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Ali MacGraw and ALI4iBU

by Joseph Montebello

It has been over 45 years since Jenny Cavalleri and Oliver Barrett IV were introduced to the world in the incredibly successful Love Story. This past weekend one of its stars visited Litchfield County and showed us all what it is to age gracefully and confidently. Ali MacGraw is 78 and if she's what it looks like, we'll all have what she's having.

Thanks to the resourcefulness of Suzanne Cassano, co-owner of Privet House in New Preston, MacGraw was in town to promote ali4ibu, a line of clothing and accessories. Ibu which means “a woman of respect” in Indonesia was founded by Susan Hull Walker in 2013. After studying world religions at Harvard Divinity School and spending eighteen years as a minister, Walker attended Savannah College of Art and Design to study textiles. She learned to weave and speak in the language of cloth. It opened her eyes to the very thing she had been looking for in her previous work - a woman’s way of recording her mind and soul.

As a weaver, Susan began to work with women’s cooperatives around the world to preserve the skills and stories of these cloths and the women who weave them. Walker then created clothing and accessories from the woven treasures they created. Ibu Movement has helped countless women to support their families and to earn the respect of their communities.

MacGraw, who has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for twenty-five years, met Walker at the international folk art festival that takes place there every year. Over one hundred people from remote corners of the world bring their products to sell and MacGraw always volunteers to help.

“Year after year I’d see this blonde woman covered in beads and tribal accessories and finally one day we introduced ourselves to each other,” MacGraw recalls. “Over lunch she asked me if I would be an ambassador for the movement and if I’d design a collection. It was a dream come true. These women were making things I wanted to wear and I was eager to learn from them and to share my thoughts and ideas.”

Cassano discovered Susan and her amazing organization through Stacey Bewkes and her lifestyle blog “Quintessence” which profiles unique designs and designers across the country.

“I had seen the video Stacey had produced of Susan at her home in Charleston in which Ali modeled some of the clothes. I was fascinated and when they did a trunk show in New York I went to see the line. I was taken with their mission of helping women in these small villages and trumpeting the things they made. Taking a leap of faith they agreed to have us do a pop-up shop. That was in May and we worked very quickly to get it up and running this past weekend. Susan is a life force and you can’t help but fall in love with Ali the minute you meet her.”

MacGraw has been a style icon since her Hollywood days but she has long since put those years behind her. Although she made only seven movies and appeared in two television mini series, she became a household name, primarily because of her two high profile marriages to Robert Evans and Steve McQueen and her first starring role in Goodbye Columbus. Oh yes, and that famous movie mentioned above.

“I have no idea why Love Story still resonates,” she says. “I have traveled to the corners of the world and that movie played everywhere and people were touched by it. God knows it was not a masterpiece of acting but it was a certain kind of emotional escape.”

When her house in Los Angeles burned to the ground, she took it as a sign that it was time to leave that life behind her. She took refuge in the small house she owned in New Mexico and has been there ever since.

“I have always loved ethnic clothes and have collected them on my travels,” says MacGraw. “Now I have been able to put my passion and my talent to work. It’s so much fun and I am helping a whole group of women around the world.”

Ali4ibu contains fabrics and materials from thirty different countries. Every piece of fabric is sourced from where it originated.

“I took an African print made from scratch and translated it into skirts and pants. Now another amazing artisan in Kenya is creating a black and white cotton print to go with it. It’s all about the honor of these women. Their stories are in the threads they weave. I love the heart aspect of the project,” MacGraw explains.

The collection includes pants, tops, caftans, wraps, scarves, sandals, extraordinary jewelry, neck pieces and unique bamboo bracelets – all reasonably priced. The collection is primarily sold online, with trunk shows that MacGraw attends when she can. Cassano is thrilled with the response. Although MacGraw will be gone, the shop will be up through July 29th.

MacGraw delights in the quiet life New Mexico affords her. She is a huge animal activist and considers a day perfect when she is awakened at 5:30 by her dog and her cat.

“Walking is my meditation – 45 minutes of gratitude for what I have been given. I do a number of things in the community, take a Pilates or yoga class and spend a quiet evening at home. I feel incredibly blessed. I have wonderful people in my life. Maybe there is a piece missing, but that’s all right.”

The hair is now completely gray. The laugh lines and wrinkles are remarkably beautiful and there is a sereneness and sincerity that are hard to resist. She is comfortable in her body and her soul and oh, does it show.