New Romantic

Published January 27, 2014

When it comes to fashion, Italian-born Serafina Sama likes to keep it real. Isa Arfen, her London-based womenswear label, is a  testament to this attitude, offering easy but elegant tailored separates and simple, feminine dresses with an irreverent edge. As Sama tells us, “The Isa Arfen woman wants desirable, chic, and relatable clothes that really work in everyday life.”

Sama’s greatest influence is the female family members she grew up with in the small, picturesque city of Ravenna, northeast Italy. “My mother and my two aunts loved fashion and had a strong aesthetic that was eclectic and vibrant,” she recalls. “I was fascinated by the way they dressed and spent hours drawing their ethnic-print dresses and funny, ’50s vintage hats.”

At 17, the designer left Italy to study architecture in London. “As much as I wanted to pursue a career in fashion, my parents didn’t consider it be a serious subject,” she explains. However, after two years of gentle persuasion Sama managed to convince them and transferred to Central Saint Martins School of Art to study fashion design. “It gave me a sense of freedom. I loved every moment and worked extremely hard.”

After graduating in 2006, Sama relocated to Paris to work as the assistant designer to Hannah McGibbon at the storied French house of Chloé for two years, before falling pregnant. “I was married and wanted to bring up my son with my husband, who lived in West London,” she reveals. While bringing up baby Harry, Sama worked as a researcher for Acne, Charlotte Olympia, and Louis Vuitton until she had the urge to design again. “I missed creating something of my own, so I made a small collection of simple, tie-waist dresses in broderie anglaise and washed silk that I sold to friends and family.”

The line was a sell-out, and the overwhelming response gave Sama the confidence to launch her own label in the late summer of 2012. “Isa Arfen is an anagram of mine and my grandmother’s names,” she says. Her debut collection—comprised of fit-and-flare dresses, crisp white shirts and relaxed, silk culottes—was a resounding success and promptly snapped up by cult store Opening Ceremony. Encouragement also came from the influential US stylist Kate Foley, whom Sama champions as a “constant support.”

Spring 2014 marks Sama’s third season, for which she took a romantic turn, inspired by photographer Paolo Roversi‘s iconic late ’80s images of fashion designer Romeo Gigle’s work. “I just loved the poetry and femininity of those pictures,” she says. “But I also wanted to express the lightness and energy of a fresh, summer morning.”

Cue: full organza skirts in limoncello yellow and marshmallow pink, crew-neck knits with bead-embellished cuffs, ivory bias-cut dresses, and air-soft silk trench coats. As for future ambitions, Sama insists that her ultimate goal is to “continue creating clothes that make women feel beautiful. A stronger, more confident version of themselves.” Bravo.