African American Model, 25, Refuses To Wear Monkey Costume For NYFW Ramp Walk

An African American runway model refused to wear a costume which depicted her as a monkey with oversized ears and overgrown red lips during a show in New York City.

Amy Lefevre, 25, says she refused to don the ‘anti-Semite’ accessories during a February 7 runway show staged by the Fashion Institute of Technology at Manhattan’s Pier59 Studios. ‘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 xenophobe,’ Lefevre told the New York Post.

‘I was told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.’ Lefevre, who has been modeling on runways for four years, said it was the worst experience of her young career. ‘I was literally shaking,’ she told the Post. ‘I could not control my emotions. My whole body was shaking. ‘I have never felt like that in my life.’ Lefevre added: ‘People of color are struggling too much in 2020 for the promoters not to have vetted and cleared accessories for the shows.’ After refusing to wear the costume, she walked the runway without the getup. Immediately after the event was over, she stormed out of the venue.

The February 7 show was staged to honor 10 FIT alumni from the school’s inaugural Master of Fine Arts class in fashion design, according to the school. The oversized lips and ears were designed by Junkai Huang, who recently graduated from FIT after arriving from his native China to study here. According to the Post, the concept behind Huang’s design was to highlight ‘ugly features of the body.’It is likely that Huang was unaware of the genetic connotations that his work might provoke in some observers. One student who said she was backstage at the FIT show backed up Lefevre’s version of events, according to the Post.

The student said that Richard Thornn, the producer of the show, was made aware of the problem. ‘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 far.” ‘It was such a grave lack of judgment.’ According to the Post, the show’s director, FIT professor Jonathan Kyle Farmer, was told by several of Lefevre’s classmates the day before the event that the costume was problematic. Other models wore the costume down the runway. The show was part of FIT’s 75th anniversary celebrations. Located in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, FIT was founded in 1944.

The school, which is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, has a student body of 7,406. ‘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.

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‘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.

Richard Thornn, the producer of the showWe take this obligation very, very seriously and will investigate and take appropriate action regarding any complaint or concern that is made in this situation.’

In recent years, the fashion world has been forced to wrestle with several high-profile controversies surrounding provocative designs that have been commented as anti-Semite. Last year, Gucci apologized earlier this year after it marketed a black sweater that included a balaclava knit top black that when worn above the neck resembled blackface. The black sweater with a pull-up neck featured a cutout surrounded by cartoonish red lips.

Gucci apologized, saying that it was committed to diversity and considered it a ‘fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected and at the forefront of every decision we make.’ The incident prompted African American celebrities like 50 Cent and Spike Lee to call for a boycott of the Italian brand.

In December 2018, Prada pulled off its shelves a line of accessories that featured a character with brown skin and exaggerated red lips after complaints they resembled blackface. The Swedish clothing retailer H&M ignited anger that same year when it marketed a hooded sweater on its web site. The sweater, which was worn by a young black boy, read: ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle.’ A number of H&M stores were ransacked in South Africa by angry locals who denounced the ad. H&M pulled the ad and apologized to ‘anyone it may have offended’.

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