The founder and designer of luxury womenswear label Isa Arfen, Serafina Sama, discusses her Italian inspirations and easy feminine aesthetic.
Serafina grazia jennylewis 22 copy
Inspired by her glamorous aunts and Italian heritage, Serafina Sama, 34, launched her womenswear label, Isa Arfen, for spring 12. After a stint working as a design assistant for Chloé in Paris, she moved to London, where Isa Arfen started life as a collection of one-size-fits-all summer dresses. After her first season, her brand was picked up by Opening Ceremony, and is now stocked by Selfridges, Net-a-Porter, Farfetch and others. She spoke to Drapers about her artistic inspirations, feminine aesthetic and the perils of fashion week presentations.
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Where do you find inspiration?
It really depends. I’m quite curious and I try to keep my eyes open and look around. It’s a bit of cliché, but I think you can find inspiration wherever you look. I try to go to exhibitions and to contemporary ballet as much as I can. I spend time in libraries, looking at books – photography books and old magazines. A lot of the time it’s just people in the street; you might see an older woman – usually they have the most amazing trench coats in just the right proportions.
How does your background influence your designs?
My aesthetic is very much influenced by women in my family – especially my mum’s two sisters. I think it’s probably thanks to them that I got interested in clothes and dressing up. They had very strong and individual styles – one was very into vintage and ethnic costumes, colourful pieces and oversized jewellery, and I think that’s where the more opulent side of what I do has come from.
What inspired you to set up your own label?
It’s always been a dream of mine to have my own label, though initially I was terrified of it. One summer I made a small collection of very easy, one-size-fits-all dresses. When I saw that they were very well received, it gave me a bit more confidence to start thinking about this as a serious project. I just really liked the idea of creating a small wardrobe of pieces that were realistic and relatable, and which somebody could wear again and again. At the same time, I wanted to create things that were desirable and that made you feel good about yourself.
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Where did the name Isa Arfen come from?
It’s an anagram of my name, Serafina, but Isa was also my maternal grandmother’s name, so it’s a little homage to her. I quite liked the idea of something that sounded like a person’s name, but was not mine.
How would you describe your latest collection?
The spring 17 collection is inspired by the African tribes in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. I was very inspired by the raw, instinctive quality of the way they paint and decorate their bodies. There is, hopefully, some poetry in the way things have been put together, an undone femininity.
How involved are you with the fashion week presentations?
I’m very involved – we’re a very small team, so there’s a lot of multi-tasking. I work closely with my stylist, Valentine Fillol Cordier, and set designer, Andrea Cellerino. When I design I always think of a real woman, and I hate the idea of a presentation just seeming like an army of women, so I really wanted there to be more soul and personality in what the women were doing. There was a very last-minute change of location and of schedule in spring 17; there was no rehearsal time, and we told the girls what they had to do 10 minutes before the doors opened. I was prepared for a complete disaster, but it worked out.
Whom do you admire most in the fashion industry?
I love Miuccia Prada and everything she does, and Consuelo Castiglioni at Marni – I’m sad to see her leave – and Charlotte Olympia Dellal. All three have been able to build very successful brands while staying really true to their own personal aesthetic and their own vision of what’s feminine, desirable and sexy. I love how you can really see their personality and soul in their projects. They’re women with families, and I find it quite inspiring to see that they can have families and build businesses.
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
Mostly hanging out with my family – my little boy, who is six, and my husband. If I have time, I’ll go to contemporary ballet with my husband or with friends. I spend my time cooking, relaxing, hopefully seeing an exhibition, buying flowers and maybe shopping for antiques.
Favourite clothing brand?
Isa Arfen – I’m biased, but I design what I want to wear.
Favourite places to shop?
Portobello Market on a Friday morning for vintage.
Last fashion purchase?
Some flat, studded, pointed flats from Prada.
Formentera, in the Balearic Islands, in August
Last book you read?
M Train by Patti Smith
Last filmed you watched?
I’m halfway through the Danish movie The Commune.
An internship at Alberta Ferreti
A flower farmer or a rock singer