Monday, 01 December 2014 13:41

Thea Porter

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First-ever exhibition on the fashion and interior design of Thea Porter. 70s Bohemian Chic - 6 February – 3 May 2015. 
– Features Porter's seven signature looks: the Abaya & Kaftan; the Gipsy dress; the Faye dress; the Brocade-panel dress; the Wrap-over dress; the Chazara jacket; and the Sirwal skirt.

– Showcases outfits worn by some of the world's best-dressed women, as well as important fashion photography from the pages of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Women's Wear Daily.

– Explores the influence of Middle Eastern and North African textiles and culture on 20th century fashion design through the work of Thea Porter

– The retrospective covers Thea Porter's life (1927–2000) and career from her early years in Jerusalem and Damascus, Soho in the 1960s, and New York, Los Angeles and Paris in the 1970s

'Entering Thea's shop was an experience I will never forget. I had never seen such sumptuous and exquisite clothes and fabrics before. It was my first taste of real adventure in fashion.' Sir Elton John, 2014 Fashion and Textile Museum THEA PORTER 70s Bohemian Chic 2 From Syria to Soho, Thea Porter's glamorous designs introduced 'bohemian chic' to 1960s London, New York and Paris. Her shop in Greek Street opened in 1966 and instantly drew a rock and film star crowd of clients: from the Beatles and Pink Floyd to Elizabeth Taylor, Faye Dunaway and Barbara Streisand. For nearly two decades, Porter created interiors and clothes from luxurious textiles that drew much of their inspiration from an exotic view of the Middle East. Often combining antique fabrics with richly patterned silks, her creations were exotic, alluring and highly personal.

Guest curator, Laura McLaws Helms said:

'Thea Porter's ambition was to create clothes that were intrinsically beautiful, and that would last. Today, they are appreciated by not only the customers who have treasured them, but also by a new generation of devotees who continue to seek out her designs: Kate Moss, Julia Roberts, Nicole Richie, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen – the appeal of a unique and original Thea Porter dress endures today among some of the most fashionable women in the public eye.'

The exhibition 'Thea Porter Bohemian Chic' opens at the Fashion and Textile Museum on 6 February 2015 and presents over 150 inspirational textiles, garments, artwork and photographs that chart her career. Accompanied by a major new book, the exhibition explores the evolution of her designs, from interior to fashion, as well as the dramatic rise of interest in her work in America – she was promoted by Diana Vreeland and stocked by Giorgio Beverley Hills – and the opening of her shops in New York and in Paris in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Head of the Fashion and Textile Museum, Celia Joicey said:

'This is the first exhibition to explore Thea Porter's work in detail, to look at her sources of inspiration and to give insight to the multi-cultural influences she brought to fashion design in the second half of the 20th century. 'Thea Porter 70s Bohemian Chic' will not only recreate the feeling of a Thea Porter shop and her groundbreaking interiors but also demonstrate the creative impact of her style on the media and individuals, which places her achievement at the heart of British fashion history.'

The exhibition has involved sourcing, identifying and securing garments from across Europe and North America. The collectors who have loaned to the exhibition range from major museums and archives to many generous private individuals.

Exhibition Structure

The exhibition tells the story of Thea Porter in eight sections:
• The Lure of the Exotic
• The Story of Greek Street, Soho
• Seven Key pieces
• Fantasy, Exoticism and Romance
• London • New York • Paris
• Hollywood and High Society
• Art, Textiles & Collaborations
• Thea's Legacy

The Lure of the Exotic Born in Jerusalem in 1927, Thea Porter was brought up in Damascus and Syria from 1933. The exhibition starts with an exploration of family life in the Middle East in the 1930s and 40s – Porter's nostalgia for Syria remained with her throughout her life – her years as a student in London after the Second World War, and her time in the cosmopolitan city of Beirut during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Fashion and Textile Museum THEA PORTER 70s Bohemian Chic 3

The Story of Greek Street, Soho

Thea Porter settled permanently in London in 1964 and sought to establish herself as an interior designer. After a variety of jobs and commissions, she rented a first floor showroom on Berwick Street in London in November 1965, followed by the opening of Thea Porter Decorations Ltd', at 8 Greek Street on 27 July 1966. Set in the midst of Soho, Porter's early fashion designs were in menswear and three members of Pink Floyd wore her embellished jackets and printed shirts on the cover of their first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, released in August 1967. The Beatles were her 'first big spenders' when they came in to buy hangings, curtains and glass paintings to decorate their fashion and accessories shop, Apple Boutique (1967–68), in Baker Street. The location of Porter's shop helped to mix the worlds of art and fashion, and she was a regular at the Colony Room, London, the Soho drinking club also frequented by artists Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon and George Melly. The exhibition will include a reconstruction of the Soho store interior.

Seven Key pieces

Porter showed her first official collection to the press and clients on 28 June 1968, and although primarily menswear she included full-length evening gowns and mini-dresses. Her womenswear rapidly grew and the following seven garments represent Thea Porter's best-selling styles: the Abaya (Porter reworked the Abaya or Kaftan into each collection); the Gipsy dress; the Faye dress; a brocade dress with sheer side panels; the Wrap-over dress, the Chazara jacket and a Sirwal-like skirt. Although Porter is best-known for her exotic and Middle Eastern-inspired fashion, her designs took on a more classically European form during the 1970s in parallel with a general shift in fashion towards 1930s and 40s 'retro'-styled designs.

Fantasy, Exoticism and Romance

Porter was part of a cultural renaissance in British fashion design in the 1960s that was spearheaded by a group of designers, including Zandra Rhodes and Bill Gibb, who found inspiration in other cultures and history. Yet Porter's designs and influences were singular and distinctive. She was inspired by the work of two earlier designers, Paul Poiret (1879–1944) and Mariano Fortuny (1871–1949). The exhibition will include elements from Thea Porter's exquisitely decorated Mayfair apartment.

London • New York • Paris

After opening a concession in 1969 at Henri Bendel, the high-end Manhattan women's store, Porter's growing business enabled her to open her New York shop in May 1971. She was now firmly established in the wardrobes of the city's best-dressed women. At the same time she reached an agreement to produce ready-to-wear, although this proved too competitive with her couture line. The exhibition showcases both lines.

Hollywood and High Society

A trip to Los Angeles led to a new group of clients as well as buyers in Giorgio Beverly Hills and I.Magnin. Marylou Luther, fashion editor of the Los Angeles Times saw Porter's exotic designs as the 'apotheosis of a new type of at-home Hollywood dressing' and the exhibition will profile the women who embodied this style.

Art, Textiles & Collaborations

Porter's use of antique and world textiles in her designs stood out from trendy mass-market examples. Her knowledge of and passion for world textiles also inspired her work, in particular Islamic textiles such as the suzani embroideries and the ikats of Central Asia, Ottoman velvets and the embroidered textiles and brocades of Damascus. Often unable to source textiles that were unique or exotic enough for Fashion and Textile Museum THEA PORTER 70s Bohemian Chic 4 her garments, Porter began to commission exclusive textile designs. The collaborative process was key: she would often draft a sketch, or give the textile designer something to inspire or adapt that was then translated into a pattern and then cloth. These designers included Katharine Hamnett (b.1947; who designed for Porter while she was still a student at Central Saint Martins), and Sandra Munro (b.1948), who produced Porter's most famous textile in 1968 – the 'Peacock' print.

Thea's Legacy: During her lifetime Thea Porter won huge acclaim, and her place in the history of British fashion was recognised by the award of Designer of the Year by the Clothing Institute in 1972. Yet despite being included in landmark 20th century fashion exhibitions such as the Glass of Fashion, curated by Cecil Beaton at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1971, Porter's name has been gradually forgotten. This exhibition seeks to reclaim her reputation and act as inspiration to a new generation.

For press details and images contact: Alison Lowe, Press Officer, Felicities Ltd, representing Fashion and Textile Museum, Tel: + 44 (0)20 7377 6030, Email: Alison@felicities.co.uk

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