Fashion Week SPACE

Isa Arfen’s Raw and Delicate Bare-Shoulder Theater at London Fashion Week

It started with the set. Sometimes you walk into a presentation, or you see the runway before the show begins, and you’re just charmed. This was one of those times. Upon walking up four flights of old cement stairs in an industrial building out in East London, we found an assemblage of women we wanted to know, and maybe even wanted to be.

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

All images by Portia Hunt 

Isa Arfen designer Serafina Sama’s spring collection was shown on women pacing and writing, dreaming and preparing, reading and gazing; most of them in their own little worlds—except for the girls braiding each other’s hair and dancing together under a disco ball in the corner. The rough, pretty and cinematic setting—like something on an experimental theater stage—made the collection feel immediately intriguing.

But once you looked closer, it was the clothes themselves that were pulling you in.

Serafina, who is Italian, stood next to me as we watched her characters and told me that she was influenced by the “raw beauty” of body painting in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley as well as the portraiture of Malian photographer Seydou Keita. She had been thinking about the combination of the delicate and the raw, as well as the natural pairing of elegance and simplicity in bygone eras. These contrasts yielded asymmetrical ruffled tops and hand-painted silk-screened fabrics. They built silhouettes that fell loose and generous; they called for linens and other natural materials—and modern, geometric embroidery, too.

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Inspirations always morph over time—she mentioned that at a certain point, images of Keith Haring painting Grace Jones’s body for Andy Warhol began to dovetail with her interest in East African body decoration. As she continued working on the collection, she also found herself adding elements of hip-hop and ’90s-era decoration and utilitarianism—those high-waisted trousers, both slim and wide-legged, and jackets with extra pockets for a sort of Eurythmics-in-Jamaica global mash-up.

And then came tapestry, color blocking, cutout body reveals and shoulder-baring shapes. Serafina loves a shoulder-baring shape. 

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

These are clothes you want to travel in, and dream in. No matter where you go, they’ll help you tell really compelling stories.

Isa Arfen SS17 | Portia Hunt for Nordstrom

EXPLORE: current-season Isa Arfen | all emerging designers | all designer collections

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—Laura Cassidy

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