It’s odd how a designer creeps into your consciousness. The first time Isa Arfen came into view was late 2013 when a press release landed on my desk and amidst relaxed, feminine crop tops and palazzo pants, wrap shirts and full white skirts, there was an enormous trapezoidal coat in the palest lime green.
Nothing about that coat was supposed to work but its huge Japanese sleeves, slight boucle texture and shirt collar, styled with insouciant wide cropped trousers and a white shirt raised my BPM. Then last year, at Oxfam’s Boxpark pop-up, I spotted a wonderful white shirt. Straight cut and masculine with two subtly oversized panels that fell from the shoulders, it was a staple turned into something really special. Who by? Isa Arfen.
‘Classics with a twist’ is a phrase so overused it’s become meaningless; ‘imaginative distortion’ might be a better way to describe the work of Italian-born grad Serafina Sama and founder of Isa Arfen (an anagram of her first name). The label is busy carving out a rep for covetable separates with a deft touch of eccentricity.
Serafina graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2006 after gaining studio experience at Marni, Lanvin and Marc Jacobs. For the following two years, she worked in Paris as design assistant at Chloé before returning to London in the summer of 2008 to start a family. She subsequently worked on projects for Chloé, Louis Vuitton, Acne and Charlotte Olympia before setting up Isa Arfen in 2011.
Earliest pieces, inspired by the Kodak colour glam of 1960s society photographer Slim Aarons, were sold privately but did so well that a broader collection was born. AW14 similarly takes inspiration from a society figure, the beautiful but ultimately doomed Tina Chow, androgynous heroine of Andy Warhol’s portrait.
Sama was particularly fascinated by Chow’s minimal style punctuated by humour: the cropped hair, the red lipstick slash, the curious avant garde accessories. But there’s an added dimension to the collection – of ‘case, envelopment and the understated human interactions between the wearer and the garment,’ says Sama.
So there’s lots of cocooning in this collection, from the snuggly teddy-bear mohair coat and hooded red wrap coat to soft chenille sweaters and slip-shouldered wrap tops that bind and flatter the body. There’s a real polish and finish to these pieces and an accomplished play on textures – from velvet to metallic lurex jacquard. No wonder real life fans include intelligent women such as Alexa Chung, Charlotte Olympia, Yasmin Sewell and Lena Dunham.
‘Nothing feels restrictive, my woman is a real woman with a real life,’ Sama told The Telegraph. ‘I see the pieces on my aunt, who is now in her 70s, and she looks amazing, and then I see them on my brother’s girlfriend, who is 19, and she looks equally amazing.’ Real clothes for real women with real lives? I can vouch for that: that white shirt is well worn.
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