Subculture is the mirrors adorning the walls of the cell in which we are confined.  The signifiers – signatures and laurels and family names – which mark our husks exist in the echo chamber of self-expression under the confines of the nightmare system we exist in. Our attempts to find meaning through identification come at the price of cooptation through the lens of industrial capitalism.

What is “savage progress”? At once, a paradox is drawn.  “Savagery” is the othering of cultures existing outside the confines of the industrial capitalist and colonialist patterns of exploitation that have existed for centuries.  “Progress” is the notion of furthering these goals and reinforcing the systems that bind us into their servitude.  The fusion of the two leads us to consider our location within the matrix of exploitation – is our enlistment of these signifiers a reclamation of a visible marker of our exploited natures, or an appropriation under the guise of authenticity?

Perhaps “Savage Progress” is a mirroring of the subcultural identifiers that mark our bondage within the system of psychic and physical extortion we represent.  “Silence”, “Despair” and “Threat” – all words that describe the conditions of our coercion within the systems surrounding us. The very threads of the fabrics speak to the industries shaping the daily routines we embody. The violence and anhedonia woven into each thread manifests in its final form, reproducing the uniforms of industrial statehood seemingly paradoxically; they exist both “outside” the confines of their intention, yet still wholly inside the maelstrom of violence that spawns them.

Our inability to escape what binds us is here made real and tangible and signifiable. RVAH produces a deft recreation of the garments (military, industrial, working class) that mark the drudgery of our existence, our exhausted pride (or perhaps lament?) of our perpetual underclass status and the daily lives of those who demand little and sacrifice much.  

“Savage Progress” is our lock and key, a wolf in sheep’s clothing in the belly of the bloated Leviathan whom we call shelter.



            A warped hall of mirrors is what greets me in every clothing section I've set foot in, whether it be a designer streetwear store or an overstocked Target department. The same outdated modes of “Men & Women's” fashion stare me down no matter the careful artistic cut or the mass produced shape, the palettes of pink and blue staining the painting in my head of what my body could be regardless of whether I'm clothed or naked. Like any “transgressive” subculture I had found interest in before, what little of the fashion world I encountered was nothing more than a boring mirror of the culture I sought escape from in the first place. Punks who only cared about fireworks, beer, and weeding out any PC Faggots™  in their scene now manifested themselves in the same hypebeasts that only cared about photo ops and eviscerating me for my gender expression, even when they were the same people that'd be wearing a knee length Kanye skirt by the years end. It was perfectly acceptable for their icons to break gender norms so long as when the cameras were shut off again, they would go back to being the men fashion the world wants. Everyone wants to be the most artistic, the most trendsetting, and the most gender bending while the limelight is on them. This desire for capital has brought us to the point where our consumption and expression are no longer a product of ourselves, but of our navigation through the narrow societal constructs served to us on silver platters. Gender moving beyond cisnormative ideas is celebrated insofar that it's contained within a runway show, a music video, or a VICE article about all of the above. For trans femmes like myself who transgress norms daily away from the flash and awe of cameras, we are seen as only impersonators, “oddly dressed men”, or not transgender enough should we choose not to go outside with a full face of makeup. My personal relationship with fashion and subculture has been permanently marred by these pressures. Our expression is not seen as desirable in the worlds of capitalism or art, only as sexually disorienting blights on the world. However beautiful I may feel in my femmiest outfits and deepest makeup hues, my confident and beautiful idea of myself will always come in second place to the constant verbal and physical threats from cis people who encounter me. During the rare moments that I choose to present myself as more traditionally male to the world, I feel nothing but silence and a push back into the shadows of the manhood I've tried my whole life to escape. Fashion has led me to both the peaks of ecstasy and the impossible choice of which forms of violence I feel strong enough to endure that day.

            “Conceptual garments” serves to release us from the anxious grip of binarist clothing marketing. Gender-free easels waiting for us to put a brush to them. The sewing machines no longer make our clothes for us, we thread the needle and bleed our own blood when pricked. The power of the cloth is returned to us under will of the wearer, the laws of our identity set by the energies we send out and not what the public deems for us because of the make of our outfits or bodies. Only through an equally violent reclamation of our bodily autonomy and expression can we ever live up to our most authentic selves. This reclamation of autonomy within the fashion industry  through fashion itself is exactly what Savage Progress represents. Fashion against fashion, fashion for ourselves, fashion for the people who have had it's powerful joys taken away from them again and again. Fashion for the sake of feeling good for the moment of looking in the mirror and appreciating how you look, not worrying about how a photo of yourself will turn out later. In a world that demoralizes us and distorts our outrage against it until it's able to sell that outrage back to us, Savage Progress is not simply a cry for help, but a sounding of alarms.

“Thus, whereas most people like to celebrate the illogical pleasures of "dressing up," I only anticipate the illogical rage and violence that is, ironically, equally capable of being triggered by our failed attempts to pass as "normal" or "real" women and men, as well as our attempts to lessen our feelings of failure by transforming ourselves into something "other than normal." While the fashion industry contemplates the possibilities of "non-law-abiding fashion" in relation to a woman's publicly exposed nipple (and not just any nipple, but the nipple of a very particular shape, color, age and body type), I find myself preoccupied by a different series of "non-law-abiding" fashion issues. Issues of illegality that do not lie with the fashion industry's playful attempts at deviance and scandal, but with the violently illegal actions of people - overwhelmingly male - who claim their acts of rape and gay-bashing were inspired and justified by the fashions of their victims. Claims which, although they may not hold up in a court of law in most Western societies, do possess cultural credibility. Thus, here I stand in my 40's, still afraid of getting my ass kicked. It makes no difference whether I am dressed as a man or a woman, a norm or a freak. The entirety of fashion as a celebratory medium has no resonance for me because I cannot identify with the cultural bases of power and domination it unfailingly celebrates - whether the location of that celebration is straight or queer, two-gendered or other-gendered, prudish or aesthetically scandalous. The urgency of social crises around these issues preempts my capacity for joy, and extends to my refusal to celebrate the symbolic spill of blood on the fashion runway through rebellious or impractical designs. I am trying to get away from bloodlust. “

- Excerpt from Terre Thaemlitz from her piece All's In Order: "Out of Order" Fashion's Inability to Divest of Power