This article of dress was purchased at Kerry Tailor Auction, London (2022), together with two other pieces by the same couturier (ZI2022.501001.2 UK) and (ZI2022.501001.3 UK). The designer was born in Jerusalem, lived in Syria and then Lebanon. The articles were made between India and UK.
Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli spotted a few examples of Thea Porter creations come up at a Kerry Tailor Auction in 2022. She managed to acquire three for The Zay Collection. Dorothea ‘Thea’ Noelle Naomi Porter was a couturier, born December 24, 1927, and died on July 24, 2000.
She was born Dorothea Seale, the daughter of two Presbyterian missionaries in Syria, who later moved to Beirut. She was educated at the Lycée Française in Damascus, Fernhill Manor, and London University’s Royal Holloway College. Her brother is the journalist Patrick Seale, and their father, Morris Seale, wrote Koran And Bible (1978), among other books.
Thea married Bob Porter in Beirut, in 1953, they divorced in 1967. She came to London in 1964 with her eight-year-old daughter Venetia and first tried to make a living through interior design.
In 1966, she set up her own shop in Greek Street, Soho, selling huge cushions and French, Italian, and Turkish fabrics. She imported some kaftans to cut up into cushions, but kaftans were suddenly in fashion themselves. She began to create her own designs from furnishing fabrics, using old braids and trimmings. Thea Porter Decorations became Thea Porter Couture. She opened a shop in New York in 1968, and another in Paris.
The beading, sequins, and embroidery were often done in India, but the clothes were worn in Europe and across the Western world. Princess Margaret, Baby Jane Holzer, Edna O’Brien, Mick and Bianca Jagger, Pete Townsend, Elizabeth Taylor, Pamela Lady Harlech, Veronique Peck (wife of Gregory), Lauren Bacall and Jutta Laing (wife of RD) wore Thea Porter clothes and were her friends.
This Thea Porter black silk chiffon overgarment (thawb) is couture-labelled (Thea Porter Couture).
The overall shape follows the style of overgarments (athwab) commonly found in different areas of the Arabian Gulf and Iraq. Composed of a central body panel sandwiched between two wide and full-length sleeve panels.
A patchwork of (lamé) panels resemble stylised depictions of the gussets (bitan) found on more traditional thawb versions, and form the décorative focus on the article, together with the yoke that is adorned in hand embroidered gold and silver sequined rays.
Tailoring lines and sleeve openings are edged with gold metallic braid (gitan) and two tassels (‘amayil) on each side, resembling those found on men’s outer cloaks (‘ibi).
Moyra Swan is famously photographed wearing a similar thawb – with panels of identical silver and gold, art-deco patterned lamé – at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, for British Vogue, November 1971 (photographed by Barry Lategan).
- Thea Porter’s Scrapbook, Edited by Venetia Porter, 2019.
- Thea Porter: Bohemian Chic, by Venetia Porter, 1969-1979.
- “Porter, Thea”. Vintage Fashion Guild. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
- “Thea Porter, 72; Dressed the Elite of the 60’s in Hippie Chic”. New York Times. Retrieved 3 June 2014.