From the look of Yahaira DeHill’s whimsical costume designs, you’d never guess that what she studied in college was architecture. In fact, she graduated with honors from Prairie View A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in the highly technical subject.
Education aside, when it comes to DeHill’s family background, you might say sewing is in her blood. Both her mother and grandmother were seamstresses, and DeHill has been making matching outfits for her siblings and herself ever since she was little. “As I grew older,” DeHill explains, “I began sketching out dresses, and they would help me make them.”
But what DeHill does now, and the materials she works with, are far from ordinary. You name it, she’s likely designed with it—including recycled material and copies of OutSmart magazine.
Using such materials is a practice she came by honestly. “In architecture school,” she explains, “most of my projects were made out of recycled materials and inspired by nature and origami.” So when DeHill had the chance to take part in a real “trash-ion” show, she was thrilled.
The first show DeHill was a part of was Talento Bilingüe de Houston’s Rubbish to Runway event in 2017, marking the premiere of her clothes made from recycled materials. “I have now had a couple of my own shows at Discovery Green, while still being a part of charity shows such as Rubbish to Runway and the University of Houston Charity Fashion Show.”
It’s only natural that DeHill would land in the world of design, as it has always been part of what makes her tick. Design is her passion, whether it’s working on buildings, cakes, costumes, or party planning. She says she started baking and designing cakes out of necessity, to pay for college and school supplies.
“Architecture school requires a lot of extra supplies. I paid for most of my last year in school by making and selling cakes.” But DeHill was never interested in ordinary designs. “The more complicated and time-consuming they were, the more I wanted to make them. Now, I am the same way with costumes.”
And after all that she’s achieved, working with unconventional materials is still at the top of DeHill’s list of favorite things. She’s made costumes out of vinyl records, water bottles, CD fragments, cassette tapes, pipe cleaners, soda tabs, bubble wrap, corn husks, trash bags, playing cards, newsprint, and wire hangers, just to name a few.
“One of my favorite things to work with is duct tape. It is the base of a lot of my work. These kinds of costumes usually cost the least amount of money to make, but they take the most amount of work. The end result always makes it worth it.”
Indeed, people often say that DeHill is not afraid of a challenge. “I take big risks when people come to me with designs, and even if I am not exactly sure that I can make it, I never say no.”
For DeHill, doing this work has, in many ways, been about making what seemed like a dream actually come true. After she saw Dessie’s Drag Race, a local drag competition, DeHill was mesmerized by the costumes and the possibility of designing drag fashions herself the following year. “My husband and I decided to give it a try. This was a new world to us. We quickly had to learn about makeup, making mixes, props—and I, of course, got to work on costumes.”
It was then that DeHill put her trash-fashion glue gun down and bought her first sewing machine. “I never thought I’d be working as a designer for most of the queens in the show. I even got to make a gown for Dessie Love Blake for the finale.” She also made most of Muffy Vanderbilt III’s costumes for her Movie Muffs show.
“The show involves drag performances parodying different iconic movies, which requires specific costuming inspired by the characters.” DeHill is also the sole designer for her husband (aka drag performer Awdasity), who is the Season 18 winner of Dessie’s Drag Race and a member of the Movie Muffs cast.
“Costumes are very important to me,” De Hill explains, “because they are what people look at first, and captivating the audience is the goal.” So when it comes to advice for those looking to dip their toes in the fashion-design pool, DeHill explains that not limiting yourself is the key. “Explore different materials and designs. Learn the craft well, and do a lot of shows, even if they are for charity at first. Get your name out there, and you’ll soon be making money out of your passion.”
As for what the future holds, DeHill says she hopes to travel with her designs and one day be able to do her own fashion shows all around the world. “I hope to continue learning and move into more innovative pieces. I would like to use my knowledge of architecture and structure to work with advanced technology such as 3-D printing, laser cutting, and digital designs.”
DeHill wishes that more people understood the hard work and sacrifice it takes to bring a costume concept to life. “You have to be willing to draw from everything you’ve learned in life: trends, geometric shapes, logic, probability, predictably, appeal, etc. The real challenge is transforming abstract knowledge into a tangible reality.”
DeHill is living her best design life these days, and despite all of the planning and hard work, one thing is for sure: sometimes the best results are, in fact, the result of accidents. “Sometimes the best designs come from just doing, and not so much from planning and sketching. The end result may not always come out how you want, but in many cases it may be even better.”
Keep up with Yahaira DeHill on Instagram @misss_deville.
This article appears in the April 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.