Thea Porter: Bohemian Chic
6 February – 3 May 2015
The first exhibition devoted to the middle-eastern designer who introduced ‘bohemian chic’ to 1960s London, New York and Paris.
Born in Jerusalem in 1927, Thea Porter spent her childhood years in Syria. Her nostalgia for the Middle East remained with her throughout her life and was an important inspiration in her design work. Moving to London in the 1960s she focused on interior decoration, setting up a shop on Greek Street where her first set of clients included The Beatles.
Gradually moving into menswear, she landed her first big job producing the embellished jackets and printed shirts Pink Floyd wore on the cover of their first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. In 1968 she showed her first official collection to the press, to which she added several extra pieces for women. Her unique take on feminine fashion caught the attention of the critics, and Porter was encouraged to begin developing a series of signature looks: kaftans, gipsy and wrap-over dresses, Chazara jackets and Sirwal-like skirts.
Textile was an important feature of her work. Inspired by suzani embroideries and the ikats of Central Asia, Ottoman velvets and the brocades of Damascus – but often unable to source such material – she began to commission exclusive designs based on sketches she produced herself.
Alongside the likes of Zandra Rhodes and Bill Gibb, Porter spearheaded a bohemian renaissance in British fashion, before moving into Paris and New York where – after successful concession lines for high-end stores – she opened her own shops. She counted Elizabeth Taylor, Elton John and Barbara Streisand among her patrons.
This exhibition explores her family life in the Middle East in the 1930s and 40s, her evolution from interior to fashion design in the 60s and her international success in the years that followed. As well as over 150 textiles, garments, artwork and photographs, it includes a reconstruction of her Soho store interior.
A final section of the exhibition recognises Porter's legacy. It charts how a new generation of devotees – such as Kate Moss, Julia Roberts, Nicole Richie, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen – continue to be drawn by the appeal of a unique Thea Porter dress.