My life in media

Since she burst onto the scene in the 1980s, Martha Stewart has solidly maintained her position as America’s ultimate arbiter of domestic taste. Here, she offers a tour of her multifaceted life
My life in media

Photograph Victor Shrager

All my diverse careers have contributed in some way to the person I became. I grew up in Nutley, New Jersey, and when I was 15, a neighbor who modeled said I should test. On Saturdays, I would go into town and model coats for clients like Bonwit Teller—it was a perfect way to earn extra money, like $15 to $25 an hour in the 1950s. This helped me gain confidence in different situations and taught me how to behave in front of the camera.

I married very young, at 19. My husband, Andy, and I had a penthouse on East 70th Street. Because of my work, I knew all the models of the day and would cook for them: Veruschka, Iris Bianchi, Suzy Parker. I’m writing an intro for a book about Suzy now.

My mother taught me the basics of homekeeping, but I was really inspired when I was modeling in Paris in 1961 and bought Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which had just come out. I was the first Julie! I was a diligent student and cooked every dish in that book, everything from boeuf bourguignon to fancy French cakes.

But I also had an interest in art and history, which I studied at Barnard. I originally wanted to be an architect, to create my own world, design buildings and figure out space. After school, I went to Wall Street, and the boutique firm Monness, Williams and Sidel. We worked with a number of big companies, and really pushed McDonald’s, which in the early ’70s was only a blip, long before the hegemony of the fast food industry. And then there was Leasco Data Processing, which leased big computers to companies that didn’t have their own. I’ve always been interested in technology and was an original purchaser of Google stock, which I still own.

Due to my success as a stockbroker, in the 1970s, I was able to focus on raising my family and creating a catering company in Connecticut. I worked out my scheme of design by restoring my house Turkey Hill, which was a wreck when we bought it. These beautiful pumpkin pine floors were covered in 30 coats of lead paint—my dog became sick from the lead. I landscaped four acres of trees, and planted the garden that is still there.

In 1982, I released my first book, Entertaining. The president of Crown Publishing, Alan Mirken, was at a party I was catering, and soon we had a deal. It was a success almost immediately, and started a period when I released a book a year. I’ll never get over the fact that we had one typo in the second book—it was for a tablespoon of something instead of a teaspoon. But in every edition since the correction has appeared.

My magazine, Living, debuted in 1990. When my brand began to coalesce between my cookbooks and then the magazine and the television show in 1993, I realized all aspects could feed each other. Synergy’s a concept business people in the ’90s did not get. They said, “This will take audiences away from your other products,” but I said, “No, it will enhance the brand throughout the platforms.” And when I began to sell products through Kmart—a line that made $1.6 billion at its height—it made sense. By the mid ’90s, I felt it was time to buy back my magazine from Time Warner and consolidate my operations. With Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, I could cross-promote across a broad spectrum.

I do not define my life in terms of a blip in time. My daughter, Alexis, and the rest of my family were instrumental in getting me through the ordeal of prison. I have a strong constitution, so my health never suffered and I overcame a very difficult situation.

Today, I’m busier than ever. My 88th book, A New Way to Bake, which will be released this month, teaches readers alternative baking methods. And Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party on VH1 has been renewed for a second season. I sat next to Snoop during the Justin Bieber roast on Comedy Central and got a contact high. We get along so well because I treat absolutely everyone the same; I approach rappers the same as I do Helen Mirren.

I keep growing because I never study my calendar in advance. I choose projects that will be new and challenging. When you do that, you’re always moving forward.

 



A New Way to Bake, Stewart's 88th book, teaches readers new techniques such as using little white flour and alternative grains.