A strict centre parting, straight hair, bushy eyebrows. Perfectly unmade-up in a camel trench coat or dark marine parka. Wide flared trousers, roll neck jumpers, short check skirts with opaque, coloured tights. Polo shirts, over-knee boots and hot pants. Leather coats, Russian fur hats worn with silk head scarves and glowing caftans. Ali MacGraw’s style from 1970 can be seamlessly transported to 2015. The preppy girl next door meets the girl from the circus with the elegance of an Onassis-type First Lady. The longer you look at the one-time photo assistant at Harper’s Bazaar, the less American she comes across. Even if Calvin Klein once said about her that she is the archetype of American style, she has little in common with the harmlessness of a Katie Holmes from “Dawson’s Creek” or an Alexis Bledel from “Gilmore Girls”. She is much more reminiscent of that unfathomable wildness that comes with severity, most perfectly embodied by Frida Kahlo. An almost animalistic beauty that has nothing to do with the perfectly calculated image of other American actresses such as Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn. The dark brown, almost black eyes, the absorbed, stoic gaze, the somewhat too flared nostrils and the crooked front tooth – in fact, she looks more like an Italian diva or a South American snake charmer in most of the archive photos.
Of course this is best observed in motion pictures, both of her huge films “Love Story” (1970) and “The Getaway” (1972) see her at the side of the man who would later became her husband, Steve McQueen. Aside from the cinematic value, both these works are compulsory autumn viewing for every fashion person – seeing the light-footed way that student Jenny Cavalleri gets dressed for the windy climes you really ask yourself how just moments before you could stand so cluelessly front of your own wardrobe.
The photo archives are really worth a look: among the search results are also current pictures, photos that show her as an older woman. Imagine my satisfaction when I established that we are dealing with a lady who – in contrast to so many other so-called timeless stars – is not long dead or mutated into a Botox-alien. Instead she has decided to embark on that rare experiment within film star circles, natural aging. “Every life experience makes us who we are. I don’t regret anything”, says Ali MacGraw in a Vanity Fair interview from 2010. Quite clearly a phony statement of the highest order, but coming from Ali MacGraw, the mysterious beauty, you really want to believe it for once.
Mercedes Lauenstein currently works as as a freelance writer for jetzt.de, a website run by Sueddeutsche Zeitung and writes essays and articles for other publications. In fall of 2015 she publishes her first book. She lives in Munich.