The Anatomy of Heartbreak by Sapphire Cordial

The Anatomy of Heartbreak by Sapphire Cordial

Remember Painfully Hip’s very own Jamaica Cole? Some of the most riveting articles on this site were written by her. Well, she is also a true-ass fashion designer. Always looking for a way to promote real talent, I wrote this article about her latest collection for Zocalo Magazine. Accompanying is one of my favorite Painfully Hip Design Collective shoots to date! Enjoy.


By Amber Mortensen
photos: Ryan Mihalyi

Fashion designer and founder of Sapphire Cordial, Jamaica Cole, has been sewing almost since she could walk. But as we saw at Tucson’s inaugural Fashion Week last month, it takes more than just knowing how to sew to be a designer. So how did Cole go from sewing amorphous cow-patterned potholders at 7 to designing entire collections of elaborate dresses without patterns twice every year?

“Trial and error,” she says plainly, “emphasis on the error.”

Sewing without patterns is not only difficult, but yields one-of-a-kind pieces that don’t allow for exact duplication. But Cole has been doing it this way for every Sapphire Cordial collection since 2006. She compares her process to a musician selling only a single copy of his album.

“This has not been incredibly lucrative. Imagine a musician rehearsing all day all night for an album release show. He plays the songs! The audience cheers! People want to buy the album! But then they get to the merch table and there is only one copy of the CD. Someone buys it and takes it home, and the musician forgets how to play the songs. Such is the life of an independent clothing designer.”

On the other hand, why would an artist want to paint the same painting twice? Before moving to Tucson one year ago, Cole lived, showed and sold her ready-to-wear collections in Northern Californian boutiques, inspired by flowery visual influences ranging from New Orleans architecture to Edwardian luggage.

However, Cole’s Tucson Fashion Week collection was something else entirely. Based on her very personal interpretation of the grieving process, the Anatomy of Heartbreak was her first haute couture collection and her most costly and labor-intensive to date. Echoing themes of human anatomy, transformation and death, this collection was not designed to be a crowd-pleaser or quick-seller. This was art for art’s sake.

“2009 was an exceedingly dry year for me artistically, but since moving to Tucson last year, I’ve launched my website (, shown at the Tucson Museum of Art and Preen Vintage, and created my first couture collection for Tucson Fashion Week. I don’t know if it’s returning to the land of my birth, all the wonderfully sincere people I’ve met here, or just something in the desert air, but moving to Tucson has completely recharged my creative batteries and I’m very content for the first time in years.”

The rest of this amazing shoot:

(click the full screen button in the bottom right of the player to zoom)

Photos by Ryan Mihalyi
Clothing by Jamaica Cole
Modeled by Katie Palmer
Art Direction/Styling by Amber Mortensen
Hair and Makeup by Danielle Cushing
Special thanks to Abraham Cooper, James Grip and the Rialto Theatre, Tucson

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