Decadence asymmetric taffeta top
Isa Arfen, an anagram of designer Serafina Sama’s name and a homage to her grandmother Isa, positions femininity front and centre. “Every woman has many different facets and through my clothes, I try to express a variety of them,” she said. “Strong, vulnerable, gentle, ironic, humorous, relaxed, eccentric, intelligent, and sexy.”
The Italian designer cites her upbringing as a constant source of inspiration. Known for its colourful Byzantine mosaics, mouthwatering Squacquerone cheese, and UNESCO World Heritage sites, Serafina’s hometown of Ravenna was an ideal incubator for her blooming creativity. The young, would-be designer painted a dreamy picture of her childhood, describing days filled with dancing, scaling her grandmother’s cherry tree, flipping through her mother’s copies of Italian Vogue, and drawing girls wearing their fantasy wardrobes. Her aunts, in particular, became a profound influence on her aesthetic sensibilities. Surrounded by a clan of strong women, each with their own distinct and personal sense of style, she cultivated an appreciation for the art of dressing.
“Their love for eccentric vintage pieces, folkloric costumes, ethnic textiles, and antique handbags was inspiring for me to witness,” Serafina said. “[It] seemed almost irreverent in a town where everyone tended to dress homogeneously.”
It’s certainly no surprise that a strong Italian influence runs through her collections—from beautiful fabrics sourced from the best Italian mills to a confident design aesthetic. “I am proud of my Italian heritage but I can laugh about it too,” Serafina said. “I am particularly fascinated by that period in Italian fashion between the late Eighties and early Nineties when maximalism and excess were giving way to minimalism and grunge. The intersection between these two opposites is very ‘me’ I think!”
Looking at her collections, it’s clear that this unique combination gives Isa Arfen its edge. Serafina’s clothes feel delightfully unpredictable with A-Line skirts in sculptural Jacquard, high-waisted trousers, and taffeta-ruffled party dresses exist side by side. Asked to define her ideal customer, she describes “a woman who feels comfortable in her own skin, has a sense of humour, dresses for herself, and is not afraid of having some fun with her clothes.” Designing with this independent woman in mind, it’s no wonder the brand’s cult following includes the likes of Alexa Chung, Margot Robbie, and Sienna Miller.
Isa Arfen’s clothes seem to say ‘You’re wearing me, I’m not wearing you’ despite their playful proportions. But who is behind the brand’s signature styling? Valentine Fillol-Cordier is not only Serafina’s close friend but also acts as Isa Arfen’s stylist and collaborator. Serafina, who began designing Isa Arfen in 2012, initially brought on Valentine in to style her AW13 lookbook. “I instantly loved working together because she immediately understood the aesthetic I was going for, but also gently pushed me outside of my comfort zone,” Serafina said. Soon too was Valentine consulting on developing the collections, presentation concepts, and runway soundtracks and set design. “She was the mastermind of the SS18 presentation....filming the models with a hand-held camera while wearing a huge Yoko Ono wig. [We projected the footage] live on two screens on set. Throughout all this, we of course also became very close friends, and every day spent working with Valentine feels more like a treat than a work day to me.”
Arguably, it’s this ‘work as play’ sensibility that gives Isa Arfen its nuance, setting it apart from emerging brands. “[Growing up], I loved to draw clothes. It was my favourite past time and a form of escapism, but it didn’t occur to me that this could one day become a job,” she said. Even a quick glance at her range affirms the power of harnessing this personal passion into a career. Serafina maintains an intimate connection to her clothes, fitting toiles to her own body. “It is very important for me to know that each piece feels good on and isn’t uncomfortable or too restrictive to wear,” she said. “If I try something on and start dancing it’s usually a good sign!”
By Lauren Sarazen for Semaine.
Photography by Bonny Peter.
Decadence asymmetric taffeta top
Multicoloured Mini Baubles Set of 25
Novelty Christmas Theme Glasses
Tartan Patchwork Belted Trouser
Country Baguette (250g)
Drama Sleeve velvet mini dress
Reversible Falabella Tote Black
Victoria square boat-neck silk-taffeta top
Host Your Own Wine Tasting Party
Cosy Wool Women Socks
Wide-leg belted velvet trousers - Black
Oversize Sculptural Beret - Prudence Millinery x Isa Arfen - Red
Get Isa ArFUN
Try Serafina’s look on for size. Valentine’s fresh and whimsical styling transforms comfy tees into statement pieces. Every piece from Serafina's latest collection screams Isa ArfUN - perfect for the party dressing season. Add a little spritz of Le Labo’s Labdanum 18 perfume and you’re ready to go.
After we halted filming (because Serafina's DJ from Formentera kept calling) we thought we really must gain a little more wisdom from Serafina and Valentine about holiday party etiquette. From using Brexit as a solid conversation starter to whether a FRexit (French exit) is ever acceptable, this Q & A will at least leave you laughing as you umm and aww about whether or not you should attend tonight's event.
Valentine: Never quite make it
Serafina: Unfashionably late
Valentine: British fizz
Serafina: Cynar Spritz
Valentine: Bringing the good vibes
Serafina: Fizz and flowers
Valentine: Not dressed at all
Serafina: Both - jeans and an over the top top
Serafina: Giving someone a compliment
Valentine: A pink dress
Serafina: My Italo Disco playlist
Valentine: Fantasy by Earth Wind and Fire
Serafina: Anything by Raffaella Carra'
Serafina: When I am already asleep
Valentine: French exit
Serafina: Elongated goodbye
Valentine: Us duetting Unbreak my Heart by Tony Braxton at karaoke
Serafina: Valentine dancing on the table at Lucky in Formentera with a giant croissant foam hat on her head
At Home with Serafina
Make yourself right at home with Serafina's choice accents. Opt for Astier de Villatte details for a hint of Parisian elegance, and combine vintage furniture and Murano glass to parlay rooms into spaces bursting with personality.plac
A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen
Mick Rock: The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973
YELLOW SUN FACE PLATE
Side Chair by Warren Platner for Knoll, 1970s
Art Deco Glass Dressing Table Set
Get the Party Started
Borrow Serafina's signature party playlist to drive your friends away from the snack spread and onto the dance floor. These eclectic tunes will breathe new life into tired Spotify queues—just don't forget to wear comfortable shoes!
Sightseeing Serafina Style
Roam around the world to experience some of Serafina's favourite haunts. From Ravenna's breathtaking Basilica San Vitale to the vintage treasure trove of Gil Antiquedades in Buenos Aires to Mykonos' Agios Sostis beach, we're ready to book plane tickets pronto.
5 Go-To Tips for Party Dressing
The festive season is upon us, bringing extra occasions to show off your playful style. Staring into your closet and bemoaning that you have nothing to wear? Serafina's here for the save. Praised for her effortless expertise in party dressing, it's high time we asked for her list of Dos and Don'ts.
“DON’T BE AFRAID TO HAVE FUN WITH YOUR CLOTHES, BUT DON’T WEAR ANYTHING YOU DON’T FEEL COMFORTABLE IN, NO MATTER HOW TRENDY IT IS. IF YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE YOURSELF IN AN OUTFIT, DON’T WEAR IT.”
“IF YOU ARE PLANNING TO WEAR A BIG DRAMATIC PARTY DRESS BUT DON’T WANT TO LOOK TOO GIRLY OR PROM-LIKE, TRY LAYERING A PAIR OF CROPPED, SLIM TROUSERS OR JEANS UNDERNEATH.”
“WHEN IT COMES TO JEWELLERY, CHOOSE ONE BOLD PIECE AND TAKE EVERYTHING ELSE OFF.”
“IF YOU ARE GOING FOR A FULL-ON STATEMENT FROCK (I AM TALKING TAFFETA, VELVET, SCULPTURAL VOLUMES, RUFFLES) KEEP YOUR MAKE-UP NATURAL AND LEAVE YOUR HAIR UNDONE. IT’S FRESHER AND SEXIER.”
“HAVE A LITTLE DANCE IN FRONT OF THE MIRROR AFTER GETTING DRESSED TO MAKE SURE THAT WHAT YOU ARE WEARING IS COMFORTABLE AND NOT TOO RESTRICTIVE (AND TO GET IN THE MOOD!)”