Cleveland-born designer Denajua (which means of the moon) created this dramatic evening suit to intrigue viewers from every angle. An exhibition about armor at the Louvre inspired the silhouette, with its strong shoulders and structured bustle. The designer, who specializes in evening wear, has been creating unique statement-making clothing for almost forty years. It’s never been her goal to appeal to the mass market: in 1991 she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “I don’t follow trends, I don’t read fashion magazines. I make my own decisions about what the season is going to be, and I don’t care about long and short.”
In addition to the sculptural quality, this suit’s materials serve as evidence of Denajua’s affinity for handwork and unusual fabrics. Detailed embellishment in sequins and lace are accompanied by less commonly found materials, namely VHS tape. The primary textile is woven using the recycled tape, resulting in an extremely light, flexible fabric with a glimmering texture. Denajua’s work over the decades has been fun, whimsical, and sometimes surreal. She created a dress in picnic-perfect red and white gingham decorated with ants; breasts become eyes on an evening gown; guitar picks come together as shoulder straps for a dress in the form of a keyboard. Although her work is unusual, Cleveland’s clients haven’t been scared off: “They seem conservative, but once they put on one of my designs, they light up. It’s really wild.” Browsing through coverage of Cleveland’s society benefits during the 1980s and 1990s, one finds an abundance of Denajua’s work, from clothing to the entire gala decoration.
Her work is not the only place that Denajua seeks individuality. She once said, “I just want the single luxury of being allowed to be me.” In this context, Denajua was referring to her journey to become the woman she is today, figuratively and literally. She began sexual reassignment surgery in 1979 after years of counseling at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. Ultimately, she also wanted the rights afforded to her such as a legal marriage to a man and an accurate passport—and she succeeded. Today, Denajua splits her time between Paris and Cleveland, living and designing as her own woman.
(Evening Suit, 2017. Denájua b. 1957.)