Move Over, Martha
By Alison Beard
Financial Times, www.ft.com (subscription
only); December 22, 2003
As Martha Stewart awaits trial on charges related to share sales, the
FT surveys some of the contenders poised to take up their cookie-cutters
and inherit her place as America's homemaking guru.
A soft-spoken organic farmer from Idaho who didn't watch television for
30 years, Butters may be well on her way to becoming a media maven in
the Martha mould.
Her first step was rebranding her business - mail-order "instant
and quick-prep" meals - as MaryJanesFarm because "people deserve
to put a face to their food". Next, she not only arranged a "homemade"
initial public offering, taking on 55 minority investors, but also launched
her own magazine/catalogue with pictures taken by a $450 digital camera
bought on eBay and contributions from friends and family.
Last winter, when farm sales were slipping, she sent a 63-page book proposal
to New York publishers and sparked a bidding war, which ended with a $1.35m
two-title deal from Random House's Clarkson Potter imprint, which amounted
to nearly triple the 2002 farm revenues.
Butters' focus remains decidedly rural - "hearth and home, from handiwork
to hogs". "But it turns out that city women love my ideas,"
she says. "I have a lack of Hollywood savvy that's refreshing ...
I'm not positioning myself. I just love the domestic arts."
The MaryJanesFarm website is a strong showcase for her personality and
products, which have expanded to kitchen tools, sewing kits and customised
Agents urge her to do television. "But it's going to take a little
time to figure out if I fit into that," Butters says. "I saw
my first Oprah show three weeks ago ... and I've never seen a Martha Stewart
Armed with a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology and 10 years'
experience in book publicity, Chris Madden knew exactly what it would
take to become a home decorating doyenne.
She published her first book, Interior Visions, in 1987, promoted it tirelessly
on local television and radio, and followed up by producing two design
showhouses and three more books by 1996.
Home & Garden Television facilitated her jump to television, offering
her one of its first four shows, but she quickly parlayed the Interiors
by Design host job into other ventures - more books, including a well-received
tome on women's "personal spaces" or "sanctuaries",
and a design correspondent slot on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Celebrity clients - and appearances on NBC's Today show - followed, giving
Madden enough clout to partner with Bassett Furniture on her own line
in 2000. Sales totaled $100m within two years, and the designer quickly
found other manufacturers to produce her pillows, rugs, wallhangings and
candles. This August, she signed a multi-year deal with JC Penney, the
US retailer, which said it expects her to boost sales by $600m.
Madden can cite personal turning points, including her sister's death
and a "near-death" rafting accident, which convinced her to
become the "haven maven", spreading her "vision" of
spiritual and simplistic decorating to the masses. But she admits that
smart business moves, such as changing her company name to Chris Madden
Inc, and media exposure, including a large New York Times article last
year, made the vision a reality.
In fact, she quotes the Times' article twice in one interview, first reciting
the headline - "An Empire, Yes, But More Serene than Martha's"
- then emphasising it - "As they said, I teach women how to decompress,
[while] Martha teaches them how to impress."
The Queer Eye Guys
Why take fashion, cooking, design and grooming advice from one straight
woman when you can get it from five gay men?
When television producers David Collins and David Metzler developed Queer
Eye for the Straight Guy, the hit television makeover show, they never
expected their "Fab Five" stars - Carson Kressley, Ted Allen,
Thom Filicia, Kyan Douglas and Jai Rodriguez - to have such widespread
appeal. But in its two seasons, the group has consistently drawn more
than 2m viewers to the previously obscure Bravo cable network, and the
show has been picked up by Flextech's Living TV channel in the UK. Clarkson
Potter will publish a Fab Five style guide in February, and a Queer Eye
soundtrack featuring the show's theme song will debut around the same
Collins, who is gay, admits that he set out to create a lifestyle "superhero"
who would rescue straight men and their partners from bad taste. "We
had this idea of the Queer Eye stamp of approval, like Good Housekeeping
or Martha Stewart ... and we felt really strongly that we needed five
credentialed professionals ... [each] with their own strengths,"
he explains. "But did anyone predict the Fab Five to take off like
it did? No."
Nigella Lawson may be revered as a domestic goddess/sex symbol, but when
told about being included in this article her first reaction was: "Oh
god, I'm the anti-lifestyle guru."
Yes, there are the cookbooks (How to Eat, How to Be a Domestic Goddess,
Nigella Bites and Forever Summer, of which there are a total 2.25m copies
in print worldwide) and the TV shows (on Channel 4 in the UK, and on the
Style and E! networks in the US) and the bi-monthly "At My Table"
column (which runs in the New York Times, as well as papers in Chicago
Yes, the former journalist has partnered with Sebastian Conran and InterDesign
to launch a Nigella's Living Kitchen Collection that ranges from storage
jars to cake tins. And, yes, Lawson admits she might expand beyond cookware
to other "elements of the home" that interest her.
But "I'm never going to be about some self-improvement thing",
she insists. "I couldn't start doing crafts [because] I'm very clumsy.
... And if you spend your life organising your shelves you won't have
time for anything else."
Unlike Martha, Lawson intends to stay away from the "full-on"
"I don't have a particular plan or policy that I want to implement,"
she adds. "I've just happened upon this very strange job that allows
me to be me."
BEST OF THE REST
Sandra Lee, a blonde "lifestylist" specialising in "semi-homemade"
meals and projects, she has a Food Network show, books, home videos and
Colin Cowie, an LA-based event planner to the stars who has five
books on entertaining, a line of china and a Women's Entertainment Network
Rachel Ray, Food Network star known for her "30-minute meals".
Katie Brown, an entertaining and decorating specialist chock full
of "wacky, practical and budget-conscious" advice. She just
jumped from the Style Network to A&E.
B Smith, a former model turned lifestyle maven whose interests
- a TV show and magazine, books and restaurants - continues to expand.
Oprah Winfrey, a star who is venturing into Martha's territory
with Oprah at Home magazine and by promoting the lifestyle experts (chef,
personal trainer, decorators) who have helped her.
Sheila Bridges, author, Fine Living network star and "America's
Best Interior Designer", according to CNN and Time magazine.