Three Designers in Britain: Thea Porter

thea porter in britain

If I were an elegant lady Jet-Setter, with empty closets to be filled and a blank chequebook – where in the world would I buy my clothes? Italy, for divinely coloured mix-match knitted tweeds and marvellous bags and shoes. Then Paris for shirts and skirts and trousers, made the way only the French know how, signed Dior and Lanvin and Eres and you-name-it. New York, why not, for the perfect sporty shirtwaister, signed Halston. And for that absolutely smash-hit long thing to wear any time after 6pm? London, without hestitation. Signed Bill Gibb. Or Zandra Rhodes. Or Thea Porter. How or why London suddenly happens to possess three such blazing talents in this specialised field is a mystery: but there they are, all three of them turning out dresses of such individuality and beauty that if I just spotted the name in a sale I’d snap it out almost without pausing to examine it: alas I could hardly afford it otherwise, for these designers are hardly typical. They are absolutely top-of-the-tree.

I was delighted to find this piece in a copy of ‘In Britain’ magazine, which appears to have been a magazine specifically for the high-end tourist market (perhaps for airports or travel agents?). Written by the Fashion Editor of the Daily Mail, Barbara Griggs, it covers three of Britains most ‘couture’ designers: Thea Porter, Bill Gibb and Zandra Rhodes. Firstly I bring you, Thea Porter.

Thea Porter is small and auburn-haired and quiet. She works flat out, dressed in ankle-length black velvet, in her small Soho shop crammed with precious scraps of brocade and prints and embroidery. There are rails full of her beautiful robes: the abayas – floaty dresses cut almost in a square – the clinging printed chiffons, the lavishly embroidered jackets to be worn with a plain black shirt, the silky pyjamas. Hallmark of the  perfect Thea Porter: an oriental richness. If the fabric is an exotic print or mix of them, the seams of the dress are piped in gold, or the belt encrusted with embroidery, or the skirt trimmed with frilled pleating. But Thea insists: “They’re meant to be worn very, very simply – with just a little real antique jewellery, perhaps.” Many of her dresses are sold straight off the peg: more are made up to order for favourite customers like Sarah Miles and Eartha Kitt.

Photographed by Peter Kent.

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from In Britain, May 1973.

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