Ali MacGraw Talks Fashion and Friendship with Candice Bergen

Ali MacGraw is just in from a trunk show in Litchfield County. She is on a traveling roadshow for her new collaboration with Ibu, a fashion collective based in Charleston that sources from female artisans in 34 countries. This weekend, Ali 4 Ibu will be sold at a private home in Bridgehampton (to RSVP for Friday or Saturday, simply message Ibu online).

MacGraw met the group’s founder Susan Hull Walker several years ago at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, where the actress has lived for the past 25 years. The two became friends and Walker homed in on MacGraw’s inimitable style, ultimately asking to collaborate. The resulting capsule includes Kenya-made striped Duka pants, Moroccan silver jewelry, leather mules covered in West African indigo cloth, and Ghanaian glass beads handstrung in Nagaland. Every item is made by women, an act of empowerment.

My mother, Candice Bergen, met MacGraw on her first modeling job; she was 17 years old and MacGraw was a fashion stylist. More than 50 years later, the two remain dearest friends. On Monday evening, they met to discuss fashion, aging, and friendship over radishes and sharp cheddar, while a wild rainstorm raged outside.

Here, an edited version of their conversation.

Candice Bergen: When I first saw Ali she was loping across the floor of Mel Sokolsky’s studio.

Ali MacGraw: Was that ’62 or ’63—‘65? My job was to look through all the magazines because I was a stylist, and I saw this picture of this creature swinging from an apple tree in a long white dress and I said, “Who is this!”

CB: She was hot out of Wellesley—

AM: Well, no, I was hot out of surviving Diana Vreeland. I worked for her for six months.

CB: As her assistant?

AM: Well, that’s the nice thing to call it. I was the “Girl, get the pencil.”

CB: And then she went to work for Mel Sokolsky. She was the one who made the bubble photos happen!

AM: I got all the police permits for that, and the Plexiglass bubbles were suspended from cranes over the Seine. It was so much fun.

CB: I remember almost every time I saw Ali. She was always loping somewhere. I remember in Elaine’s when you came in with Jordan [Kalfus] and you were in a violet miniskirt suit—

AM: No, it was a Rudi Gernreich dress.

CB: See, she knows what it is!

AM: Well, I didn’t have that many clothes and that was a killer. It was a knit jersey minidress, we all wore them then.

CB: But people didn’t look like you did when they wore them!

AM: Oh, I think they did. You know people keep saying that phrase “It’s so ’60s” “It’s so ’70s.” No, it isn’t. It just isn’t. There was a kind of freshness and innocence that I find missing now.

CB: And then when she did Love Story, the whole country started wearing wool hats the way she did.

Chloe Malle: Did you help with the costumes?

AM: No, we had a wonderful costume person and I didn’t have anything to do with it.

CB: Oh yes you did, you put your spin on it.

AM: Yeah, that hat was good. I got it on Orchard Street when the Lower East Side was almost like Eastern Europe; grandmothers and pickle barrels on the street. I loved that. Anywhere you went in the city was another country for a few blocks, and I thought that was exciting.

CB: Like what you’re doing now!

AM: Yes! This is just me playing in a sandbox I’m happy playing in. For someone like me who spent 50 years loving to wear those clothes and to mix up those accessories, it makes sense.

CB: Any house of Ali’s, she has very specific style marks. She only wears silver jewelry and always had unique and beautiful pieces, and she incorporated them into her surroundings. She would gather necklaces around dishes and baskets, so that all of her treasures were out for people to enjoy, and then she would sort of throw it on her neck and go out to dinner.

AM: I like that stuff, and I like to look at it, and I like to hang it around and to put a textile on a couch. And then some night, I’m going to wear it around my shoulders because I love it, and another night, it’s going to be on the table and we’re going to eat off of it. There’s a lot of these textiles I love in Ibu, and when I’m working with them at these trunk shows and someone says, “It’s beautiful but what would I do with that?” They look at me with shocked horror when I say, “Well, I would wear it, and then in the summer it would be great on a picnic table and then if you get the crumbs off, throw it across the bottom of your bed because it’s gorgeous and why not?”