a platform to showcase your wares and need to go on and disappear into the ether….

    They knew it was racist…that’s why they picked them…that’s why they used them….

    The cruelty is the point….

  2. Valiantly Varnished says:

    Now imagine if all the other models has supported Amy and refused to wear them as well…

  3. TIffany says:

    Junkai Huang is full of it and anti black. She was confident then and is confident now that she knew what she was doing and it upset that she being called out on it instead of praised for it.

    I said what I said.

  4. Kate says:

    Ummm ok?? That is the weirdest reasoning for choosing accessories. ‘I am insecure about my big ears so I’m going to make all the models wear monkey ears’ Like he said that out loud to people and they agreed it would be cool.

  5. BWayney says:

    Why is it impossible for people to say “I’m sorry. It was wrong.” Why is it always “I’m sorry IF I did something wrong.”


    • Mel M says:

      I totally agree! No one ever wants to admit to mistakes and apologize these days. It just reminds me of trump and his followers, like they literally think he does no wrong and if anyone says otherwise THEY are wrong. It’s how children think. There is zero accountability these days and I suspect the reason people like this don’t really apologize is because a) they knew what they were doing and b) they aren’t sorry and don’t care.

    • Mrs.Krabapple says:

      I agree. And “people who were offended” is a passive statement, instead of what it should have been (“people I/we offended”). At least they didn’t use the “people who MAY HAVE BEEN offended” — as if there is still some doubt as to whether anyone was offended. These non-apologies really bug me. If they want public relations “credit” for issuing an apology, then make it a real apology.

  6. Chickaletta says:


    • Lara K says:

      My reaction too.

      WTF is that!

      Can we just agree that if your sh*t has exaggerated lips, distorted eyes, anything black on the face, dreads etc – show it to 3 black / asian / native people first. If they agree it’s racist, then it’s racist. Your “intent” has no bearing here.

  7. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    He contradicted himself. First they were given to him. Then they were intended to reflect his own features. He’s full of shit.

    He shouldn’t get anything. Be anything. Produce anything. Sell anything. Kick him to the curb.

  8. Chimney says:

    Good for Amy for standing up for herself under pressure. Everyone else is spineless or stupid.

  9. A Guest says:

    What the ever living fuck is this? Are these folks serious? How do you not know? How?

    • Bros says:

      Because the student was here Recently from China and not familiar with every bit of history with respect to racial code. I guarantee that the same model who was offended, if she were to visit china, would inevitably run afoul of cultural codes there as well. The idea that this is all a racist plot, devised in the mind of a foreign student and aided and abetted by the administration is patently absurd. They were apparently trying to help the student execute his vision of body part insecurity. The idea that in 2020 the FIT admin went and found him some racist stuff on amazon to help him make a racist point?! Really?! People are losing critical thinking skills in this divisive climate and looking for boogeymen under every rock. Sometimes things go awry and there was no malicious intent. No one ahould be punished for this; they should acknowledge that it made the model very uncomfortable and that they shouldn’t have tried to coerce her to wear anything she was t comfortable with, and no model should wear anything she’s not comfortable with. But public guillotine here is not warranted.

      • Hotsauceinmybag says:

        That’s a stupid excuse and you know it.

        There’s no way you typed out that whole statement not feeling like you’re full of sh1t.

        Also, she’s an alum of FIT meaning she went to school in NYC for a considerable amount of time.

        Try again with your BS, come back with something plausible.

      • Bros says:

        He got here in 2017. I can think of many plausible ways a chinese student here for 2 years would not be fluent in racial tropes in this country and know he was running afoul of something. The career risks are too great to sit and say he went looking for some racist stuff to put together to make a real big name for himself. Read the NYT piece on it. There is undoubtedly racism in this country and minstrel shows are part of that awful heritage. However, not everything is purposefully racists, least of which in instances where the field of interpretation is so wide (any artistic endeavors where there is symbolism and interpretation and artistic intent involved).

      • Silas says:

        Racism is a thing in 2020?

        Yes. How is this something that needs to be debated? Yes, it is very likely there are racists at FIT who DGAF.

      • MsIam says:

        He may have gotten here in 2017 but what is the excuse for the school admin? Somebody should have sat him down and explained very carefully why that was offensive. The fact that no one did is what makes me burn. What the literal F**k?

      • Mia says:

        Nice attempt at excusing the racism but China has many racist policies towards Africans and anti blackness. This man does not have to have lived in the west to not know as Asia has plenty examples of its own. When will people get it through their heads and stop being naive. Anti blackness is GLOBAL. Black people are at the bottom of all the ‘racial hierarchies’.

      • Joanna says:

        @bros, wake up. Racism is subtle in many ways. Instead of trying to deny it, why not take a minority person’s word for it? Do you think you as a white person know more about racism ? I guarantee you don’t. I’m white, my ex husband is mixed. I saw so many subtleties of racism while we were married that just blew my mind. MOST Racists know better than to say the n word, etc., you can be sued for that now. So they go about it in more subtle ways. But as a white person, a lot of our racist behavior is unrealized. For example, thinking people with dreadlocks are dirty. Throwing an insult like oh well, you wear horse hair as an insult. I heard as a kid someone say that. It goes on and on. You need to stop being so defensive of our race that you ignore others of a different race. They are worthy of your listening and reflection. We all have racism in us, whether we are aware of it or not. But a decent person would listen and take other people’s feelings into consideration when it is pointed out. I would never want to be intentionally racist but there are times when we are unintentionally showing racist behavior. Why would you not have consideration for other people? People who insist other are causing racial divisiveness are inaccurate. People like you are! Who put in their fingers in their earsand act like they can’t hear because they don’t want to acknowledge they are wrong. YOU DON’T KNOW MORE ABOUT RACISM THAN A MINORITY. Maybe as a white person, you will listen to me since you’re obviously not interested in listening to non whites.

    • BeanieBean says:

      If he arrived in this country in 2017, that’s hardly recent. I attended school for a year in another country & picked up on their racism fairly quickly. It was blatant and obvious. He knew what he was doing, and he didn’t care.

  10. guilty pleasures says:

    @ Nikomikaelx
    Please seek to understand when people affected by this sort of filth speak to you. Don’t try to walk it back with wide-eyed blinking and virtue signalling in the form of ‘I would NEVER think that was the intent because I am so innocent of such observations.’ I does not ring true if you are a sentient adult living in the present.
    IT IS RACIST, it is akin to ANY mocking of race. I notice that the ‘artist’ did not have the models pull at the corners of their eyes and mimic buck teeth BECAUSE IT’S GROSS AND RACIST.
    Sorry not sorry for yelling.

    • Dutch says:

      A quick google images search of “minstrel show” should put the issue into proper context for Nikomikalex.

    • Nikomikaelx says:

      @ guilty pleasures I don’t condone mocking any race, i just literally didn’t connect this with anything, i googled “Minstrel show” like @ Dutch suggested and can now see why it would be problematic, especially with the right colors. But otherwise some of them just look like goblins or other fantasy creatures etc. Im not trying to be naive, haven’t really seen this imaginary around me so.. didn’t mean any disrespect, try to learn and educate myself every time i encounter something like this that i wasn’t aware of.

  11. Keekee says:

    They all do this on purpose constantly for publicity, biggest ones being the Kardashians do something controversial..apologize. Rinse and Repeat.mxm

    • Chelle says:

      Yes. How can I get some publicity? Go racial. Hit all the black aesthetics and stereotypes. That will draw attention. A twofer! Black outrage AND liberal outrage. Then we’ll do the oh we are sorry / we are learning / we didn’t mean to cause offense but guess what? Our sh*t got the publicity we were after.

      I simply don’t see how the lips, ears, and/or bushy eyebrows add value here—even if it weren’t trading on stereotypes.

  12. Dutch says:

    Somebody needs to clean house at FIT

  13. MellyMel says:

    Nah, these designers know exactly what they are doing. Cause now everyone is talking about this and pictures of the designer’s clothes are attached to every article. They are not stupid. Any publicity is good publicity…

  14. laura-j says:

    Wow. Just wow. I mean… wow… How? What? Why? Huh?

    I can’t even.

  15. Veronica says:

    Kind of just highlights how much black women really can’t trust white women to have their backs, unfortunately. Imagine if even just one other of those models had refused or said anything. Imagine if anyone on that board had stopped it ahead of time.

  16. Kath says:

    “As an Asian person, I can’t be racist”. Ha ha ha ha. Tell that to any black person visiting China, Korea etc. The blatant and overt racism (actual signs in restaurants!) is eye-watering.

  17. This was racist and misogynistic from start to finish. I don’t buy the male designer’s BS excuses either. I think he knew exactly what he was doing, but — hey — now his name is out there! This is what comes of our current culture, where we sell our worst selves to obtain fame and attention. It’s also telling he went with an extreme racist exaggeration of blacks as opposed to Asians. Anybody with a smart phone could google unexceptable physical racial stereotypes and know in 5 minutes this was a wrong way to go. I’m not buying the comment of the designer not understanding what he was doing. In the statement above he states that he knew exactly the image he wanted. It’s just his BS excuse — after the fact — that I’m not buying.

  18. Andrew’s Nemesis says:

    Who could NOT be offended by the show, is the question???!

  19. BC says:

    Ann LeFevre is so brave! I applaud her.

  20. Ms. says:

    Serious question. Are the big ears and eyebrows a racist caricature? I’m afraid to Google to find out the answer because God knows what will pop up on my future searches if I do, but I do want to be knowledgeable and educated about this.

  21. Bros says:

    @joanna, thanks for the white woke ally lesson, however, you know nothing about my race, who I might be married to, or what my kids look like. It’s apparently inconceivable that someone who begs to differ and calls BS on this story of hysteria would not be just a plain old white person who is willfully ignorant and misguided and unversed in minority politics (and not just racial minorities). That’s your gestalt and you would be wrong.

  22. Nibbi says:

    another aspect of this bizarre story is how blatantly the accessories/runway-show styling distract from the actual clothes, just looking at the pictures. were the clothes ever even the point for that designer?