Archive Artefacts: Thea Porter Blouse

From one era defining woman to another, Thea Porter may not be as famous a name as last week’s featured designer Mary Quant, however her influence on the look of her era is just as significant.

Porter’s exotic fabrics and loose, sensual designs helped instigate the boho-chic look of the late 60s and 70s.

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Inspired by her upbringing as the daughter of an Arabist theologian and his French missionary wife in Syria and Lebanon, Porter’s designs featured luxurious materials from her homeland – expensive silks, chiffons, velvet, and embroideries.

Porter brought her Middle Eastern materials and designs to London when she set up a decoration shop on Greet Street, Soho in 1966. She used her imported fabrics to create furnishings, cutting up antique kaftans for cushion covers, before realising that kaftans could actually be sold as themselves! She soon began designing her own clothes out of her unique fabrics, and decorations quickly changed to couture.

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Her alluring designs were coveted by the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Barbra Streisand and Joan Collins, whilst Elizabeth Taylor hailed her as her as a favourite designer.

Yet unfortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, Porter has not been remembered as well as some other designers, like Quant, which most have linked to her lack of interest in self-publishing, memoirs or marketing.

However high-profile collectors of her work such as Kate Moss and the Olsen sisters have changed this is recent times and the exhibition earlier this year ‘Thea Porter: 70s Bohemian Chic’ at The Fashion and Textile Museum brought new light to her significant contribution to fashion.

More subtly perhaps, her legacy can certainly still be seen on the high street rails today with many Porter-esque pieces featuring at Zara, Topshop and H&M ready for festival-goers.

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The piece I have chosen for my office undoubtedly wasn’t designed for pop festivals, rather lavish evenings out, however its relaxed fit, striking pattern and silk material are reminders of Porter’s bohemian foundation.

The cream blouse with black appliqued pattern (c1970) fits into my monochrome theme well. I particularly like that the top has some staining and wear on the blouse, which suggests to me that the owner probably enjoyed wearing this garment many times and gives the piece a real intimacy.

The owner of the garment was journalist Ann Barr, who generously donated 17 garments to the LCF Archives.  She was a friend of Porter and wore many of her creations during the 1970s. When writing Porter’s obituary, Barr said:

“Thea Porter clothes were always very sexy, like her. Her dresses and blouses in chiffon and other expensive soft fabrics speak directly to the senses. Anyone who has them is still wearing them, to admiration.”

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And I am sure my piece too will draw its fair share of admirers from visitors to my office this year.

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