Nobody could create a party shoe quite like Thea Cadabra. From bumper cars and space rockets, to rainbows and clouds, palm trees and suspender belts, Thea Cadabra – aka Anthea Murphy – was the undisputed queen of flamboyant footwear throughout the 1970s, well-known for these magical bold designs.

thea cadabra

Her journey to respected shoe designer happened more by chance than design. It all started in the early 1970s when she moved to London after graduating from university. Surrounded by creative new friends and immersed in a heady new world of youth and opportunity in 1970s London, it wasn’t long before she caught the party fever.

thea cadabra dragon high heel

thea cadabra weather clouds high heel

She would design and make her own flamboyant outfits to wear out to London clubs and themed parties at the weekend, but always found it tricky to find the right shoes so decided to make her own, signing up for a shoemaking apprenticeship at a well-established bespoke London shoemaker where she learned traditional shoemaking skills.

Inspiration for her fantasy footwear came from so many sources – perhaps David Bowie most obviously, also the famous London clothes shop, Biba, as well as the Rocky Horror Picture Show and vintage clothes, and even 1950s kitsch. Her shoes were often designed with a theme in mind and embellished with 3D motifs, which added drama to her fantasy creations, delighting, amazing, and often amusing to wearer and observer alike.

Commissions from friends came in thick and fast, and it wasn’t long before her exotic and colourful handmade designs appeared in the Sunday supplements. In 1979, she was awarded First Prize in the Crafts Council Shoe Show, presented by Princess Margaret. Exhibitions followed and her footwear came to be collected by Museums both in the UK and abroad.

In the 1980s, she began designing commercially for other companies. This move took her around the world, starting with a job at Charles Jourdan’s design studio in France, followed by a move to Spain to assist Beverly Feldman, and later the USA to design for an east coast multi-national shoe company. Back in the UK a few years later, she went freelance selling her designs to American stores.

It’s these original fantasy party shoe designs she remains best known for, some of which she relaunched after being featured in a glossy coffee table book, 70s Style and Design, which reignited her unique creative spirit, a few years before downing her shoemaking tools and retiring.


  1. Donatella serra Reply

    I have so many fond memories of Thea, when i was taking my degree in footwear design back in 1985, she came and tutored us for one month and set us a design project. I won the project she set and my prize was to go and work at Charles Jourdan in Romans Sur Isere where the factory was based, she was working there as a designer at that time.
    She, her husband and daughter made me feel so welcome, i would often be invited to their apartment.
    I met her again back in 2007 in Primrose Hill, we had a lovely lunch together and discussed her new projects and inspiration.
    A truly creative person with a very kind heart and a wonderful attitude to life.

    • Ellie Reply

      What a lovely story. I’m glad my blog post inspired some nice memories for you.

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