It's a funny thing about references: Some designers cite a familiar muse and you roll your eyes; others say her name and you think, Oh, yes, that makes total sense.
Such was the case this season with Serafina Sama, the designer of Isa Arfen
. Her inspiration was Tina Chow, and Chow's sensibility is such a good fit for Isa Arfen, maybe she should just be a continual influence. Refined yet streetwise, a little eccentric, too. Check, check, check. If Chow was the spirit informing this collection, which was the most complete and cohesive expression of the Isa Arfen woman yet, its conceptual girding was the idea of the dynamic life of clothes, the way women wrap a jacket around themselves for warmth, or how a shoulder slips on a top or a dress. There was something nicely humane and well-observed about that, but Sama should have treated the theme with more conviction—a heavily embellished tunic dress, for instance, was cut to sit straight, but presented awry. That kind of thing should be incorporated into the pattern, really. And there were places here where it was—a pair of wrapped tops, for instance, got the slipped-shoulder look exactly. Sama's not really a conceptual designer, though. She makes clothes for living in, not thinking about. And this time out, there was a real sense of elevation and polish, with attention paid to subtleties like the seam detailing of a red wrap coat. Sama's also very good with her fabrics—there were about six different kinds of silk in the range of blouses here, alone—and she showed her knack for them again as she emphasized easy-to-wear jerseys and expanded into knits. This season, her sweaters were a velvety chenille, very nice. The main quibble, really, is to do with Sama's silhouettes: She needs a few fresher ones to work in with her signature pencil pants and culottes. All will be well if she just keeps asking herself, What would Tina do?