Ali MacGraw on Melvin Sokolsky
Ali MacGraw on Melvin Sokolsky
“In 1960, fresh out of college on my first job, I was lucky enough to find myself working as the lowest of “assistants” for the legendary, most extraordinary fashion editor, Diana Vreeland, at “Harper’s Bazaar.” My job was rather Anne Hathaway’s in “The Devil Wears Prada,” only in those days, very much less grand. I was engaged to be married into a lovely family that wanted this announcement in the New York Times society pages, and there was no way I could afford to have that done by one of that sort of photographer. Mrs. Vreeland’s main assistant Pat suggested I ask one of the new photographers for the magazine, and she said that Melvin Sokolsky was really kind and nice and might do it. Melvin very kindly offered to take that picture, and I went to some incredibly inexpensive wholesale dress company in that section of the city and found something I could afford. It was a distant cousin of the kind of dress being designed by the great Balenciaga, a kind of severe Spanish Infanta look, and I loved it. Melvin’s wife and muse, Button, arranged a big piece of tulle on my head, and the picture was taken: I was so thrilled.
And then, to my astonishment, he asked me if I would like to come work for him as his stylist, for which he would nearly double my minuscule salary at the Hearst Corporation! I have to say that even in all these decades of enormously creative and exciting work in other fields, nothing I have done has tapped into what I have to give, like those years at Sokolsky’s studio. Day after day, after often long and crazy days. His crew, really small, compared to most crews these days, was comprised of the most creative, hard-working, absolutely wonderful individual talents, and we worked incredibly hard to help make Melvin’s brilliant and demanding visions come to life. We were a loyal team, and we were so proud to be a part of the magic that was pouring out of Melvin’s camera, even as some of the demands could get rather intense. It was a fabulous job, always. And it thrills me, all these years later, to know that the whole world now recognizes the extraordinary work that he was doing, and each year the collectors are more enthusiastic.
Two of my favorites assignments from the 60’s have to be the two that Melvin shot of the Paris Collections. The first was the iconic series of pictures of Simone D’Aillencourt in a huge plastic bubble, which miraculously floated over all of beautiful Paris in 1963. Melvin asked me if I could dredge up my high school French in order to interface with the Paris police for permission day and night to set up our crane and surprise sleepy neighborhoods with that surreal, magical image. They were very amused and allowed us to shoot almost anywhere, and that series of fashion photographs, back there in that extraordinary decade for fashion photography and so much else, maybe the most iconic images of all. Melvin’s next Paris collection was equally exciting to work on, as he had two of the very best models of any era, Dorothea McGowan and Donna Mitchell, “flying,” indoors and out, over Paris. What I remember most, apart from the sheer beauty and daring of the setups, was the constant refrain of Diana Ross’ big hit, “Baby Love,” blaring at all hours of the night to keep us all awake! There are so many more amazing sessions that I could describe, but that would take pages and hours to recount.
What was immediately obvious to me from the moment I started working for Melvin were several things that have never changed. The first is he has always had a specific vision of what he wants to reference or visualize and will not stop until he gets it exactly right. He can be a very demanding leader, and that energy can be exhausting to the rest of us, but the results are spectacular. From the beginning, he has been obsessed with his use of light, and I think that this is one of his constant signatures. His curiosity and ability to study deeply what interests him have never changed, and to this very day, he is always working on new ways to express his art.
Just recently, he has discovered a way to put his images onto metal so that they perfectly match his vision as never before. This process is called Dye Sublimation, and people are excited to collect these durable, virtually scratchproof prints.
It was an enormous and joyous privilege for me to be a part of the Melvin Sokolsky Studio in that great era of fashion photography in the 1960s. It makes me so deeply happy to see how even more celebrated and collected around the world he is today.”
Starting her career as a fashion assistant for the iconic fashion editor Diana Vreeland to later becoming a stylist for photographer Melvin Sokolsky, Ali MacGraw gained an early rise to fame and is renowned as one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses since the 1970s and beyond.
Alice MacGraw is an American actress and activist. She initially gained media attention with her role in the film Goodbye, Columbus (1969), for which she won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. Later, in a part that would pave her way to celebrity stardom, she gained an international profile for her role in the film Love Story (1970), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. In 1972, MacGraw was voted the top female box office star in the world and was honored with a hands and footprints ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre after having been in just three films. MacGraw went on to star in the popular action films The Getaway (1972) and Convoy (1978) as well as the romantic sports drama Players (1979), the comedy Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), and the historical novel-based television miniseries The Winds of War (1983). In 1991, she published an autobiography, Moving Pictures. As an animal rights advocate throughout her life, she received the Humane Education Award by Animal Protection of New Mexico for speaking out about animal issues. Since 1994, MacGraw has lived in New Mexico and is a noted activist for numerous local and global causes.
In 1963 at the age of 21, Melvin Sokolsky joined the iconic fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and four years later he would go on to shoot a collection of images that have influenced the course of fashion photography and our understanding of it. Following the proposal and acceptance of one of his many bold ideas to the magazine’s editors – making his models fly through the streets of Paris – Melvin Sokolsky gathered a young, hard-working, and dynamic team to create some of history’s most memorable fashion photographs. With this series, Sokolsky ultimately expands the possibilities of creative photography and becomes an early influence on a later ubiquitous ‘photoshop’ culture.
Born and raised in New York City, Melvin Sokolsky was never formally trained as a photographer; instead, he learned the art of photography through a trial and error approach at a young age using his father’s box camera and relied on conversations with advertising photographers for his mentorship. His photographs of internationally famous personalities have appeared in many of the major museums and magazines worldwide. Sokolsky’s photograph, Bubble on the Seine, depicting a model inside one of his iconic bubbles, was named one of the 100 most influential fashion photographs of the 20th-century by the Victoria & Albert Museum.