Dinner with Thea Porter

1970s, Food, harpers and queen, interior design, interiors, thea porter
Thea Porter (right) and her daughter Venetia. On the richly decorated table are some of Mrs Porter’s favourite Lebanese dishes.

‘The great thing about an Arab meal is its variety’

Thea Porter, painter and dress designer, whose shop in Soho and flat off Piccadilly are ports of call for the international set, writes about cooking Arab food.

I love my kitchen – from the neatly stacked Margaux (Brane Cantenac is a current favourite) to the painted Louis XIV cherubs smiling innocently from the shiny brown wall into the mirror shelves opposite, lined with Damascus spices and French herbs. Even late at night I enjoy boiling up an anti-hangover drink, and gazing at my cookery books before carrying one up to bed to plan some future meal.

But I also get inspiration in restaurants. Sitting in the ordered splendour of the Orangerie in the Ile Saint Louis (where the waiters all look like jeunes premiers among the flowers) I think of my kitchen, and wonder how to re-create the delicious sauces without bothering the chef. How do people con recipes out of restaurant owners ? I try to guess the ingredients, and then have to keep going back to make sure the proportions are right.

At the Orangerie they have enormous baskets of crudités – like cornucopias by Tiepolo – overflowing with mush-rooms, avocados, grapelike tomatoes and black radishes to go with smoked ham, and two different sauces. One, I think, is made with thin cream cheese (Gervita from Roche, 14 Old Compton Street, W1 will do) mixed with cream or yoghourt and chives. Their vinaigrette is also excellent – the herbs are so finely chopped it breaks my heart. This type of hors d’oeuvres is my favourite start to a meal. I quite often add tarama to go with the avocado, or a mixture of cream, finely chopped shallots and artificial caviar. Smoked salmon is an alternative : it rather depends on what one can find.

I never have time to shop in London, and usually send someone out with a list. This system breaks down when smoked trout instead of fresh trout is discovered sitting in the kitchen -but it is also fun to improvise at the last moment. I always have a supply of tins from Roche to fall back on, and a packet of paper-thin Greek pastry from the Hellenic Provision Stores to make burreks . These can be layered and stuffed with practically anything, then rolled into thin cigars and baked.

The best thing about raw vegetables, apart from their crisp texture with the melting sauces, is that they are so pretty. Nothing is so exquisite as plumed sliced fennel or cauliflower. (Edna O’Brien says she finds even sliced leeks that tendril round her fingers beautiful.) I pile them into a motley collection of Japanese bowls
and plates and arrange them with bowls of flowers, although not as ambitiously as they do at Parkes, where roses nestle expensively by the melon. I think I must spend as much on flowers as on food. (If I’m cooking something really smelly, I find even lilies aren’t enough, so I light one of those Rigaud candles on the stairs.)

But if you have crudites for starters, and have to peel mushrooms and clip radishes, there is very little time left for preparing the main course. So it has to be something easy like sirloin, very rare with horseradish, served with tinned flageolets from Roche – either heated up with cream, or cooked the way Arabs cook broad beans, with fried onion and pounded coriander – delicious.

Arab food is ideal for the hard-pressed woman, torn between trying to call New York and attend to her guests, as it is always better the next day. I’m very fond of a Lebanese Lenten dish: spinach leaves stuffed and slowly cooked in oil and water. This is a delicate dish and should melt in the mouth if cooked long enough. Another Lenten dish is artichoke hearts fried in oil with onions and then simmered in water and lemon. Lebanese food has a lot in common with Provençal cooking, which means that I can start with an aioli with cod, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and salsify, and then go on to sfeeha – a kind of Arab pizza, spread with mincemeat and pome-granate seeds, and served with thick yoghourt and a sharp lemony salad of green tomatoes and cos lettuce. As a child I used to watch black-visored Muslim women on a Friday clustered round a waterfall, greedily stripping and eating cos lettuces the way people here eat chocolates at the theatre.

The great thing about an Arab meal is that there is always a large variety of things to eat – often all plonked on the table at the same time. So you can choose a spoonful of this and a taste of that – excellent when you want to talk and drink in a leisurely way, and easier than coping with a large plateful of the one thing you perhaps can’t stomach. It certainly takes quite a lot longer to prepare ten or fifteen small dishes, but to my mind it makes for a more exciting meal.

I try not to give food that I myself adore (like brandade de morue) to guests who may not happen to enjoy that very earthy taste, unless there’s another choice. Brandade de morue is rather a soothing thing to cook with the music programme full on : you slowly heat oil in one saucepan, and milk in another, then beat minute quantities of each in turn into the desalted and poached salt cod. Some people add mashed potato for instant smoothness.

As I’m extremely greedy, I find cooking soothing and enjoyable after working and thinking all day, and I enjoy every stage – breaking eggs and beating them into a smooth hollandaise to go with a pearly bass cooked with tarragon in champagne dregs, or chopping up cuttlefish and stewing it a la libanaise in its beautiful sepia ink to make a thick, wicked-looking sauce with an intoxicating smell.

French cooking is undeniably far more subtle than anything oriental can ever be, but you do need time the same day. I find the sauce cracks when I try and heat up a poulet en demi deuil , while Circassian chicken is just as good heated up.

These are two extremes of taste, and it’s difficult to find a wine that will stand up to highly flavoured food, but that still goes well with a subtle flavour. I do my wine tasting at the Jardin des Gourmets when I eat there, and can then usually find the same wines at a cut-price wine store, Milroy’s in Greek Street.

There are so many exciting things to eat, it’s difficult to choose – though it’s easier to prepare something you like enormously than to experiment. I sometimes regret not living in France because the matieres premigres are so good there: the first white truffles to make into a salad or to roast on skewers ; fresh, white, shelled and skinned walnuts soaked in salt water ; the endless herbs that are always around and that you do not have to hunt for. Alas, the herbs in my window boxes wither and die regularly, but I shall doubtless go on re-stocking them hopefully until I wither and die too.

Photograph by Michel Molinare.

Scanned from Harpers and Queen, April 1972.

Three Boyds on the Wing

1970s, countdown, Feathers, Foale and Tuffin, jenny boyd, Leslie Poole, patrick lichfield, Pattie Boyd, The Sweet Shop, thea porter, Vogue

Three Boyds on the wing, above. Three sisters from Devon. Paula, 19, in skirt and jerkin of red and grass green mixed up cotton prints. £15, by Foale & Tuffin, at Feathers. White voile shirt, by Leslie Poole, £5, at Countdown. Thea Porter bead and velvet choker. Patti, 25, Mrs George Harrison, in peasant dress, green butterfly chiffon, £50. Afghan choker, £16. Both at Thea Porter, 8 Greek St, W.1. Jenny, 22, in red and green calico flower appliqué skirt. 110, at The Sweetshop, 28 Blantyre St, S.W.10. Thea Porter white shirt.

Photographed by Patrick Lichfield.

Scanned from Vogue, April 1st 1970.

How You Dress is an Escape

1970s, anne schaufuss, baccarat, belinda bellville, bill gibb, charles jourdan, chelsea cobbler, Chloe, christian dior, clive arrowsmith, Hair and make-up, jean shrimpton, Jorn Langberg, karl lagerfeld, kurt geiger, leonard, Moya Bowler, Nettie Vogues, pablo and delia, Savita, The Purple Shop, thea porter, Vintage Editorials, Vogue, zandra rhodes
DEPTHS OF EVENING CHIFFON,
CAFTAN AND DIRNDL DRESS
MERGED WITH GOLD AND VELVET
Above: Tobacco chiffon caftan with smoked gold leaves, hooded, boot-buttoned, Arabic sleeves weighted with tassels. Gathered from the waist with a twisted gold rope belt. Choker, The Purple Shop, 15 Flood St, S.W.3. Soft gold boots with open lacing, 22 gns, Kurt Geiger. Right: Black organza with a bib and skirt of brilliant panne velvet, red, green and yellow printed in ribbon bands, with bangles and cuffs of the velvet. Rings, Andrew Grima. Beaded black velvet choker, The Purple Shop. Black satin ankleboots, with bright passementerie, by Moya Bowler for Edouard Jerrold. Dresses, both pages, to order at Bellville Sassoon.

How you dress is an escape and an adventure in itself… never more so than the evening.

Hair by Leonard

Models are Anne Schaufuss and Jean Shrimpton.

Photographed by Clive Arrowsmith.

Scanned from Vogue, December 1970.

SHEER BLACK OF NIGHT,
WISPS PUT TOGETHER WITH
JEWELS, VELVET AND GLEAMS
Black chiffon blouse and skirt tiled with cut velvet mosaic. Blouse of velvet harlequins, bibbed with jet beads set in little studs of gilt; the skirt, striped with studded circles and squares. £184, at Thea Porter. Feather fan, to hire at The Purple Shop. Satin shoes, dyed to order, £18, dyeing, 21s, Charles Jourdan.
Black chiffon dress with a glittering apron tied around the skirt — turquoise and rusty velvet shapes shot with silver, with a striped hem, and cuffs to match. By Chloe, to order from Fortnum & Mason. Mirror necklace, £70, and gold sash clasped with turquoises, 140, both from Thea Porter. Rings, David Morris. Black velvet laced boots, 19 gns, from Kurt Geiger
KNICKERBOCKER BALLET ALL SURFACES RIPPLED WITH COLOUR AND SHINE
Grass green silk satin glossed with an intricate paisley of red, ink, black, tremendous sleeves and tunic gathered from a yoke over ballooning knee pantaloons. 85 gns; choker 25 gns, and belt, 58 gns, all at Savita. Green moire boots, 18 gns, at The Chelsea Cobbler.
Water markings, waves of colour pooled in a chiffon blouse honeycombed at the shoulders, antique tunic and panne velvet knickers. The tunic has a fitted bodice, full sweeping skirt. Blouse, £59, tunic, £75, knickers £24, heavy silver belt, £100, all Thea Porter. Burgundy velvet boots laced to knee, 19 gns, Kurt Geiger. Rings, Blooms. Chokers, The Purple Shop, 15 Flood St, S.W.3. Make up by Lancome, with Climat scent.
A NEW SLEEVE
CUT ACROSS NARROW FALLS
OF GOLD LACE
AND CLOUDY CHIFFON
Spun gold laced with mauve, the bodice cut wide into the sleeves. sashed with deep purple velvet above a basque and a gathered skirt. By Jorn Langberg from Christian Dior London. Amethyst string and brooch, at Blooms: rings. Hooper Bolton. Satin shoes dyed mauve. £18. 21s for dyeing at Charles Jourdan. Amethyst tights. Mary Quant. Make-up by Dior. with new Dioressence scent.
The bodice sleeve in chiffon, clouds of mauve blowing across. The top crossed low over the bosom and simply gathered at wrists. slight gathers in the skirt catchir the air. By Nettie Vogues, at Harrods: Hilda Hanson. Nottingham. Velvet choker. The Purple Shop at Antiquarius. Amethyst and diamond rings. Blooms; emerald and diamond ring. David Morris. Make-up by Orlane, with Jean d’Albret Casaque scent.
GLORIOUS NIGHT SHAPES.
TAPESTRY BELLS
AND SATIN PAGODA
Misty blue tapestry and gold leaves. left. edged with wide ribbons of sprigged tapestry. A gold thread laces the deep neck of a small jacket belling from the Yoke, with short arabesque sleeves. Fade-print chemise underneath, with full sleeves and crossed braid ; a slim bell for a skirt. By Bill Gibb for Baccarat, at Fortnum & Mason. Pearly black velvet choker, The Purple Shop at Antiquarius. Tangerine braid decorations, from Savita. Rings, Andrew Grima. Honey-gold and gilt velvet slippers, 20 gns, to order, The Chelsea Cobbler. Make-up by Eve of Roma, with the new Eve scent.
Sunset burst of satin, right, a pagoda of quilted tiers, wide sleeves set up to a bib bodice. Feather-print of celestial blue and of black for sun-rays. By Zandra Rhodes, at Fortnum & Mason. Diamond and blue enamel rings, at Blooms. Neck lace stringing pale beads and colourless feathers, by Pablo & Delia. Make-up by Mary Quant with P.M. scent.

Patterns of Persian Living

1970s, Ann Turkel, Henry Clarke, Inspirational Images, interior design, interiors, Michael Szell, thea porter, Vogue
Michael Szell in the bedroom of his London flat. The rolls of fabric, his new collection of Persian prints for Thea Porter. The dress, simply one length from the range worn like a caftan.

Michael Szell is the Hungarian fabric designer who is introducing Iran to London via a new collection of designs, taken up by Thea Porter for her romantic and ravishing evening dresses. His own bedroom, opposite, is in rich emerald, turquoise and brown arabesqued linen, cool and grand by day but rich and warm by electric light, with 18th-century Eng-lish paintings and mirrors. His drawing-room, below, is turquoise with brilliant Persian prayer mats colouring the walls, 18th-century English botanical china, and a mixed forest of hyacinth and growing orchids, later bluebells and orchids. Iran runs through Michael Szell’s life like a thread. He began to visit friends and connections there while he was still a child, used every possible holiday to get there while he studied economics at Aberystwyth University, and later when he worked with Sir Nicholas Sekers. His love for Persian ceramics, buildings and woven carpets developed into a passion for early Islamic art in its formal, random, asymmetric period before it came to represent life in the 19th-century : a passion culminating in his opening his own furnishing fabric showrooms at 47 Sloane Avenue. He began selling silk signature scarves to Henri Bendel of New York in 1969 and has just produced his new Persian collection of fabrics. Thea Porter asked him to print his designs onto silk chiffon for her and made them in flowing evening dresses with yards of floating sleeve and skirt.

For the coronation of the Shahanshah and the Empress of Iran, Michael Szell designed curtains, chair-fabrics and an entire state banquet for the Golestan Palace. He has been asked again to help with the decorations for the great October celebrations—the twenty-fifth centenary of the founding of the Persian Empire. He will contribute designs for the interiors of houses and for some of the 500 tents that are planned, with their own marble bathrooms, for the royal and distinguished guests who will take part in the celebrations at Persepolis, the ruined city and ancient capital.

Mr Szell has also been asked to provide the fabrics for all the palace sets in the new Universal film Mary, Queen of Scots, starring Vanessa Redgrave as Mary and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth. He has an unrealised ambition to produce an absolutely modern collection of very cheap fabrics “from chair covers to plastic shower curtains”.

Model is Ann Turkel.

Photographed by Henry Clarke.

Scanned from Vogue, July 1971.

Midnight blue Persian curlicues on azure silk chiffon. Sleeves dipping to the ground and gathered at the wrists, the bodice fitted, skirt soft and gathered. £78, at Thea Porter, 8 Greek St. Persian necklaces, both pages, from Michael Szell’s own collection.

Kathleen Tynan by Norman Parkinson

barbara daly, Hair and make-up, Kathleen Tynan, norman parkinson, thea porter, Vogue
With her vivid dark blonde hair, shining hazel eyes and pale skin, Mrs Tynan looks marvellous in white: here it’s her Thea Porter dress of white voile embroiderpd in green and bronze. She wears Balenciaga scent Le Dix; the Eau de Toilette during the day, and the scent at night. Some time ago Mr Tynan had made for her a copy of the dress that Garbo wore in As You Desire Me”; a delicious compliment. “I use Hydriane by Dr Payot, powder, mascara and a bit of green eye shadow. Eyeliner in the evening. I’m skinny and I’d like to be fatter, but no one can tell me how. I sometimes exercise at Lotte Berk, but more often don’t, and I like swimming in warm waters.” She loves roses and cornflowers, her favourite restaurant is L’Etoile “for sentimental reasons and because it has the best food in London.” Here, her hair by David of Michaeljohn, her make-up by Barbara Daly.

Kathleen and Kenneth Tynan live in Kensington with their children, Roxana, 5, and Matthew, 2, when they’re not abroad: they’re often either just off or just back – now it’s just back from four weeks in a cottage in Wales. Kathleen Tynan is an excellent journalist, specialising in arts features and interviews, and is working on her first book.

Photographed by Norman Parkinson.

Scanned from Beauty in Vogue, 1973.

A python in her room

1960s, 1970s, Art Kane, Inspirational Images, Margrit Ramme, Queen magazine, thea porter

“You love your boyfriend and he’s left you. You’re alone in a big city and an empty apartment.” Kane had not yet picked up his camera, but Margrit Ramme was working on the sadness. She was also scared of the snake. The editors of Queen magazine had asked for an entire issue to be called “Art Kane’s New York,” including fashions, and he had said all right—but don’t expect to see laughing girls running down Fifth Avenue. He had just divorced his second wife, had not yet met Jean Pagliuso or photographed Larry Rivers, and felt fairly bitter.

If you want to call it Art Kane’s New York, he told Queen, you’ll have to accept pictures showing that the place right now is kind of empty for me. Righto, they said.

He left the studio and rummaged around for real-life locations. He had found the apartment on Gramercy Park, and decided to shoot the fashions there before the furniture came in. Truth is, he wasn’t motivated entirely by a desire to display his mood. Not only does training as an art director make him look for a theme when he has space for an essay, as against a bunch of random shots that just present the merchandise; Art Kane loves almost more than anything else to tell a story.

He also loves snakes. The first boy scout in the Bronx to get a Reptile Study merit badge, he kept 32 of them at home despite a mother who tried to make him flush the first one down the toilet.

This story would reflect the dilemma of a lovely woman—always beautifully dressed, of course—searching for a man, for identity, for something. A snake would be not only an obvious male symbol but also a reminder of a Garden of Eden to start it off. Since Kane had given, his collection to the Bronx Zoo when he was drafted, he called All-Tame Animals, a pro-vider of non-human performers in New York. They referred him to a snake owner in one of the city’s residential hotels, asking that he be discreet; she would be evicted if the manage-ment discovered that she kept a boa constrictor and a python in her room. So Kane was Uncle Joe when he called to ask about Cousin Bea: “She must be a really big girl by now. Oh, six feet six, that sounds good.” And Patricia? “Over eight feet tall? My goodness.” He went over to see them. Their owner showed him the boa in her bathtub and pulled the python out of a closet. “Terrific,” he said. “Bring them up to my place at 10 o’clock tomorrow.”

When she arrived with the snakes in a laundry bag, Kane was moving white window shades up and down, studying the way they filtered the natural light he would use all day. Morning light came softly through the west-facing windows of the living room. He arranged the python, then stood back to peer through a Nikon. Moving forward, back, left, right, he kept the model close to the center of the frame. He was using a 24mm lens, not only for depth of field that would keep the picture sharp from front to back but also to make objects near the edges seem to lean away, focusing attention on the center.

“Okay, Margrit, you’re unhappy, unaware, the two of you can never really come together. . . .” Bracketing—one shot at a normal exposure, one above, one below—he redesigned the picture as he moved. “That’s it, keep it, keep it,” he told her when he liked what was happening. “Now, hold every pose for three clicks and then change … Beautiful. Now keep that until I say stop. I want to explore this until we’ve eaten it up.”

Ninety minutes later he had eaten up the male-female situation (above) and moved to the bedroom (below) to set up an identity problem. A second model had arrived. “You’re clothed and you’re naked,” Kane said, “you’re really the same woman, trying to figure out who you are.” This time he wanted to stretch the image more alarmingly toward the edges, so he put on the 21mm lens that he had used to shock the editors of Vogue on his first fashion assignment.

Images originally published in Queen magazine .

(date not given but looks circa 1969/70 to me, especially given Queen merged with Harpers Bazaar in 1970).

Clothes are uncredited here but both look like Thea Porter to me.

Photographed by Art Kane.

Scanned from Art Kane: The Persuasive Image, 1975.

Indoor Fireworks

1970s, biba, charles jourdan, cherry twiss, Chic of Hampstead, Inspirational Images, janet reger, Lucienne Phillips, ossie clark, quorum, Sam Haskins, Sheilagh Browne, telegraph magazine, The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, thea porter, Vintage Editorials, Yuki, yves saint laurent, zandra rhodes
Sparkling black chiffon dress with plunging neckline and diamante embroidery, £250 from Thea Porter, 8 Greek Street, London W1

Japanese men are peculiarly affected by a glimpse of the naked nape of a Japanese neck. In Western cultures such excitement is generated by a panorama of bosom (as in this black chiffon dress by Thea Porter), or a smooth swathe of thigh. Here we show some revelations from the London autumn collections… hot numbers for the coolest of winter evenings.

All perfect for lockdowns, I’m sure you’ll agree! It’s also nice to be surprised by Ossie Clark every once in a while – with a corset being so vastly different in tone from what we would usually expect.

Photographed by Sam Haskins.

Fashion Editor: Cherry Twiss.

Hair by Paulene at Michaeljohn.

Scanned from The Telegraph Magazine, 8th November 1974.

Cream and brown two piece with lace split skirt and boned top by Ossie Clark. Shoes by Charles Jourdan, 47/49 Brompton Road, SW3
Slate blue dress by Yuki. Approximately £,165 from Fortnum and Mason, Chic of Hampstead, Heath Street, London NW3 or Lucienne’s, 89 Knightsbridge, London SW1. Gold and jade bangles from Jones, 52 Beauchamp Place, London SW3.
White silk chiffon and net full skirt and sheer top by Zandra Rhodes, to order from Fortnum and Mason.
Black jersey skirt with split front by Yuki obtainable from Fortnum and Mason or Chic of Hampstead. Sheer silk chiffon halter top by Sheilagh Browne, £14 from Quorum. Black suspender belt from Janet Reger, Bottom Drawer, 33 Southwick Street, London W2. Black stockings from Biba, Kensington High Street, W8. Shoes from Yves St Laurent, 113 New Bond Street, W1 .
Corset and skirt by Ossie Clark (as before)

Emeralds, Diamonds, Pearls

1970s, eric boman, eric bowman, Inspirational Images, jewellery, thea porter, Vintage Adverts, Vogue

Advert for Bonds of New Bond Street. Hair by Daniel at Neville Daniel.

Clothes by Thea Porter.

Photographed by Eric Boman.

Scanned from Vogue, June 1978.

Hair Today

1970s, Chris Holland, hair, Inspirational Images, petticoat magazine, thea porter
MADONNA soft and delicate with baby hair separated into silken strands – gossamer fine with tiny plaits.

Hairdressers are laying down their scissors saying: “We want to feel hair again – short hair is out”. If you’re growing your hair, you’re in ‘cos long hair is romantic and flattering. These styles show you what we mean.

Photographed by Chris Holland.

Scanned from Petticoat, 9th May 1970

THE GOTHIC LOOK is very much here to stay. It’s a sensational change from the shiny tanned skin and short hair which is rapidly becoming dated. Tunic by Thea Porter. Jewellery from Booty, 14-18 High Holborn.
THE BUANITA. In other words the gypsy look. This style needs a lot of hair with lots of body and bounce.

Fashion Goes Into Purdah

1970s, cherry twiss, Crocodile, deborah and clare, Inspirational Images, jean muir, kurt geiger, Sacha, Savita, Suliman, telegraph magazine, The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, thea porter, universal witness, Vintage Editorials
Savita’s orange and red printed muslin hot skirt and balloon sleeved midi top. The latticed rust suede hat and scarf are from Suliman.

After the systemic strip of the West’s liberated women comes a longing for the romance and mystery of the East. The newest clothes reflect this mood with suggestive gauzes and clinging crepes. We took some to Bahrain, where the women are still heavily veiled and pass secluded lives in the harem.

A textbook example of the trend towards ‘exotic’ inspiration in the fashion world of the late Sixties/early Seventies. Most famously by Thea Porter, of course, but also with lesser known labels such as Suliman and Savita. Another strand of the post-Sixties backlash against the minimal and the space-age, along with the period romanticism of Laura Ashley and the more kitschy retro Rock’n’Roll stylings of Glam Rock.

As an aside, I always feel a little uncomfortable posting these ‘location’ shoots when they involve local characters, because it can feel a little exploitative. But at the same time, I don’t want to censor the past and think it’s important to remind ourselves of how fashion needs to be less exploitative and culturally ‘acquisitional’, even now.

I was also very entertained to note that a variation on the first image was used as part of the hilarious series of Smirnoff adverts and that I scanned back in 2015. There are only a few months between the two and I’m fascinated to know whose decision that was!

Fashion by Cherry Twiss.

Photographed by Sacha.

Scanned from The Daily Telegraph Magazine, 2nd July 1971.

White banlon dress by Simon Massey.
Flawless blue silk crepe jersey dress by Jean Muir. Gold sandals by Kurt Geiger.
Butter muslin shirt from Deborah and Clare. Striped satin skirt from The Universal Witness. The harem pants were made in the local souk.
Lace skirt and jacket by Thea Porter. Sequin cap from Crocodile.
Black crepe bloomer dress by Jean Muir.
Bronze slipper satin dress by Thea Porter.