Ali MacGraw: Hawking Ballerina Flats at 80
The style icon’s newest love story? Shoe Design
“It’s hard to make pretty comfortable,” says Ali MacGraw (80). “I’m older than the baby boomers. [Even so] we don’t want to look like old geezers in sensible shoes!”
MacGraw is talking about her new Ali MacGraw for Butter Shoes design collaboration and her goal of developing chic shoes that are wearable and eco-friendly.
MacGraw wears a crisp white poplin blouse over black pencil pants and a pair of the brandy colored mules from her new line. “We can look any way we want and act any way we want. We women can balance family and jobs how we want.”
Sustainable, Chic, and Comfortable? Yes, Yes, and Yes!
MacGraw was interviewed by Footwear News women’s editor Nikara Johns at the Coterie fashion and accessories trade show in New York in September. The interview was formal, yet the audience felt as if they had been BFFs forever. Like a true merchant, MacGraw spent the rest of the day at the Butter Shoes stand at the show where she discussed the collection further. The capsule line launching for spring 2020 includes ballerina flats, sexy mules, kitten heel pumps, and sandals with an average retail price of $300.
The collection is the result of a decade-long friendship between MacGraw and shoe designer and footwear maven Lynne Comeau, who co-owns Butter Shoes and special occasion brand Something Bleu with her husband, fellow footwear veteran Dennis Comeau. A chance encounter between MacGraw and Lynne Comeau took place at The Tesque Village Market, a little shop and eatery outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, near where they both live. The proprietor introduced Lynne as a shoe designer to MacGraw, whereby MacGraw lifted her leg into the air (flexibility courtesy of years of practicing yoga), showed off the Mojo sandal from Bernardo, and said: “I bet you can’t make a sandal like this!” Comeau responded that she had actually designed that very sandal! At the time, the Comeaus owned Bernardo. A friendship was born.
A few months ago, the women came up with the idea of designing shoes together. MacGraw “loathes hippie shoes” and says she was excited to work with Butter Shoes because of their superior construction, which includes padded insoles and arch support. The result is a small line of chic shoes that are comfortable. Comeau and MacGraw are targeting women in the boomer generation and those slightly younger who have huge disposable income but who are largely ignored by the fashion industry.
“I’m no designer. But I’m very opinionated, have a strong point of view and we’re having a lot of fun,” says MacGraw, who also says she eschews trends.
Repurposing Her Fashion Roots
The Butter Shoes line is hardly MacGraw’s first foray into style. Before becoming an actor, she was a fashion and photographer’s assistant, first to Diana Vreeland, the legendary fashion editor, when she was editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar.
“I made $54 a week,” she recalls. “Vreeland was never to be equaled. She used to say to me: ‘Girl: Bring me a pencil.’”
Soon after, MacGraw was offered twice the money to assist fashion photographer Melvin Sokolksy. MacGraw describes the six years with Sokolksy as the best job of her life.
“We were constantly creating and collaborating in the most exciting decade,” she says, referring to the sixties and the freedom with which people dressed and expressed their individuality. Some of that creativity came from wearing vintage clothes, inexpensive treasures you could find in random thrift shops, not the pricey vintage stores of today.
MacGraw entered cinema by chance, after an agent saw her in a Chanel No. 5 Bath Oil print ad from the late 1960s.
This year, MacGraw returned to Chanel in the ad campaign for the J12 watch. Her second film, Love Story, where she starred opposite Ryan O’Neal, put her on the map as a style icon.
Love Story: Meant to be A Small “Nothing”
“It was a tiny little film with a huge TV star from Peyton Place. Nothing was expected from it,” MacGraw recounts. “I was 30 years old and became an ‘it girl’. Just a freak experience…The sudden crush of celebrity was overwhelming. My biggest accomplishment was that I survived.”
MacGraw has since appeared in a smattering of movies and tv series including The Getaway, Convoy, The Winds of War, and Dynasty. She has also done voice-over work. At one point she took a six-year sabbatical from acting to raise her son, the pregnancy for which was nearly compromised during the première of Love Story, when she suffered a massive hemorrhage. Amazingly, MacGraw completed the première, did the accompanying press work that night, and spent two weeks in the hospital. But, she says, the “big movie thing is over,” at least as an actor.
She loves going to the movies to enjoy a film on a big screen. “You can’t tell me that Lawrence of Arabia looks good on a laptop!” she quips.
MacGraw is not enamored of the whole celebrity thing. She is amused by celebrity dressing, having been in cinema at a time when actors weren’t loaned or gifted dresses or accessories.
“No one ever suggested that we borrow or keep a dress. Elizabeth Taylor worked with Edith Head and she had clothes that matched her jewelry. Me? I had to shop,” MacGraw says.
Eschewing Influencers For Projects With Purpose
Celebrity, influencers and social media are of no interest to MacGraw. She refuses to live on her phone, has no social media accounts, and can’t comprehend how (or why!) an individual can have one million likes.
“I don’t know what an influencer is unless they have something truly credible to offer. A photo with hits is just not enough especially in a world with such horrible deprivation,” MacGraw explains. “How can influencers be actually meaningful?”
MacGraw likes her endeavors to embrace social purpose and she wants her legacy to be about kindness, hence her and Comeau’s determination to make the shoe collection as sustainable as possible. Some of the materials for the shoes are from Seaqual, a company that recycles plastic refuse from the sea, turns it into yarn, blends the yarn with other fibers, and weaves them into fabric. Ornamentation includes American turquoise, reflecting MacGraw’s passion for vintage Native American and tribal jewelry. MacGraw has another fashion venture through her collection at IbuMovement, a company that relies on female artisans around the world to make fashion, accessories, home goods, and gifts with the goal of promoting economic self-sufficiency. MacGraw’s pieces are sublimely ethnic and chic at the same time.
“I like simple classics that you buy and wear forever,” says MacGraw. “Style is a big deal. Fashion isn’t.”
Photo credit (top): Jenny Bascom