Next week sees the start of Bath In Fashion, and I have tickets for the talk, Bohemian Chic 70s Fashion: Thea Porter. I cannot wait!
I have to admit that I feel a bit of a philistine, because until yesterday I had actually never heard of Thea Porter. Yet, without her, we wouldn’t be swooning over Chloe’s exquisite lace dresses and puffed sleeved chiffon maxis or Valentino’s floaty printed dresses this season.
Thea Porter was the original pioneer of bohemian chic in the 1960s and 1970s, responsible for the rise of kaftans, gypsy dresses and the floaty chiffon dress, and dressing style icons such as Talitha Getty. Louise Fennell, author and former personal assistant to Thea Porter, told me how it all began for Thea.
“Thea arrived from Beirut with all these incredible fabrics. From her small shop in Soho in the 60s she started making jackets and before long was making things for Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. She dressed a lot of the pop stars at the time in both London and New York”.
Thea then hit Hollywood, dressing stars such as Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross and Joan Collins, as well as making Faye Dunaway’s beautiful wedding dress, famously called the ‘Faye dress’. “Thea started the boho look”, explains Louise, “Along with Mary Quant and Biba she changed the look of fashion. But she also made women look incredibly beautiful, she knew how to emphasise a woman’s beauty. Her clothes were so feminine, romantic and exotic”.
I have an old friend from my magazine days, Hazel Collins, who was Thea’s favourite model back in the 70s and 80s. “She was one of the most exciting designers I ever worked with. She would bring the most wonderful crystals and embellishments back from Paris which she embroidered onto chiffon, this is how kaftans became famous”.
“We would spend hours in her opulent, grungy yet chic little hole of a shop in Greek Street, it was heaven”, explains Hazel. ” There was always wonderful tea brewing, and wafts of exquisite scent. She would have me standing on a silver chair, draped in wonderful fabrics, pinning on beautiful sequins. Then Elizabeth Taylor would walk in and want the dress”.
“Thea really understood decadence. Everything was about detail, detail, detail and so beautifully made. She taught me so much, and would always find something of beauty in a woman”.
Hazel Collins and Jan de Villeneuve in Thea Porter (1975)
But it wasn’t just the pop and film stars of decades past that adored Thea Porter. Kate Moss and Nicole Ritchie are amongst today’s fans who wear her vintage pieces, now considered to be collectors’ items.
The retrospective, Bohemian Chic 70s Fashion: Thea Porter, will cover Thea’s life and career from her early years in Jerusalem and Beirut right through to her Soho shop in the 60s and 70s, as well as New York, LA and Paris. The talk is being given by fashion historian and curator, Laura McLaws Helms, who has edited a new book, Thea Porter, with Venetia Porter, Thea’s daughter, to run alongside an exhibition at London’s Fashion & Textile Museum, Thea Porter: Bohemian Chic (runs until 3 May 2015).
I am lucky enough to live in Bath, home of the country’s most famous costume museum and archives. Bath In Fashion runs every year and consists of a wonderful choice of talks, catwalk shows and other events. The Thea Porter event is followed by a book signing which I shall certainly be investing in, especially to see more pictures of my wonderful friend Hazel, back in the 70s and 80s, wearing Thea Porter.
So as it turns out, I have a lot to thank Thea Porter for. I love the bohemian look, but the way that Thea did it, in a sophisticated and opulent way. This dress below could be current season, and oh how I wish it was!
Bath In Fashion, Bohemian Chic 70s Fashion: Thea Porter is on Friday 27 March at 11.30am at The Assembly Rooms. Perhaps I’ll see you there.