This article of dress was purchased at Kerry Tailor Auction, London (2022), together with two other pieces by the same couturier (ZI2022.501001.1 UK) and (ZI2022.501001.3 UK). Since 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, who was born on 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, and 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.
From the Margaret ‘Bea’ Larsson collection, this piece came along with a postcard depicting an image of Physic Street, Canton, China, circa 1870, with a handwritten note from Thea to ‘Mrs B. Larsson’ reading: ‘So enjoyed orgiastic food & gossip, love Thea’.
Bea was a close friend of Thea Porter and a godmother to her niece. This overgarment (thawb) is touchingly described in the closing paragraph of ‘Thea Porter: Bohemian Chic,’ by Laura Mclaws Helms & Venetia Porter:
‘Throughout her years in London, Thea had become known for her generosity. Those who knew Porter spoke fondly of her… Her friend B. Larsson recalled how Thea gave her an orange abaya to match the walls of her newly-painted sitting room.’
This Thea Porter marigold-orange damask silk overgarment (thawb) is unlabelled.
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.
Since it self-ties with a wide waistband and has a plunging V-neckline, when worn, it visually resembles a hybrid look, a combination of both an overgarment (thawb) and a Japanese kimono.
The tailoring lines, neckline and sleeve openings are all edged with gold metallic braid (gitan) and four tassels (‘amayil) on each side, resembling those found on men’s outer cloaks (‘ibi).
- 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.