Meet the designer: Thea Porter

1970s, Golden Hands, Inspirational Images, John Carter, thea porter

Thea Porter describes the women she designs for as “thirtyish, tall and slim,” but she laughingly adds that “I design clothes that I know will suit me too, so they do just as well for short, fat people.” Whatever their shape, Thea Porter’s customers live a high-society, jet-set life. Their clothes must be dramatic, brilliant and packable, and Thea Porter designs are exactly what they need; the clothes are among the most coveted in the world. How did Thea break into the rarefied atmosphere of high-fashion design?

In 1965, Thea and a couple of friends launched an interior decorating service. “we started the fashion for enormous cushions, and we were just beginning to make a name for ourselves,”‘ Thea reminisced, “when I happened to bring back an antique caftan from overseas. I wanted to use the material in a decorat-ing scheme. Suddenly caftans came in to vogue but the only ones you could get from abroad were either minute or voluminous. So, with the help of a dressmaker, I started making caftans from lovely old fabrics. Then a photo-graph of Fenella Fielding wearing one of my caftans appeared in the Daily Express. More people began wanting them and eventually I decided to bring out a collection which I showed in a Kensington restaurant. I was still mainly a decorator but from then on things started snowballing. I had designed some jackets with masses and masses of braid which the Beatles bought, for instance. At the end of 1967, I took the plunge and started the shop in Greek Street.”

Without any formal training, Thea Porter became a dress designer. She knows nothing of cutting and sewing, and recalls her only attempt at dress-making as a child when she succeeded in cutting through her own skirt! An assistant takes all her designs to the pattern and cutting stage. The import-ant thing, to Thea, is the designing. She describes her philosophy quite simply. Using her hands to emphasise, she explains “you know how a line of poetry sounds right, as if it has been waiting for someone to write it down. That’s how it must be with a dress. It must be a complete entity and nothing must jar —unless clashing colours are an intrinsic part of the design. The shape, colour and fabric should be in perfect harmony. I put together every detail of the dress myself — down to the last button.”

Thea finds that she designs best away from her Soho shop, and works in spurts according to her mood, but she finds it difficult to describe the sources of her inspiration. “My two absolute standards are that I must like the dress myself, and every season I try to bring out five good shape’s. The collections are different every time. It can take me three weeks to do a collection — or three months. Some-times I get my inspiration from a fabric. Sometimes I do a sketch and then choose a fabric. I often buy fabrics without having the least idea of what I shall do with them.”

“I don’t use a method that you could describe”, she continues thoughtfully. “There are so many influences. For example I got the idea for a nautical theme when I was leafing through a book on Victorian painters. To be a designer I think you need a broad culture — certainly my knowledge of the East has shaped my creative thinking. A conventional art course would have been a waste of time for me.”

Thea Porter specialises in glamorous evening clothes and if there is a theme running through her creations, it is that the materials are almost invariably soft, flimsy and graceful and chosen to reveal the contours of the body. She buys them from all over the world: from India, Italy, Switzerland, France and England. She designs some fabrics herself. “I do a sketch, give it to a textile designer to translate, we work out the colours and we have it made up.” Expensive? “Very,” she agrees.

The tiny Thea Porter shop in Greek Street, London, is full of the exotic feeling she translates so expertly into her clothes. Amid the display of dia-phanous dresses, rolls of richly coloured fabrics are heaped on shelves and piled several deep against the wall in glorious disarray. From a battered cardboard box, a profusion of braids and ribbons tumble like wild flowers. A litter of photos, sketches and other paraphernalia are pinned around her desk. The casual atmosphere is typical of Thea Porter’s spontaneous approach to designing. There is, however, nothing at all naive about her ideas and plans for the future.

Until recently, Thea, was thinking on two planes, Britain and America. “The main difference between the two markets is that American women have such perfect figures and they like waisted clothes with plunging necklines.” Now she is working in yet another dimension — ready-to-wear. Not content with this, she is already planning new outlets. “I would like to do wedding clothes, children’s wear and lingerie. But there would always have to be lots of evening dresses. A woman feels different in the evening, more relaxed and prettier.”

Interview by Rosemary Simon.

Photographs by John Carter.

Scanned from Golden Hands Monthly, September 1972

Have Fun With Your Hair

1970s, Fenwick, hair, Hair and make-up, Inspirational Images, jewellery, John Carter, leonard, miss selfridge, mr freedom, pablo and delia, petticoat magazine

have fun with your hair 3

This feathered headdress by Pablo & Delia is exclusive to Leonards.

Get your hair all dressed up for Spring! Beauty girl Ann Morrow brings you the newest ideas for many a yer on the hair accessories scene. But no need to stop there all you want is a mop of hair and a little imagination to get a lot of head-turning effect.

Photographed by John Carter.

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Petticoat, May 1971.

have fun with your hair 5

Severe little buns and topknots look good with a snood added. This one came from Fenwick, and we added a bunch of cherries by Mr Freedom.

have fun with your hair 6

With this painted slide by Pablo and Delia, John at Leonard gave model Chrissie an oriental look. Her hair is drawn back tightly to show off the coloured streak attached to the slide.

have fun with your hair 1

These coloured streaks look like a bird of paradise – mail order them each from Annie Russel, 398 Kings Road.

have fun with your hair 2

A slide with a feather from Miss Selfridge. Match your eyes to your slide.

have fun with your hair 4

Play about with different slides. We found these in Miss Selfridge – apples that look good enough to eat.

have fun with your hair 7

Evening hair goes all glittery with a headband from Fenwick and a Fortes-style slide with a sparkle from Boots.

have fun with your hair 8

Flowered print are big news, so put some in your hair too  This lovely spring bunch comes ready attached to a comb from Miss Selfridge.

Carry Your Bag?

1970s, Avril Gordon, bags, Bags, biba, erica budd, Inspirational Images, John Carter, John Craig, mr freedom, petticoat magazine, stop the shop, Sue Hone, Tillers, Tommy Roberts, Tony Alston, Wild Mustang Co., Xanthe leathers

carry your bag

From left to right: John Craig polo, £4.50., Just Looking, SW3. Felt clutch bag, Tillers, £4., Miss Selfridge and Way In, SW1. Satchel tote bag, Avril Gordon, £3.99., from Miss Selfridge shops. Striped polo, John Craig, £4., at “27”, SW3. Rainbow suede clutch bag, Biba, W8., £7.75., and knit hat, 75p. Fringed duffle bag, Xanthe Leather, £3.99., Girl, Wl. John Craig polo, £3., Girl. Leather and snake clutch bag, Bus Stop, W8., £4. Canvas bag with daisy trim, Xanthe Leather, £3.50 at Girl, Wl. Polo sweater with badges, Erica Budd, £2.90., Neatawear, Girl and Peter Robinson Top Shop, Wl. Bus Stop hat, £2.60. Bag in leather cowboy style, Wild Mustang, £9., to order, 30 Gt. Portland St, Wl., p&p inc. Custard Tart metal workman’s lunchbox, Mr Freedom, Kensington Church St., W8., £2.65. Ribby polo with stripes, John Craig, £4., at Stop The Shop, SW3. Knitting bag, Baggage and General, £2.90., Peter Robinson, Great Gear Trading Co., SW3. Leather shoulder bag with criss cross stitching, Girl, £6.99. Vest sweater, John Craig, £4.50., at Just Looking, SW3. Suede shoulder bag with badge and wings, £5.75., with matching hat, £4.75., by Tony Alston to order from 52, Sutherland Pl., W2, p&p inc. Canvas bag, Xanthe Leather, £3.25., Chelsea Girl, Mail order: 15, Perrins Lane, NW3 and 20p p&p.

Carry-alls in all shapes and sizes… patterned pouches to go pretty places, tough canvas (and tin!) toters for trains and towns and big squashy suede and leather shoulder bags for catching buses and boats and being busy.

I am particularly enamoured of the ‘Custard Tart’ workman’s lunchbox from Mr Freedom.

Fashion by Sue Hone.

Photographed by John Carter

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Petticoat, October 1971

Easy Party Pieces

1970s, annacat, Anne Tyrrell, Baltrik, Courchevel, flair magazine, harriet, Inspirational Images, John Carter, Juliet Dunn, Ken Lane, mary quant, polly peck, Russell & Bromley, thea porter, Vintage Editorials, wallis

easy party pieces 9

Satin crepe de chine tie neck dress and chequered over jacket by Anne Tyrrell at John Marks. Suede shoes by Mondaine.

When it comes to dressing up tonight there’s no such thing as a party line. Redheads come into their own with sleek Garboesque hairdos to set off shiny battledress tops and trousers. Jazzily printed crepe de chine dresses and jackets mix with jersey and velvet, softly innocent or dangerously backless and halternecked. Diamante remains the vital accessory – shining in the hair as well as sprinkled on bodices. The choice is yours and glamour the mood.

Photographed by John Carter.

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Flair, December 1971

easy party pieces 1

Cream jersey top and matching skirt by Mary Quant

easy party pieces 2

Both dresses by Harriet

easy party pieces 3

Liberty print cotton blouses and skirts, both by Courchevel. Choker by Ken Lane. Suede bar shoes by Russell & Bromley.

easy party pieces 4

Pleated cotton voile horseman print dress by Thea Porter. Gilt and mock turquoise belt by Ken Lane.

easy party pieces 5

Left: Dress by Reflections at Reldan. Right: Jersey dress by Baltrik.

easy party pieces 6

Left: Ban-lon halterneck dress by Wallis. Right: Brown crepe de chine dress by Annacat.

easy party pieces 7

Black jersey dress by Polly Peck. Inset: Jersey dress by Baltrik. Shoes by Russell & Bromley.

easy party pieces 8

Black satin battledress jacket and trousers by Juliet Dunn.

easy party pieces 10

Grey and red short wooly jackets by Elgee.

easy party pieces 11

Fringed black shawl from Emmerton and Lambert.

easy party pieces 12

Grey wool flannel full length cape by Christopher McDonnell for Marrian-McDonnell.

Put a price on your face

1970s, biba, Hair and make-up, John Carter, Make-up, petticoat magazine

Put a price on your face - Petticoat 22 May 1971

Our model, like all the best looking birds around, knows how to make the most of her looks without spending a bomb. She doesn’t buy goodies just because they are in lovely decorative jars or pretty tortoiseshell cases…

Headband by Biba.

Photographed by John Carter.

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Petticoat, 22nd May 1971.

Soft Summer Shape-ups

1970s, biba, bus stop, Crochetta, gillian richard, Inspirational Images, Jasper, John Carter, Lizzie Carr, petticoat magazine, Samm, stirling cooper, van der fransen, Vintage Editorials

Soft Summer Shape-ups 2

Gillian Richard pinny. Van der Fransen sailor blouse. Biba espadrilles. Cotton blouse and animal print winceyette shirt, both by Richard Green at Lady M ships. Raffia beret, wire bracelet and cherries, all from Biba.

This is the freshest summer fashion story so far. The prettiest pastel shades with tiny nursery prints you must be happy in. These clothes do the most for a girl and whatever your shape you’ll find all manner of pants, aprons and shirts to match your own personality.

Photographed by John Carter.

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Petticoat Magazine, June 1972.

Soft Summer Shape-ups 3

Jasper shirt. Pants by Lizzie Carr for Plain Clothes. Biba beret.

Soft Summer Shape-ups 4

Shirt by Lizzie Car for Plain Clothes. Canvas pants at Stirling Cooper.

Soft Summer Shape-ups 5

Crochetta sweater at Knits and Leathers. Satin pants by Lizzle Carr for Plain Clothes. Edward Mann hat. Ankle strap shoes by Samm.

Soft Summer Shape-ups 1

Satin bermudas and satin smock, both by Lizzie Carr for Plain Clothes. Rosebud vest from Bus Stop. Edward Mann hat.

Sand Blasters

1970s, harriet, Inspirational Images, John Carter, petticoat magazine, swimwear, Uncategorized

Photographed by John Carter. Petticoat, May 1971

Left: Harriet towelling halter neck bikini with cherry applique. Right: Harriet ‘boobs’ bikini with tie front.

Officially the most excellent novelty print I ever did see!

Photographed by John Carter.

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Petticoat, May 1971

boobs2

Fly High

1970s, biba, Honey Magazine, Inspirational Images, John Carter, petticoat magazine, ravel, Ruth Conick, Sue Hone, Vintage Editorials

Fly High Petticoat May 71

Madras check skirt in Jones Ross cotton, tee shirt and specs by Biba, belt and choker by Ruth Conick.

Whether you’re embarking on an unforgettable journey to the Caribbean islands or making some of these smashing Style summertime separates, you’ll find that it’s just about as easy as flying – when you’ve got the know how!

Photographed by John Carter. Fashion by Sue Hone.

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Petticoat, May 1971

Fly High Petticoat May 71 c

Left: Snowflake shorts in Herz Trevira, vest by Kadix, clogs by Elliott, choker by Ruth Conick. Right: Butterfly shorts in Herz fabric, blouse in plain Herz, clogs by Ravel.

Fly High Petticoat May 71 b

Pinafore skirt in Herz Trevira, blouse in Madras, hat by Titfers, sandals by Elliott.

Designer Focus: Alistair Cowin

19 magazine, 1960s, alistair cowin, british boutique movement, Designer Focus, John Carter

Alistair Cowin photographed by John Carter for 19 Magazine, April 1969

Alistair Cowin photographed by John Carter for 19 Magazine, April 1969

You might not have heard of Alistair Cowin before. Like many other superbly talented designers in the 1960s and 1970s, he has rather fallen off the radar in recent years. But all it takes is a little article from a contemporary magazine, and an original garment, and I’m hooked. I’ve just listed this dress over on Vintage-a-Peel, and it’s a beauty. A vision in white chiffon, and very reminiscent of designs by his contemporaries John Bates and Gerald McCann. I only have one other piece by Cowin so far, so I think it’s safe to say his work doesn’t show up very often. And how often does a wearable collectable piece, in a non-teeny tiny size ever pop up?

Available now over at Vintage-a-Peel.co.uk

Alistair Cowin 1960s chiffon mini dress at Vintage-a-Peel

Alistair Cowin 1960s chiffon mini dress at Vintage-a-Peel

Mensday: Stay Snug

1970s, 3 AM, Badges and Equipment, biba, bus stop, C&A, Elgee, gauchos, gordon king, Inspirational Images, John Carter, John Craig, Mensday, menswear, Paradise Garage, petticoat magazine, ravel, Russell & Bromley, Sacha, take 6

petticoat snug nov 71 john carter

Photographed by John Carter. Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Petticoat, November 1971.

From left to right: She wears a curly fake fur short jacket by Elgee. Suede bib gauchos by 3 AM. Boots from Sacha. Canvas hat from Paradise Garage. He wears a leather flying jacket from Badges and Equipment. McCaul’s pullover. Pants from Take 6. Ravel lace-ups. 

She wears: Suede jacket with furry trim by Hidegrade. Waistcoat by Take Six. Plus fours by Gordon King. Crochet hat from Biba. Watch from Paradise Garage. Boots from Russell and Bromley. He wears a suede hooded coat from C&A. John Craig polo jumper. Check pants from Bus Stop. Lace-up boots from Ravel.