Tracy Moromisato/ Getty Images/ InStyle
In the 1970s, Ali MacGraw was the ultimate preppy It Girl. After a star turn in Love Story launched her into the stratosphere — the 1970 film earned her a Golden Globe nomination and an Academy Award win — she landed firmly on Hollywood's A-list. But before that unforgettable role, she was already an icon in the fashion world. Thanks to her industry connections (she'd held a post at Harper's Bazaar and appeared on the pages of Vogue), she'd already become a bonafide Halstonette and designer favorite. That pedigree, combined with the East Coast prep staples that she wore in Love Story, made for a sartorial supernova, where everyone wanted a bit of that MacGraw magic.
Today, Meredith Garretson plays MacGraw in The Offer, a behind-the-scenes look at what happened around the production of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (streaming now on Paramount+). At the time, MacGraw was married to studio head Robert Evans (played by Downton Abbey's Matthew Goode) — and the show doesn't just give a look at what happened on set, it chronicles the ups and downs of MacGraw and Evans' relationship.
"I'm verklempt talking about her because I'm such a fangirl," Garretson tells us of the role, which sees her playing MacGraw post-Love Story and rubbing elbows with Hollywood's biggest stars. "The thing about it is she's a living, breathing person. She's a person who is going to see this show, and who is alive. I can never be her, and I didn't want to imitate her." Instead, Garretson says she toed the line between "playing the Ali MacGraw who we saw in films and the private Ali MacGraw, the person who she was when the camera wasn't rolling."
To prep, Garretson says she watched (and re-watched) Love Story and lost herself in MacGraw's memoir, Moving Pictures. But it didn't take much to have her embrace MacGraw's look and spirit, because it was already so much a part of her.
"In my phone, before I ever got cast in this part, I had pictures of her. Because there's some images of her from the seventies, some beautiful images of her in this long caftan, posed on this chair, and her in Halston. There's these gorgeous images of her that I always thought were iconic style images," said Garretson, who has also appeared on The Good Fight and SyFy's sleeper hit, Resident Alien. "I read a lot about how she likes to try on different styles. She was very into fashion in kind of an intellectual way as well, studying it and learning about it. And she would play with different styles. What I love about her is that she always stands out. She took some really interesting fashion risks. I feel like she was constantly trying things."
Designers have been pulling from MacGraw's personal style as well as her role as Jenny Cavilleri. Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren — American fashion legends themselves — have both name-checked the icon at their runway shows. And it's not just American designers. Across the pond, London Fashion Week has had prep-inspired Love Story collections, too, courtesy of labels like Preen.
Garretson explained that she got into character thanks to The Offer's wardrobe department. All but one of Ali's looks on the show, she says, were actual vintage, pulled from the late '60s and '70s. Everything from the plunging white bathing suit in the show's premiere episode to the scene-stealing jewelry was painstakingly curated by costume designer Amy Stofsky.
"You always take a little creative liberty because something might look better on somebody, so you cheat a little," Stofsky told WWD. "You give a little and you take a little. Even in The Godfather itself, you see that they cheated quite a bit, too."
"Cheating" included having Garretson wear a swimsuit and cover-up fashioned into a gown for a big party scene. It was so glamorous, Garretson said, nobody would have known it was designed to be worn in the water.
"We were looking at ideas for the big party in episode 2, where Bob and Ali show up and they're dressed fabulously. And there had been this bathing suit that was a red pattern bathing suit that also had a halter top, low-V front silhouette, and it came with a wrap-around skirt," she said. "And it's a straight-up bathing suit with a poolside wrap. But it was so fabulous together that the brilliant costume designers said, 'Screw it, you should wear this to the party. This looks like a party outfit.'"
Another epic look that the team created was for the 1972 premiere of The Godfather. MacGraw wore a feather-embellished turban and the team knew they had to get the look right for the show, as it (spoiler alert) came after MacGraw and Evans's relationship was already in trouble.
"I was so excited about that outfit, because just the pictures of her and those feathers wrapping around her face, it was such a beautiful unconventional piece," Garretson said. "It looked so elegant, and it was such a show-stopping outfit. She went to support him to the premiere of The Godfather. And the pictures of them from that night are amazing. They danced the night away together. She looks just like insanely beautiful and elegant."
Unlike a few other actors and actresses prone to taking home a few souvenirs from their projects, Garretson says she learned so much from vintage silhouettes that she was proud to just learn what looked good on her body, Ali-inspired or not.
"It was so much fun to see what pieces from the era worked on my body and also fit into the landscape of the way Ali MacGraw dressed at the time," she said. "There were things where I thought, 'Oh, you know what, this is a thing I'm going to buy for myself that I'm going to keep in my own collection. Something like this, something inspired by this, because I learned that it's something that my body likes.'"
Photographer: Tracy Moromisato. Hair: Erin Klassen. Makeup: Jennifer Kipps.