BO­HEMIAN RHAP­SODY In the 1970s, Thea Porter’s ex­otic aes­thetic gained a fer­vent fol­low­ing. Louise Fen­nell re­mem­bers the designer’s glam­orous cre­ations and fa­mous clien­tele.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Culture Bazaar -

Thea Porter was the designer who in­vented the hip­pie aes­thetic of the late 1960s. Her rich, ex­otic clothes were worn by the fa­mous and the in­fa­mous; and her dark ate­lier, tucked away be­tween a pub and a pornog­ra­phy shop in Soho, be­came a hub for stars on their way through Lon­don.

My un­cle met Thea at the Colony Room in Soho – the drink­ing club beloved of Fran­cis Ba­con and Lu­cian Freud – in 1973, when I was 17. Thea needed a shop as­sis­tant, and my un­cle said he had just the girl. It was my first job, and one I will never for­get. Thea was tiny – just five-foot tall – and in­cred­i­bly bright. She had a halo of henna-ed curls and enor­mous eyes, and was both shy and sharp, charm­ing and alarm­ing.

She’d been brought up in Syria, and her work re­flected the in­flu­ences of her child­hood. This was par­tic­u­larly true of her Soho shop, which opened in 1966 and sold im­ported fur­ni­ture, em­broi­dered cush­ions, and lav­ish wall hang­ings. Soon she re­alised that cus­tomers loved her eye and so she started designing her­self. Singers and ac­tors would trip from purring li­mos down a rick­ety stair­case and into a room of deca­dent won­der. Chif­fons and vel­vets crowded the rails and the smell of Gauloises cig­a­rettes hung in the air. Be­fore long, Thea was mak­ing clothes for rock­stars: Mick Jag­ger, Mar­i­anne Faith­full, and the Bea­tles loved her cre­ations, and Pink Floyd wore her jack­ets on the cover of their de­but al­bum.

But it wasn’t all rock­ers. She worked closely with mag­a­zines, in­clud­ing Harper’s BAZAAR, to cre­ate pho­to­shoots that cap­tured her sig­na­ture style. The doomed so­ci­ety beauty Talitha Getty was a fan, as were El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, Faye Du­n­away, and writer Edna O’Brien. Her dresses have be­come highly col­lectable and al­most im­pos­si­ble to ac­quire; Kate Moss is of­ten seen wear­ing them, as are the Olsen Twins. I was lucky enough to have my wed­ding dress made by Thea: an ex­quis­ite con­coc­tion of em­broi­dered white-and-sil­ver lace. It seemed a ter­ri­ble pity to only wear it once, so I adapted it into a party dress that served me well for years.

Work­ing for Thea taught me about fash­ion, fame, and fab­u­lous­ness. But the last­ing im­pres­sion is of a woman who cre­ated works of art, and this is how she will be re­mem­bered. ‘Thea Porter: 70s Bo­hemian Chic’ is at the Fash­ion and Tex­tile Mu­seum in Lon­don un­til May 3. www.ftm­lon­don.org

The writer Hanan al- Shaykh mod­el­ling Thea Porter in 1981

In her Au­tumn/ Win­ter 1982 col­lec­tion, Thea Porter con­trasted the sir­wal skirt in silk with a bro­cade jacket and tur­ban

A model in the win­dow

of the shop in 1976 wear­ing a dress with a print by San­dra Munro

Jane Holzer wear­ing Thea Porter in 1968

Thea Porter at her Greek Street shop in 1969

A 1971 il­lus­tra­tion by Thea Porter

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