LONDON- In the small and exquisite setting of the Fashion and Textile Museum you are likely to catch one of the most significant fashion exhibitions of recent times. Step into its darkened premises and you enter the world of Thea Porter, an extraordinary woman, designer, innovator and adventurer. Who knew that Thea Porter was a designer of this stature?

Autumn/Winter 1982 Collection. Thea Porter contrasted the sirwal skirt in silk with a brocade jacket and matching turban. Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection /Image © V&A Photographic Studio

Browsing the exhibition was not unlike going through the roll-call of celebrities throughout the world: Elizabeth Taylor on a plasma screen sporting a Saudi-style abaya in one of her films, Pink Floyd in their iconic ‘Eastern’ sixties outfits, an elegant image of the Empress Farah Pahlavi – in short, a whole era of signature Thea Porter looks that defined the Sixties.

A model in the window of the shop. She wears a silk chiffon dress with the Samawa carpet print by Sandra Munro. Greek Street, London, about 1970. Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection / Image © V&A Photographic Studio

As the first-ever exhibition of her works, this charming show weaves a story that showcases outfits worn by the great and the good, highly influenced by Middle Eastern and North African textiles and designs. Born in Jerusalem and growing up in Syria, Thea’s journey through Soho, New York, LA and Paris informed her creations with an ingenuity that came to be called “bohemian chic”, which instantly appealed to the rock and film crowd and whose clothes now continue to be revered as the ultimate in vintage. “Entering Thea’s shop was an experience I will never forget,” says Elton John, “I had never seen such sumptuous and exquisite clothes and fabrics before.” No wonder Joan Collins says Thea’s clothes are the only ones she will never discard! Expertly guest-curated by Laura McLaws Helms with much input from Thea’s daughter Venetia Porter, (scholar, historian and MENA Art curator at the British Museum), there is also a companion book published by the V&A. For me, what was especially striking was the timeliness of the exhibition – one where it’s still been possible to make significant use of family archives and draw upon living memories of Thea. And of course, the show proves yet again that great fashion never dates.

Sketch of Thea Porter's Sirwal Skirt. Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection /Image © V&A Photographic Studio

As Venetia mentioned, “I started learning about her life in Beirut in the 50s and 60s and realizing how much part of the Beirut artistic scene she was – friends with such important artists as Aref Rayess, Paul Guiragossian and others. What was amazing in the exhibition was seeing everything together and truly beginning to understand her contribution and her talent.”

Venitia Porter & Curator Laura McLaw Helms. 

Enough said. Go see it before it closes on 3rd May.

Thea Porter 70s Bohemian Chic

Until 3 May

Fashion and Textile Museum

83 Bermondsey Street

London SE1 3XF

Lead Image: Thea Porter in her workroom at the back of the Greek Street shop. Pinned on the wall are photographs taken by Patrick Hunt of Maudie James in Thea Porter’s Spring/ Summer 1970 collection.