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London-based womenswear label ISA ARFEN was founded in late 2011 by Serafina Sama. Growing up in Ravenna, Italy, Serafina was surrounded by strong female figures whose individual, eccentric and irreverent styles are reflected in the ISA ARFEN design aesthetic. Her collections combines a strong sense of tradition with a modern, eclectic attitude. Drawing on the canons of Italian style with equal doses of pride and irony, the label is relaxed, feminine and fun, shot through with a touch of aristocratic sensibility.

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Serafina Sama

MORE is LOVE: Tell us your story. What moved you to get into fashion?

Serafina: I grew up in Ravenna, Italy, surrounded by strong female figures, each with a very distinctive personal style, and I think their influence is very evident in my work. As a child I would spend entire days drawing girls in different outfits… 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! It wasn’t easy to convince my very traditional Italian parents to let me study something that they considered so frivolous, but after two years of compromise in the form of studying Architecture, they eventually gave in. I graduated in 2006 after interning at Marni, Lanvin and Marc Jacobs, then moved to Paris to start my first job at Chloe, which was an incredible learning experience. When I moved back to London. I did some freelance consulting and a lot of research but 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, very wearable, relaxed and fun. I never showed it to any press or buyers, but through friends and family, friends of friends 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!

MORE is LOVE: What is your brand’s philosophy?

Serafina: 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.

MORE is LOVE: What is the most fascinating thing in your profession?

Serafina: It is always an amazing feeling once a look book has just been shot and for the first time I can see how those initial ideas and feelings have travelled, grown and developed into a complete collection. It’s a bit like having given birth! It is also very fascinating to think that these clothes will then find different homes around the world and be worn by all sorts of women.

MORE is LOVE: What does fashion mean to you?

Serafina: Fashion is a way to express your personality, and a good excuse to have some fun!

I grew up in Ravenna, Italy, surrounded by strong female figures, each with a very distinctive personal style, and I think their influence is very evident in my work.

MORE is LOVE: What inspires you and how do you embody your ideas into your collections?

Serafina: I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but I truly believe that if you are curious enough and keep your eyes open you can find inspiration behind every corner. It is usually a variety of different things that inspire me every season… There is an initial mood or feeling which could be generated by a photograph, a work of art, a documentary, a ballet…. anything really… and then I start collecting images that to me are somehow connected to that mood. Then I might fall in love with a particular fabric and the way it behaves will make me think of a certain volume or silhouette… Then I might find a vintage garment on Portobello market with some incredible details or finishes… It’s an ongoing process, just a matter of looking around yourself all the time.

MORE is LOVE: Describe a woman who wears your clothes.

Serafina: She is feminine, sophisticated, relaxed, with a sense of humour, and a little bit eccentric. Someone who loves clothes and likes to have fun in them. But definitely a real woman, with a real life - not a fantasy character.

MORE is LOVE: Tell us about your ultimate goal as a designer.

Serafina: I would love for it to keep growing organically and develop into a more complete collection, including accessories and jewellery one day. I dream of a store, a little Isa Arfen universe… But for now I am taking it day by day, step by step.

MORE is LOVE: Share with us your personal clothing preferences.

Serafina: Lately I have been literally living in my grungy check supersize shirt. I wear it with high waist vintage Levi’s and Converse during the day, and with my black skirt with sequin fringe hem and high heels by night. I also wear my corduroy coat and merino wool knit sweater with lace collar almost every day.

I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but I truly believe that if you are curious enough and keep your eyes open you can find inspiration behind every corner.

MORE is LOVE: How strongly are your designs influenced by Italian culture?

Serafina: I am proud of my Italian heritage but I can laugh about it too, so in my designs there is definitely a strong Italian influence, especially in the choice of fabrics which all come from the best Italian mills, but also a humorous sense of eccentricity. I am particularly fascinated by that period in Italian fashion, between the late Eighties and early Nineties, when maximalism and excess was giving way to minimalism and grunge. The intersection between these two opposites is very mine I think!

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