Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore: What’s the Isa Arfen brand philosophy?
Serafina Sama: I started Isa Arfen with the idea of creating a wardrobe of beautifully made pieces in luxury fabrics that would look and feel desirable but also realistic and not intimidating. Special pieces that can be easily incorporated into an existing wardrobe and can be worn again and again, because that’s the relationship I like to have with clothes. The aesthetic is feminine and sophisticated but always with a relaxed attitude and a touch of Italian eccentricity.
HB: What prompted you to start your own collection?
SS: I have always been very fascinated by clothes and the act of getting dressed—of dressing up. As a child I would spend entire days drawing girls in different outfits… Hundreds of them! It never occurred to me that this could one day become a job, it was simply my favourite pastime. It was only many years later, when I first heard about a fashion college in London called Central Saint Martins, that I realised there was nothing else I would rather do!
I graduated in 2006 after interning at Marni, Lanvin and Marc Jacobs, then moved to Paris to start my first job at Chloé, under Paulo Melim Andersson and Hannah MacGibbon, which was an incredible learning experience, before moving back to London where I did some freelance consulting and a lot of research. After a couple of years, I started really missing the design process, and longing to create something that felt more personal. So one summer, I made a small collection of summer dresses, one size fits all, very wearable, relaxed and fun. I never showed it to any press or buyers, but through friends and family, and word of mouth I ended up selling quite a lot of them very quickly, and this gave me the confidence to start working on a more “serious” collection—and so Isa Arfen was born!
HB: You’ve done several internships at established fashion houses, which has influenced you the most?
SS: I would have to say that the two years I spent working at Chloé after graduating really influenced me the most. It was an invaluable learning experience which allowed me for the first time to fully live the reality of a design studio in a major fashion house. During my time there I worked under two different creative directors. First, Paulo Melim Andersson, who was incredibly inspiring to assist, brilliant at working in three dimensions, and one of the most cultured, poetic and fascinating people I know. Then Hannah MacGibbon who was the ultimate Chloé woman, impossibly chic and sexy and cool at the same time, with an amazing eye for detail, quality, finish—for what makes a garment desirable. Today I often think back of Paulo’s free and abstract approach to a silhouette, as well as Hannah’s uncompromising eye for luxury and desire.
HB: What inspired your SS16 collection?
SS: For spring/summer 2016, the first images on my wall were vintage photographs of Balinese women. I loved the spontaneous ways they wrapped themselves in black and white traditional Poleng textiles and this was the starting point for the monochrome story of mixed checked patterns and wrapped, knotted, layered, asymmetrical silhouettes.
Then, a ’70s sense of hedonism and exoticism was the main influence behind the airy volumes of the handkerchief shirts, the high waist shantung Capri trousers, and the sensual, almost poisonous shades of hibiscus and orchids.
And finally, ’90s rave culture was the inspiration behind the acid, colour-clashing stripes and the “Tropical Rave” screen print on asymmetric rushed-up skirts, dresses and robe coats.
HB: What is the quintessential Isa Arfen piece of clothing?
SS: A high waisted pair of trousers or slim culottes in jewel tone shantung, or a relaxed trench coat, or an off the shoulder top or dress with a sculptural knot or ruffle.
HB: What advice do you have for young designers?
SS: Be prepared for a lot of hard work, sacrifice and rejection. But don’t give up! Take any criticism and feedback on board, but always stay true to yourself, and in moments of crisis think back and remember the love and passion that made you want to start. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And have fun! It’s only clothes after all!
HB: Which celebrity would you love to see in Isa Arfen?
SS: It is so exciting to see women I admire like Lena Dunham, Emma Watson and Alexa Chung wearing my pieces, and I dream of seeing Sofia Coppola in Isa Arfen one day. But the biggest honour was when I first spotted a woman on the street, on the school run, wearing one of my coats.
HB: Define the Isa Arfen woman in 3 words.
SS: Feminine, sophisticated, relaxed (and eccentric if I am allowed a fourth word!)
HB: Any exciting plans for the brand in 2016? Have you ever thought of starting a kids line?
I am very excited to start presenting on the official London Fashion Week calendar from February, after three seasons presenting in New York. A kids line is one of the many dreams I have for the future of the brand, but there are no concrete plans for it just yet. If I ever have a baby daughter it will probably happen!
HB: Resolutions for 2016?
SS: Be less messy, be more punctual, be less stressed, have more fun.
By Debby Kwong