Sophie Applegarth Julie Iovenitti  blackface
Sophie Applegarth and Julie Iovenitti as the Williams sisters, with Sally Coburn as Kobe Bryant. Sophie Applegarth / Sally Coburn / Instagram

Models Sophie Applegarth and Julie Iovenitti have defended themselves after dressing up as legendary tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, complete with blackface, for a Christmas party.

The pair defended the racist costumes revealed in Instagram photos, with Iovenitti saying in response to a critic on social media (via ABC) that "there is nothing racist about backing [your] favourite sport stars."

"Go to school and learn what racism really means," she added.

The friends shared multiple pictures of themselves wearing tennis gear and smeared with brown body paint.

Friend Sally Coburn also shared a picture of the pair, with her in blackface as well, imitating basketball star Kobe Bryant.

Sophie Applegarth's Instagram profile, which has 17,400 followers, has since been made private.

Following the party, Applegarth said she "did not mean to offend" anyone with the photographs. "Disclaimer - I had no 'racist' or malicious intent by the photos I just uploaded.

"We were praising our fav sports stars Serena and Venus Williams. Did not mean to offend."

Twitter user Victoria Uwonkunda said: "How did this Aussie lass [Sophie Applegarth] and her band of merry little friends think this get-up was a compliment to their 'fave sports stars'?

"Y'all couldn't think of better ways to pay tribute to Serena and Venus without blackface?"

Another, Jake Watt, said: "How big a bubble does a person (ie Sophie Applegarth) live in if they *still* think this ok?"

In private messages seen by ABC, one of the women pictured says she considers criticism of the images "unreasonable harassment", adding that: "[I'm] submitting them to my lawyer now,"

The news follows Atletico Madrid and France footballer Antoine Griezmann was heavily criticised for donning blackface and an afro to attend a party as a basketball player for the Harlem Globetrotters.