Serafina Sama of Isa Arfen Interview

Serafina Sama Isa Arfen


Sarafina Sama and the 90’s

“I have a soft spot for the early Nineties,” says Serafina Sama, founder of the London-based brand Isa Arfen. “That’s when I started devouring Italian Vogue and becoming really interested in fashion.” Growing up in Ravenna, Italy, in the 1980s and 1990s, Sama admired Italian fashion and the eccentric style of her mother and two aunts. “They always made the act of getting dressed seem incredibly exciting and I am proud to say that there is some Isa Arfen in each of their wardrobes today.”

Isa Arfen is an anagram of Serafina, and “Isa” pays tribute to her late grandmother, the mother of the influential women in Serafina Sama’s life. Following her passion, Serafina Sama went to study fashion at London’s Central Saint Martins. Graduating in 2006 she went on to work as a design assistant at Chloé in Paris. But Sama returned to London after two years. She explains, “I love the freedom and spontaneity that I found in London. The playfulness, humour, insouciance and the celebration of imperfection.”

While Serafina Sama loves modern day London she’s a retro girl at heart. “I adore the decadent glamour and exoticism of the Seventies. And also the psychedelic late Sixties and “American Gigolo” early Eighties,” says Sama. “The mood of the AW16 collection was somewhere between Blitz Kids theatrics and late Seventies aristocratic glamour, with a touch of Pierrot sadness.”

For Serafina Sama that translates into ruffled black tulle dresses juxtaposed against a hot magenta velvet puffer jacket. Or golden taffeta cropped high-waisted trousers balanced with feminine stark white blouses. It’s a collection which plays with tactility, ranging from smooth embossed velvet coats (that are tied with sweet bows around the necks) to a brown gingham PVC trench. “I am naturally attracted to contrasting textures. So if I see that the fabric board is looking all very matte. For example, I will add something highly glossy,” she says. “Or if it’s all very natural and organic I will throw in something technical or coat something in PVC. It’s similar with the colour palette. As soon as it all starts to look very tonal and matching I have to add something which is a little off.”

While a magenta puffer jacket will certainly add the oomph she’s looking for, Serafina Sama highlights her reasoning. “I am not designing for a stylised character, for the ‘warrior woman’, the ‘femme fatale’, the ‘ingenue’ and so on. Every woman is strong, vulnerable, sexual and a million other adjectives all at once, so contrasts and contradictions are inevitable.”

Serafina Sama Isa Arfen Interview

Something About Serafina Sama’s Grandmother Isa

Serafina Sama : My grandmother [Isa] was an extremely kind, good natured and funny woman. And I cherish memories of playing old Italian songs really loud on her record player. But the women who really had an influence on my aesthetic and on my brand are her three daughters, my mother and her two older sisters. They are the ones who made me appreciate vintage, ethnic and folkloric fashion more than the latest trends. It was they who taught me to celebrate individuality rather than conforming to the dress code of the small town we lived in.

ALSO READ:  London eccentrics

Something About Nightclubs

Serafina Sama : As a designer I am aware that what I do is relatively frivolous. It’s only clothes after all, we are not saving any lives. But I do believe that clothes can be one of the most immediate means of expressing oneself. They have the power to make you feel a certain way, to make you laugh, dream and have fun. While working on my AW16 collection, I was looking at late Seventies/early Eighties club kids and their attitude towards clothes. Their approach to dressing up was all about escaping the grim reality of day-to-day life and living for the night.

Something About Italy

Serafina Sama: I grew up in Italy in the Eighties and Nineties and I became particularly interested in fashion during that period. It was when excess and maximalism started giving way to minimalism and grunge. I find the contrast between these two opposite aesthetics very fascinating and inspiring. I will always have a soft spot for the “more is more” approach of some Italian women towards fashion. Everything coordinated, a little too accessorised, lots of gold jewellery and not a hair out of place, but still acting relaxed, laughing out loud, having a good time.

Story by: Janine Leah Bartels

Fashion: Michael Darlington

Photographer: Dham Srifuengfung