The 1970s are indisputably back in fashion this summer and anyone wondering why should catch up with the current, very engaging Thea Porter exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey (until Sunday May 3), which is a brilliant statement of this much-maligned decade’s allure. Porter is one of its more forgotten talents, yet she, perhaps more than any other British designer, summed up its hedonistic, richly multicultural and artistically experimental nature.
View her dresses, such as the multiprint, long-sleeved Faye, or Gipsy, with its floral cotton yoke and border, plus metallic jackets and abayas in the Damascus fabrics of her exotic childhood, and the origins of some of this summer’s hit designer styles become apparent. The difference is that Porter and her contemporaries dreamt up their designs as part of a lifestyle that they lived to the max, rather than being inspired by thrift shop finds and books on vintage fashion.
One brand that can justifiably claim links to that era, in a modest way, is East, which has been making hand-embroidered and hand-block printed pieces in India for over 20 years. The arrival last year of new creative director Virginia James, previously of Whistles, Pringle and others, has ushered in a new approach both to style and to attitude. Seeing a synergy with Porter’s attitude and aesthetic, the brand sponsored the exhibition’s private view and is now launching a capsule summer collection of seven pieces inspired by her ideals. “It’s a development of her premium bohemian style for a modern audience,” says James, “celebrating the legacy of Thea Porter’s pioneering international aesthetic.”
This means a series of easy summer holiday pieces, well crafted for their very reasonable prices and classic enough to wear for many summers after the 1970s trend has faded. The stars are a beautiful hand-block printed cotton maxi dress (£129, first picture), with full, split sleeves and a square yoke, and a white cotton mirror-embroidered long kaftan (£130, third picture) that has something of the spirit of Raf Simons’ whitework look for Dior this summer.
Also perfect for a barefoot luxury holiday is a long white cotton kaftan (£150, second picture), intricately embroidered in almost fluoro shades, and a relaxed waterfall-fronted jacket (£150, fourth picture) in soft nude or navy sequins. A limited number of these pieces arrive this week, spread shallowly across 14 of East’s branches around the UK and online. They are unlikely to stay in stock long – Porter’s spirit still resonates with boho fashionistas and this version is more genuine than most.
For more Seventies-inspired fashion, see our silk summer dresses shoot