Martha Ste­wart:

liv­ing it up at 75

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - NEWS -

Martha Ste­wart, 75, stands over the con­fer­ence ta­ble in her light-filled cor­ner of­fice, primp­ing a shal­low bowl of pale, nearly stem­less blos­soms. “I can’t stand flower ar­range­ments like this,” she says.

“It is just such a waste of flow­ers.”

I can’t iden­tify the flow­ers and they look rather stylish to my un­trained eye. “I don’t know much about ar­rang­ing flow­ers,” I say, try­ing to fill the si­lence.

“You don’t?” Martha asks, look­ing up with sur­prise. “You should.”

I’m in Martha Ste­wart’s world, the mas­sive ninth floor of the Star­rett-Le­high Build­ing in Man­hat­tan, New York. From here, Martha has guided her highly cu­rated life­style brand through the height of its in­flu­ence, and made cook­ing, gar­den­ing and dec­o­rat­ing as­pi­ra­tional ac­tiv­i­ties for a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans.

Now, at an age when many people are al­ready more than a decade into re­tire­ment, Martha has un­der­gone the most dra­matic change in her wide-rang­ing ca­reer. In De­cem­ber 2015, she let go of her closely held com­pany, Martha Ste­wart Liv­ing Om­n­i­me­dia, in a merger with US pro­mo­tions com­pany Se­quen­tial Brands.

To­day, Martha works long hours as Se­quen­tial’s chief cre­ative of­fi­cer for a CEO less than half her age. But the changes don’t stop there. She’s rev­el­ling in the shock value of ap­pear­ing with con­tro­ver­sial artists and celebri­ties. She’s giv­ing her funny and even raunchy side freer rein.>>

And she’s eas­ing away from her im­age as the epit­ome of per­fec­tion and pro­pri­ety – dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on The Ellen Show a few months ago, where she sat along­side her good friend, rap­per Snoop Dogg, Martha shocked the stu­dio au­di­ence when she re­vealed she was fa­mil­iar with modern ro­man­tic be­hav­iours, ad­mit­ting she had sexted.

“Martha, do you even know what sex­ting is?” a taken aback Ellen asked her guest.

“I have used tech­nol­ogy for a lot longer than you have, Ellen,” Martha re­sponded archly, later ad­mit­ting she is not shy about visit­ing nude beaches ei­ther.

It’s a side to the life­style guru and busi­ness mag­nate we have rarely seen be­fore. But then Martha, it seems, is in a new and much hap­pier place than ever be­fore. Just over a decade on from her in­fa­mous fall from grace, when she spent five months in a fed­eral prison for ob­struct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the sale of stock

(and spent her time in a most Martha way, cre­at­ing culi­nary de­lights from fruit and veg­eta­bles har­vested on prison grounds), the for­mer model is find­ing yet an­other new side to her­self.

Sit­ting across from Martha, who is ad­dicted to her iPad, end­lessly cu­ri­ous and far warmer in per­son than her rep­u­ta­tion as an icy per­fec­tion­ist sug­gests, it be­gins to sink in just how in­cred­i­ble her rein­ven­tion is. Hav­ing built a house­hold name, hav­ing made the money, most would have de­cided long ago to with­draw and en­joy their spoils. But then again, Martha’s vigour is su­per­hu­man.

So don’t ask her if or when she plans on re­tir­ing. She doesn’t. More­over, she seems to find the ques­tion slightly of­fen­sive. “Why? Why!? Why!” is her re­sponse.

“No, it is not the time to slow down,” she tells me. “Not for me. I’m not the re­tir­ing type of per­son. I en­joy all the things I do. The only chal­lenge I have is find­ing time to do as much as I want to do.”

Now in charge of the cre­ative di­rec­tion of some 15 brands – from US celebrity chef Emeril La­gasse to fash­ion

I do have a good sense of hu­mour and a lot to say.

la­bels – Martha says she has more work than ever giv­ing each com­pany the Martha Ste­wart touch. Heelys, the wheeled-shoe fad that swept schools in the early 2000s, is an­other brand she is over­see­ing.

“I ac­tu­ally like to do all kinds of sports,” she says. “I like rollerblad­ing. I’m not good on a skate­board, but I’m also not good on a snow­board. I’m very good on a hov­er­board.”

A pic­ture of a bare­foot and slightly tipsy Martha rid­ing a hov­er­board through the home of Qatari diplo­mat Nas­sir Ab­du­laziz Al-Nasser went vi­ral last year when she tweeted: “Aziz let me use his hov­er­board be­fore din­ner but after Cham­pagne. Re­ally easy but be care­ful of an­tiques!”

It was one of sev­eral youth-ori­ented stunts of late that have helped Martha in­tro­duce her­self to a new and no­to­ri­ously capri­cious gen­er­a­tion of con­sumers. It seems to be work­ing.

Last year, she landed an orig­i­nal se­ries on Ama­zon based on her on­line craft shop, Amer­i­can Made – a deal re­port­edly worth US$200,000 an episode. She’s adapt­ing decades worth of con­tent for on­line au­di­ences, of­ten live-stream­ing classes from her own homes. She has made a push into the hip and ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive meal-kit de­liv­ery busi­ness, with a “Martha & Mar­ley Spoon” line, which tar­gets young ur­ban pro­fes­sion­als who strug­gle to find time to shop for and pre­pare meals at home.

“I think ev­ery busi­ness is try­ing to tar­get mil­len­ni­als. But who are mil­len­ni­als? Now we are find­ing out that they are liv­ing with their par­ents. They don’t have the ini­tia­tive to go out and find a lit­tle apart­ment and grow a tomato plant on the ter­race,” she says. “I un­der­stand the plight of younger people. The eco­nomic cir­cum­stances out there are very grim. But you have to work for it. You have to strive for it. You have to go after it. I got mar­ried at 19 and I im­me­di­ately got an apart­ment and I fixed it up. I was very proud of ev­ery­thing I did. I got the fur­ni­ture at auctions for pen­nies. Beau­ti­ful fur­ni­ture. My apart­ments were lovely and homey and com­fort­able.”

At a re­cent din­ner at her farm­house in Bed­ford, New York, David Chang – the head of the Mo­mo­fuku restau­rant chain and culi­nary brand – im­plored her to fo­cus on ed­u­cat­ing young people.

“David Chang kept saying, ‘Martha, you know so much and the mil­len­ni­als have to know this stuff! They don’t know any­thing and they have to learn. They want to learn but they have grown up with­out teach­ers. They know how to make money and how to de­velop soft­ware, but they don’t know how to plant a tree. They don’t know how to grow spinach,’” she re­counted, not­ing that a re­cent Face­book livestream on seed-start­ing at­tracted 500,000 view­ers.

Of course this isn’t the first time Martha has suc­cess­fully adapted. The model-turned-stock­bro­ker-turned­caterer-turned-guardian of good taste has an un­canny tal­ent for rein­ven­tion on a large scale. And this time the changes aren’t merely good busi­ness – they’re per­sonal.

The first time most people no­ticed that there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about Martha Ste­wart was when she

I have had to be bal­anced be­cause of pro­pri­ety, re­ally.

was bak­ing brown­ies with Snoop

Dogg on tele­vi­sion.

“I have to say he is off the chiz­zle fo shniz­zle and to­day he’s in the hizzel. Rep­re­sent­ing gangstas ev­ery­where, wel­come Snoop Dizzel,” Martha said, hold­ing back laughs, at the start of a 2009 episode of her show Martha.

Snoop: “When do we add the, uh…”

Martha: “When do we add the eggs?”

Snoop: “No, when do we add the, uhm…” Martha: “The good stuff?” Snoop: “Yeah!” Martha: “Oh later, later. And that’s se­cret.”

The Snoop Dogg ap­pear­ance quickly be­came one of the most memorable mo­ments in Martha’s ca­reer, with mul­ti­ple ver­sions of the video on YouTube at­tract­ing mil­lions of views. She had ac­tu­ally hosted Snoop on the show one year ear­lier to make mashed pota­toes, but the po­tency of the brownie episode, where Snoop in­sisted on mak­ing “green” brown­ies, turn­ing the episode into an ex­tended mar­i­juana joke, seems to be what people re­mem­ber.

“I think my tele­vi­sion ca­reer started a lit­tle be­fore re­al­ity TV set in. And when re­al­ity [TV] set in I wasn’t so com­fort­able be­ing the real funny me

– I am funny,” Martha says. “I do have a good sense of hu­mour and I have a lot to say. But then I am the found­ing edi­tor of a ma­jor mag­a­zine and you can’t be as out­ra­geous as re­al­ity TV stars. I don’t be­lieve you can.

“So it is kind of weird,” Martha tells me. “I have had to be bal­anced be­cause of pro­pri­ety, re­ally.”

Pro­pri­ety was nowhere to be found dur­ing Martha’s ap­pear­ance on Com­edy Cen­tral for the net­work’s “roast” of Justin Bieber – and the in­ter­net ate it up faster than one of her old-fash­ioned lemon su­gar cook­ies.

In a par­tic­u­larly raunchy bit,

Martha said, “I be­lieve the bed­room is the most im­por­tant room in the house. But I don’t have to tell you that, Lu­dacris. You have three kids with three dif­fer­ent women. May I sug­gest pulling out some­time and fin­ish­ing on some fine, highly ab­sorbent Martha Ste­wart bed­li­nens?”

“Ev­ery­body in my of­fice thought I was nuts to do that,” Martha tells me. “And a bil­lion and a half im­pres­sions later, guess what? I wasn’t so nuts. It was fun to do. It was a lit­tle nerver­ack­ing, sit­ting with all those strange char­ac­ters,” she says, re­fer­ring to Justin Bieber, Snoop Dogg, hip hop star Lu­dacris, bas­ket­ball leg­end Shaquille O’Neal, and a host of stand-up co­me­di­ans. “But I had fun and it showed an­other side of me that en­abled me to go to other places.”

“But why now?” I ask. “Is there a rea­son you are show­ing a new side of your­self?”

“Not re­ally,” she an­swers. “It’s just evo­lu­tion.”

Martha races the sun out of bed each morn­ing at her 62-hectare farm in Bed­ford, Mas­sachusetts, where her pe­ony gar­den is in full bloom. “It is a farmette,” she says. “The gar­den is a work in progress.”

She pur­chased the 1925 farm­house back in 2000 and, sur­rounded by fa­mous neigh­bours like Ralph Lau­ren, Michael Dou­glas and Cather­ine Zeta-Jones, Blake Lively, and even Don­ald Trump (who leased his es­tate to the late Libyan despot Muam­mar Gaddafi in 2009), she has built her Shangri-La.

“I have five dogs, two cats, five horses, three don­keys, five peafowl, 200 chick­ens, geese and turkeys. Oh! And a black bear!” she says, show­ing me a video of a bear she re­cently filmed on the prop­erty. “Oh, and ca­naries. I have amaz­ing ca­naries.”

But Martha’s rep­u­ta­tion as a do­mes­tic diva, celebrity host­ess, and dogged busi­ness­woman has ob­scured an­other rel­a­tively re­cent change in her life – be­com­ing a grand­mother. These days, the lush gar­dens, rolling farm­land and pic­turesque sta­bles of her Bed­ford es­tate are as fre­quently used as play­grounds for her grand­chil­dren, Jude, six, and Tru­man, five, as for high-pro­file guests.

“I can’t see my grand­chil­dren enough,” Martha says. “I had a fan­tas­tic party for my grand­daugh­ter. She brought her whole class and their par­ents and their sib­lings up to the farm… They did potato-sack races and egg and spoon and tug of war. I made sure all those games were ready for them. They had de­li­cious food. They got to eat rhubarb crisp. I made all of these fresh fruit sor­bets and all of the fruit was from my gar­den.

“It was an old-fash­ioned day in the coun­try, very sim­i­lar to a day I re­mem­ber from when I was a child,” she says. “We had a rel­a­tive who had a farm in south­ern New Jersey, a dairy farm, and I liked go­ing there more than I liked go­ing any­where. And my grand­chil­dren love com­ing to my farm.”

But it’s not all nos­tal­gia and trays of home­made cook­ies. With char­ac­ter­is­tic de­ter­mi­na­tion, she is chan­nelling her

love into some­thing pro­duc­tive, work­ing tire­lessly to ed­u­cate and to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment for her grand­chil­dren, in­clud­ing the clean-up of the Hud­son River.

Last year, she took her daugh­ter Alexis and her grand­chil­dren to the Galá­pa­gos Is­lands, an­other area of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cern.

“A lot of un-indige­nous species have been in­tro­duced there,” she says. “The kids should see all of those species be­fore any­thing hap­pens.”

Martha is also an ac­tive pro­po­nent of sus­tain­able farm­ing and of eat­ing well-grown and well-cared-for meat and fish. “I am very con­cerned about the fu­ture and the food sup­ply,” she says. “I am a big pro­po­nent of no-waste, or­ganic-is-good, all of that… [But] I think we have a tremen­dous amount of work to do.”

Martha’s day be­gins with some out­door time with Francesca, her 12-year-old French bull­dog, and Ghenghis Khan, her Chow Chow. Then it’s the New York Times, the gym, the green juice made from veg­eta­bles grown on her farm year­round. Un­less she is film­ing on the farm, she com­mutes to Man­hat­tan ev­ery morn­ing – a for­mer em­ployee tells me she is al­ways walk­ing the block-length floors.

She tries to visit ev­ery new restau­rant that piques her in­ter­est.

“It is my busi­ness. I’m friends with all the chefs,” she says. But Ja­panese food has be­come a par­tic­u­lar pas­sion and she is en­cy­clopaedic about the cui­sine.

“I can dis­tin­guish the uni [sea urchin] from Maine from the uni from Ja­pan and Santa Barbara. We just had a test and they were very im­pressed that I knew each one,” she says. “I fish for uni in Maine. I have an uni opener… It’s a lit­tle eso­teric. You can only buy this tool in Ja­pan and it cracks open the shell of the sea urchin with­out de­stroy­ing the eggs in­side it.”

The daugh­ter of two teach­ers, Martha says she has tried to live by the motto “learn some­thing new ev­ery day”. She says she’s still look­ing for time to grow a trop­i­cal gar­den and to ex­plore Tas­ma­nia, West­ern China and Siberia. “I haven’t been to Antarc­tica,” she says with dis­ap­point­ment.

“It seems very sim­ple and al­most trite, but it’s not,” she says. “‘Learn some­thing new’ is es­sen­tial for ev­ery­body… Learn­ing and learn­ing and learn­ing is im­por­tant to me be­cause you can­not be a good teacher with­out learn­ing all the time.”

Martha’s 87th book, Veg­eta­bles, was pub­lished at the end of last year. But she says her legacy is not solely that of a life­style mogul, but rather as an ed­u­ca­tor whose li­brary of con­tent will live on for gen­er­a­tions.

“I have taught a lot of people a lot of things,” she says. “These are not fly-by-night books. These are se­ri­ously tested recipes and tested how-tos. I think that we [the brand] will live on and be valu­able and be re­mem­bered as good teach­ers.”

But Martha has a se­cond motto, one equally prac­tised, she as­sures me. “When you are through chang­ing, you are through. Change is good,” she says. “Change is good for any­body.”

LEFT: Martha sees her­self as an ed­u­ca­tor and says it is es­sen­tial that we al­ways keep learn­ing.

FROM LEFT: Martha after be­ing re­leased from prison in 2005. With rap­per Snoop Dogg at the MTV Awards in May this year. The hov­er­board an­tic that went vi­ral last year. OP­PO­SITE: At the Justin Bieber Roast in 2015.

Martha and her grand­daugh­ter Jude in 2014.

FROM LEFT: Martha be­gan modelling when she was just 15 and con­tin­ued through her stu­dent days. Her life has taken many dif­fer­ent paths since then, but she has re­tained the el­e­gance and style of a fash­ion­ista, as shown in these pho­to­graphs from the past two years.

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