The future of luxury fashion: FIT's up-and-coming designers brought inclusion - and controversy - to New York Fashion Week

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On February 7, the Fashion Institute of Technology held its first ever "Fine Art of Fashion and Technology" fashion show to honor its inaugural fashion design MFA class, which graduated in 2019. The showcase came just in time for FIT's 75th anniversary.

Over the course of an hour, models hit the runway in nearly 90 looks, designed by 10 FIT alumni. Each designer's collection touched upon various themes, including diversity and inclusion, sustainability, mental health, as well as a challenge to gender norms. 

If anything, the showcase proved that the future of high fashion is as expressive and innovative as ever, in addition to being exceptionally chic, fierce, and fabulous. 

FIT's show highlighted underrepresented voices on the runway

As touched upon by Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times, fashion is a reflection of culture and has the ability to impact the way one sees and understands oneself. The voices of those long underrepresented - specifically people of color - are narratives, expression, and emotions which have long been missing not just on the fashion runway, but behind the scenes as well.

The show featured the tie-dye street style looks of John Lenahan, also known as Lenny Vuitton, a graffiti artist interested in dismantling and recreating common iconography and making it his own. His work challenges the notions of masculinity, race, culture, and art. 

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There was also Kritika Manchanda, who designed an all-white collection inspired by the fabrics and outfits the British brought over as they colonized Manchanda's home country of India. The clothes appeared to be light weight; the fabrics nearly see through; the shade of white almost spectral. As Manchanda told Business Insider before the show, it was meant to represent the the "ghosts of the past."

"In India, technically, this idea of modesty is actually an impact of colonialism," Manchanda said. "The garments [in my collection] are almost like an X-ray - so it's almost like a ghost of the past, compressing it in time. It was like eliminating color and noise from the collection allowed the scenes and the shapes to show through."

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Moon Chang debuted a stunning black and light pink collection that took inspiration from her post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis. She told Business Insider the diagnosis came after she experienced a fashion-related incident a few years ago.

"I wanted to show [my PTSD] from a fashion designer's perspective," Chang said. 

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Chang also said that, in dealing with the "suffocation" of stress and anxiety, she found herself going back to her earlier childhood days, reliving the moments where her life was "very peaceful" and "very happy." She used velvet and silk to mold flowers, to show that what is beautiful can also be ugly. 

"I used traditional couture techniques [for my clothes] ... to recreate that into the modern and to make hybrid couture," Chang continued. "Black means death, but I want to redefine black as [survival] and rebirth. I was thinking 'what if pink can also be brutal?' I'm playing a lot with words, vocabulary and meaning." 

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Environmentalism was also a major theme among the designers. Jingqi Gina Yang, for example, showcased an entire collection made from waste pulled from the ocean.

Yang told Business Insider she hopes her collection will help educate people about the importance of environmental protection, echoing sentiments shared by Manchanda who, in speaking about sustainability, said her theme of looking toward the past can help inspire people to make more eco-conscious decisions in the future.

"Sustainability doesn't have to be this technological breakthrough," Manchanda said. "It could just be learning from the past and most importantly, [learning] how consumption culture has changed." 

But FIT's show was not without controversy

FIT designer Junkai Huang debuted a collection that included "monkey ears" and giant red, prosthetic lips. Instagram fashion critic Diet Prada shared photos of the collection on Instagram, calling out the designer and the school for showing the collection in this manner. 

In addition, Amy Lefevre, a model who walked in the show and is black, told the New York Post that she felt "pressured" to walk the runway in the collection and was told that "it was fine to feel uncomfortable for only 45 seconds" while modeling the look. Ultimately, according to the Post, Lefevre walked the runway, but without wearing the controversial accessories.

The Post reported that numerous people behind the scenes also spoke up about the accessories and how they resembled racist caricatures. In a statement posted to the school's website, FIT President Dr. Joyce F. Brown said that the collection's intent was not to "make a statement about race" but that the school is "actively investigating" what happened.

"We apologize - to those who participated in the show, to students, and to anybody who has been offended by what they saw," she said in her statement. "No person should be made to feel uncomfortable - particularly about race - in service of their work, job, livelihood, or course of study."

A spokesperson for FIT declined to comment further when reached by Business Insider.

Other FIT designers who showcased their collections at the show included Yunray Chung, Yuchen Han, Yi-Ting Lee, Na Rena Ren, Utkarsh Shukla, and Wu Yutong.

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