Thea Porter: 70s Bohemian Chic

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Fashion and Textile Museum 83 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3XF

Fashion and Textile Museum
83 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3XF

I have been to a fascinating talk by Laura McLaws Helms on the work of Thea Porter, credited for creating the 70s Bohemian Chic trend which is coming back so strongly today. See her book jacket below.

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Thea Porter was born in Jerusalem in 1927, she grew up in Damascus before moving to England as a student when she was 18. She later returned to Beirut, the Mediterranean Las Vegas of the 1950 & 60s.

After her divorce she returned to England where her parents had met and lived prior to going out to Syria. She opened a shop selling middle eastern imports in Greek Street, Soho in the 1960’s. It was an Aladdin’s den brimming with decorative objects and textiles.

Thea Porter in her workroom. Photographer: Patrick Hunt

Thea Porter in her workroom in the Greek Street shop. Photographer: Patrick Hunt

She had a few items of clothing and with the arrival of the rock and psychedelic movement her middle eastern jackets and waistcoats became highly desirable. She soon employed tailors and seam mistresses adapting garments and using the textiles she was importing to make custom pieces for men and soon afterwards for women.

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The garments used textiles such as sari lengths, ikats, kilims, samawa carpets, damasca brocades, embroidery, sequins, beading, coinwork, velvets, etc. A whole array of sumptuous and exotic fabrics and decorative techniques from the East which she used individually or mixed and matched to make the most exquisite, feminine and luxurious outfits. These were the fabrics and styles that had surrounded her in her youth when Syria and Lebanon were vibrant melting pots of people and traders from all around the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia.

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Thea Porter also used the shapes of dresses worn in the Middle East. Many of the dresses followed the fluid and voluminous shapes of abayas and kaftans with diaphanous fabrics or contrastingly the rich and heavy decoration of more traditional Bedouin dresses. She is credited with having introduced the “Gypsy dress” based around these.

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Fashion & Textile Museum exhibition displays Thea Porter's dresses (PC: Culture Whisper)

Fashion & Textile Museum exhibition displays Thea Porter’s dresses (PC: Culture Whisper)

(Left: Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Right: The Kyoto Costume Institute, photo by Takashi Hatakeyama)

(Left: Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Right: The Kyoto Costume Institute, photo by Takashi Hatakeyama)

Collectable vintage: Thea Porter dresses are treasured and still worn today

Collectable vintage: Thea Porter dresses are treasured and still worn today

Modern designers such as Matthew Williamson, Anna Sui and Dries van Noten cite Thea Porter as a major influence on their latest collections.

Below are some sublimation prints that Design and Colour Ltd have to offer for this look which is bound to grow with the success of the exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum open until 3rd May 2015.

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