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CONVERSATIONS with fashion icon Jackie “Mutamba” Cohen

Jackie Cohen believes in the old adage “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” This axiom is herJackie "Mutamba" Cohen principled religion. And I agree with her. To serve God has more to do with serving humanity. But unlike most of us aspiring souls, her challenge is not in loving others, but in loving herself. “Loving people is not the problem, I love everyone, I’ve never had a problem with that, but I’ve had to buckle down to learn to love myself just as much.”

When I first met Jackie at the Mango Tree Restaurant at Altamont Court Hotel in Kingston, in a few brief moments, I felt that genuineness that is so often lost in first encounters. Our team was awaiting the makeup artist, model, stylist and the famed designer, Jackie “Mutamba” Cohen, whom I had not met prior, in lieu of our first photo-shoot on the island. When Jackie walked in, in a comfortable sleeveless free flowing dress, easy hairstyle and mannerisms and her usual gaiety, I was taken aback. For all her success I didn’t anticipate such humility. Her handshake was unmistakably warm; her excitement to meet us all was certainly genuine. When the rest of the team headed out together for some shopping, she inquired why I was staying behind, insisted that I come along, and worried that my friends were heading out without me. I assured her that all was fine.

Weeks later, we got another chance to catch up. My mother had had a first screening of the Mutamba fashion shoot on Jake’s Beach, and fell in love with one of the dresses – long, white, flowing, with an ethnic “beaded bracelet” pattern running the vertical length (see page 00). I contacted Jackie to enquire about the dress, and a long chat ensued. “Clothes carry a basic structure that’s hard to change,” she says. “It’s all about choice and embellishment of fabric for me.” Mutamba is known for lightness of fabric; soft and natural fibers like cotton, linen and silk and authentic handcrafted embellishments. The clothing carries a simple, quiet energy that makes them sensual. Jackie’s love of nature, and thus humanity, inspires a fascination for world cultures. She was previously an airhostess and enjoyed traveling and collecting fabrics and natural and cultural elements from various countries. So when the airline folded it was only natural for her to use her sensibilities to create unique designs. She travels to India (which she describes as the best place in the world), and Africa, visiting the Tuareg and Berber people in the North and the Masai and Zulu tribes, who have inspired some of her best ensembles.

For Jackie, nature and spirituality are intertwined.

Jackie "Mutamba" CohenThis belief transcends into everyday life. For instance, her Jake’s Beach hideaway – Villa Mutamba (which the Belle team had the pleasure of exploring whilst in Jamaica) – was built to respect and incorporate rather than disregard and destroy the nature around her She’s also very conscious of her body and the nature of what she puts in it. “My diet is 60% raw with no meat products,” she expounded. She believes in eating live food meaning that food must not be prepared in a way that kills cells. With a special jollity in making me aware she mentions that a sweet breakfast (cooked by her darling “hubby”, as she has no culinary skills whatsoever) would include papaya, bananas, raisins and almonds blended together. Cane juice and ginger can be combined to make tea. And on a regular morning she can be found eating whole wheat bread with vegetables and a tahini roll.

Jackie admits to being raised in a wealthy household until her step-father passed away, and the illusion of money disappeared with him. From then on she worked for independent survival. She believes that money was not her primary motivation, but true survival appeals to the soul and true creativity comes from a society that works to survive. She believes that “work is worship” and one “must give thanks for energy and creativity.”

She has a special mystical quality, which brings me back to one of the first things I learnt about her. When asked about the everyday life of a designer, she explained, “My priority in life is taking care of my parents who are both alive in their late 80’s, and both live with me.” In fact, Jackie’s parents were divorced over 40 years ago, and she has used her energy to unify them again in life – “I got my parents back together after so long, and they look after each other now.” And with that note of finality I could tell that her life’s mission was being fulfilled… caribbean BELLE

- Aliyyah Eniath

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