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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

Thea Porter’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Following a Seventies thread, Suzy Menkes looks at the origin of hippy deluxe.

14 Апреля 2015

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. Picture credit: Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection / Image © V&A Photographic Studio
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. Picture credit: Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection / Image © V&A Photographic Studio

The heady scent of the souk, a passion for pattern, embroidery inspired by a silken sari and gypsy dresses in Liberty prints — Thea Porter’s look in the Seventies was the perpetual reincarnation of her Middle Eastern childhood in Damascus and Beirut. 

Thea Porter reflected in the mirrored dining room table at her flat in Bolton Street, Mayfair. Sunday Times, 7 March, 1971. Picture credit: Photograph by Jim Lee. Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection /Image © V&A Photographic Studio
Thea Porter reflected in the mirrored dining room table at her flat in Bolton Street, Mayfair. Sunday Times, 7 March, 1971. Picture credit: Photograph by Jim Lee. Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection /Image © V&A Photographic Studio

The London-based designer, whose abaya robes and gypsy gowns dressed the famous from the Empress Farah of Iran to Elizabeth Taylor, had slipped out of fashion sight since her death in 2000. But the founder of Bohemian chic has been brought back in all her floaty-chiffon glory in a London exhibition. 

Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh modelling Thea Porter at Leighton House. 1981.   Photo by Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection / Image © V&A Photographic Studio
Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh modelling Thea Porter at Leighton House. 1981. Photo by Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection / Image © V&A Photographic Studio

“Whatever else clothes may be about, I believe they must add to the enjoyment of life,” was the designer’s mantra. And /Thea Porter, 70s Bohemian Chic/ at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum (until May 3) is a joyous and colourful journey from kaftans to couture. 

A Collage of materials and spices make a face motif. Photo by Kirsten Sinclair
A Collage of materials and spices make a face motif. Photo by Kirsten Sinclair

Individual room-sets, with layers of oriental rugs and furniture as a backdrop to the richly patterned and colourful clothes, play out Thea Porter’s description of following her mother through the Damascus Bazaar. 

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Thea Porter exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum. Photo by Kirsten Sinclair

Thea Porter exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum. Photo by Kirsten Sinclair

Thea Porter exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum. Photo by Kirsten Sinclair

Thea Porter exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum. Photo by Kirsten Sinclair


“I learnt about the spices and condiments, about ice cream scented with mastic and pistachios… But also about fabrics and trimmings and buttons and lace; about gold bangles and precious stones; about perfumes, scents and essential oils,” she said. 


This exotic side of the Seventies is vividly expressed in an exhibition that includes a television news reel of Thea Porter’s Bohemian rhapsody, in her boutique in London’s Soho and among a caravanserai of artists, poets and hangers-on. An accompanying book, by Thea’s daughter, Venetia, and curator, Laura McLaws Helms (V&A Publishing) opens a window on an almost forgotten period of London fashion. 

Thea Porter exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum. Photo by Kirsten Sinclair
Thea Porter exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum. Photo by Kirsten Sinclair

That was when Thea Porter was selected in 1973 as an envoy of British fashion — one of 10 British designers including Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb, Jean Muir, Mary Quant and Zandra Rhodes. 

I hope today’s fashion students can take a look at the exhibition and the book to understand the real spirit of the Seventies — not the twenty-first-century’s pale photocopy.

Maudie James modelling a multi-layered silk chiffon skyscraper print dress in 1970. Photograph by Patrick Hunt. Picture credit: Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection / Image © V&A Photographic Studio
Maudie James modelling a multi-layered silk chiffon skyscraper print dress in 1970. Photograph by Patrick Hunt. Picture credit: Courtesy of the Venetia Porter collection / Image © V&A Photographic Studio

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