It’s the topless shot heard ’round the world. A picture of a comely blonde who took off her shirt at a trendy New York restaurant has become an internet sensation – picked up by publications from Italy to Russia to China.
But the photographer who directed young model Cheyenne Lutek to expose her breasts says it was all in the name of art and women’s equality.
Allen Henson, an Iraq War veteran-turned-fashion-photographer, told MailOnline he can’t believe the fuss that his photo project at Verso in New York City’s East Village has caused.
‘Apparently everybody seems to like t**s,’ he said.
‘This is just the first in a five part series. What’s going to happen the next time we go out? News helicopters circling over head?’
Mr Henson and Miss Lutek, a 19-year-old fashion model from New Jersey, were swiftly kicked out of Verso, but they received a much warmer welcome when they showed up at a sushi restaurant nearby earlier in the night.
‘The first place we went to, everyone was very excited. The staff was totally supportive,’ Mr Henson said
‘Everybody got up from their tables. Cell phones were out, they were taking pictures. They were like “There’s a naked chick! Woo!”‘
Pictures from the outing that Mr Henson supplied to MailOnline show Miss Lutek posing behind the counter of the sushi restaurant – and even wielding a knife.
Mr Henson says he feels bad about being kicked out of Verso – ‘It’s actually a really great place, great food’ – but he intended the project to be spontaneous.
‘For me, it’s kind of a selfish endeavor to juxtapose topless women in public places. And it’s kind of a woman’s issue,’ he said.
Women are legally allowed to go topless in public in New York City. However, private establishments can bar women from taking their shirts off – just as they can implement a ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ policy for men.
Mr Henson says the manager swiftly stepped in and told him and Miss Lutek to leave. He speculates that they got the boot so quickly because she was seated in front of a table of Jehovah’s witnesses.
‘The owner’s response was just “Awe crap.” Imagine eight seconds, girl’s taking off her shirt and now there’s some half-naked chick in your restaurant and you have a whole table of religious types here,’ Mr Henson said.
Verso’s owner, Labinot Baraliu, rushed over the table and demanded that the half-naked woman put her clothes back on.
In response, the bare-breasted blond insisted that it was ‘perfectly legal’ to go topless in the restaurant.
‘In 15 years [in the restaurant business] I’ve seen all kinds of things, but not this,’ Baraliu explained to the East Village blog EV Grieve. ‘It was funny, but at the same time I was like “WTF — is this really happening?”‘
After exchanging a few words with the owner, the libertine couple were escorted out of the bistro.
In May, the New York City Police Department released an official memo cited by The New York Times informing all police officers that it is not illegal for women to walk around the city shirtless, and that they should not be cited for public lewdness or indecent exposure.
The order given to the city’s 34,000 cops stems from a 1992 New York State Court of Appeals, which states that baring one’s chest in public is legal for a woman as it is for a man.
However, because a restaurant like Verso is a private property, its patrons are subject to whatever rules the business has in place.
MailOnline reached out to Verso twice on Tuesday, but no one at the eatery was available for comment.