Prada And FIT Showcase Blackface Fashion

Published on February 25, 2020

The Fashion Institute Of Technology (aka FIT) and Prada are both under scrutiny as the entities have displayed shows containing blackface fashion. The latest incidents had their own models being part of the problem and the solution to the historical use of the racism behind blackface.

FIT Is Getting Into The Bottom Of This.

The Fashion Institute of Technology is currently conducting an investigation regarding a fashion show after one of its models, Amy Lefevre, refused to wear accessories regarded as racist amd blackface. These included oversized plastic monkey ears, oversized plastic lips, and prosthetic eyebrows. Lefevre stated:

“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 told that it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds.”

The show flaunted the work of ten alumni of FIT’s MFA class in fashion design. It was also heavily directed by professionals in the fashion industry. These are professor and department chair (Jonathan Kyle Farmer), creative director of Names LDN (Richard Thornn), and FIT Alumni (Junkai Huang).

While all parties included have reassure the public of their ignorance regarding the racist undertones of the show, it is hard to believe. New York and Britain are two very diverse regions; as two of the fashion capitals of the world, they are exposed to diversity in a daily basis. However, racism still exists in the industry. Which is why before FIT, there was Prada.

Prada To Be Taught A Racism Class.

Prada has recently agreed to diversify its workplace as a reaction to a two-year-old blackface controversy. Two years after being called out for attempting to sell controversial monkey-like trinkets, the company’s representatives are required to attend a racial equity training. Said class will revolve around a syllabus containing topics of anti-discrimination, diversity, and inclusion. According to the agreement with the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the company also agreed to hire more people of color in its retail stores and to a fashion-based scholarship program directed specifically to minority groups who wish to make their marks in the world of fashion.

Nevertheless, it might take more than just money to amend the company’s racist behavior. The incident in question was brought to the public by New York resident and civil rights attorney, Chinyere Ezie. She took pictures of eyebrow-raising dolls found in a Prada store at Soho, Manhattan, as she was coming home from Washington DC’s Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Despite Prada insisting that the dolls were not meant to be a reference of blackface, the fashion giant was still given a cease and desist order from the NYCCHR. Unfortunately, racism’s tenure in the fashion industry has been active for ages.

Fashion Goes All The Way Back To The Nazis?

According to author Tansy Hoskins, companies Chanel and Dior were known to work with the Nazi and Vichy governments back in the 1940’s. Coco Channel has been exposed in the past as a Nazi agent who worked for the Third Reich. While Christian Dior never claimed to be a Nazi sympathizer, he was known for having a clientele made of wives and mistresses of Nazi officers.

The problem is that fashion tends to appeal to majority groups by borrowing designs and separating them from the meaning behind them; this is known to having serious consequences. An example of this is when GQ’s 1999 then editor, James Brown, was forced to resign after including Nazis in the magazine’s issue as part of the stylish men section. These fashion companies, including Prada, were founded during a time where anything other than whiteness was not the norm. Since traditions are known to stick, experts argue that fashion’s racism today is allegedly due to ignorance.

Is Ignorance Truly An Excuse?

Parsons professor, Kimberly Jenkins, believes that “it’s a lot of ignorance and people not growing up in a space where there’s a whole lot of diversity.” Jenkins states that while Italy is full of immigrants, fashion companies are still largely white. As a result, ignorance has turned more into a factor for blackface in fashion when Gucci’s CEO, Marco Bizarri, said:

“We are coming from a different culture. We are Italian. We don’t know all of the cultural differences.”

And while it is fair to say that not all companies are aware of intercultural atrocities, they are sill expected to know better. Mainly because as enterprises that happen to have retail stores outside of Europe, someone in their staff must be able to recognize the wrong behind these fashion statements.

Fashion is a global avatar; it represents people on an international scale. European fashion houses are currently all across the globe. Nevertheless, beauty and cultural awareness are still not all inclusive. Racism in the establishment is quite subtle, like the fact that few stylists know how to style black hair. Prada’s blackface figurines are actually quite similar to characters from the Jim Crow-era minstrel shows, meaning that the image of blackface is in fact part of the public record. Is ignorance truly an excuse? It’s not. It wouldn’t hurt these companies to do a little more homework


Argenis Ovalles is an Editorial Intern at Grit Daily. He currently writes at Vocal Media and Theater Pizzazz.

Read more

More GD News