her new Japanese mag, Martha Stewart
Martha now on sale and first stand-alone store in Yurakucho open for
business, America's domestic diva is making Japan her home away from home.
Roland Kelts gets the story from the globe-trotting media maven herself.
brokerage giant Merrill Lynch is shutting down branches across Japan.
Britain's ubiquitous druggist, Boots, laced up and hiked out of town this
past summer. And last month, just after French cosmetics chain Sephora
announced plans to sneak out from under a collapsing economy, Japan's
unemployment figures hit a record high 5.4 percent.
"We're entering into the market at what we hope is the low
of the consumer confidence cycle," concedes America's most famous domestic
lifestyle CEO, Martha Stewart. "We hope to be able to rebound with the
an era in which many of us have mastered our email accounts but
can't light a cooking fire in the forest, Stewart's appeal is
instructive: we can go back to the earth, the basics of existence,
without sacrificing our less-than-noble desires for bourgeois
accouterments and acquisitions.
The 60-year-old Stewart is a billionaire. She owns five
houses in some of America's most expensive markets, in addition to an
apartment in Manhattan housing her cats, dogs and daughter. A few years
ago, she "went wide," as they say in Hollywood, expanding her
corporation into what's now called Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia,
denoting an assault on consumers via television shows, magazines,
newspaper columns, radio broadcasts, catalogs, department stores and, of
course, the Internet. She wrested control of her trademark magazine, Martha
Stewart Living, from Time Warner in 1997, and last year, amid an
already shaky market, Stewart's stock went public. Its price quickly
backyards to tend, Martha is a gardening guru
all of this sounds vaguely Orwellian, consider the news:
It's Christmas 2001, and Stewart and her omnimedia
are moving in on Japan.
The one million viewers in Japan who already watch Stewart
dispensing tips on Japan's cable television station LaLa TV are about to
see the American homemaker advising them everywhere. September saw the
first Martha Stewart products hitting Japanese department store shelves,
together with posters of a beaming, blue-jeaned Stewart in motion, toting
an enormous leafy wreath. The grand opening of "Martha Stewart Yurakucho,"
heralded in a press release as "the world's first specialty shop of Martha
Stewart," was held in November. And December 1 saw the launch of Martha
Stewart Martha, a bi-monthly magazine "full of Martha's essence of
how-to ideas which help you lead your better life."
Japan's zeal for consumption-and its lust for designer-label
pretensions-is notorious worldwide. A quick survey of Tokyo subways and
Shibuya sidewalks makes this unequivocally clear: Louis Vuitton and Prada
never had it so good. But Stewart's products twist the equation in a
decidedly late-20th-century American direction. She sells low-end products
at mid-level prices, with the veneer of a high-end reputation.
centrepieces are signature Martha Stewart
In the States, Stewart's household items are sold through
Kmart, one of America's least-glamorous discount chains. In Japan she has
partnered with Seiyu, Japan's version of a low-end retailer. Stewart makes
the mix clear: "Our basic everyday products are affordable necessities for
the home and somewhat immune to economic downturns. In my opinion, the
kinds of products we are offering combine the high quality associated with
Martha Stewart [the label] and the pricing connected with products which
are available at Kmart and Seiyu."
consumers really care about value now, and Martha's ideas are
really simple: If you wake up five minutes earlier, you can do
more with your breakfast. That kind of thing is really appealing."-Yasushi
Okue, general manager of the LaLa TV.
"Her products are very inexpensive-but they don't look
inexpensive," explains Yasushi Okue, general manager of LaLa TV. Okue
compares Stewart's retail appeal with that of Uniqlo, the wildly
successful China-based clothing company that markets shapeless American
casual styles to suddenly-yen-conscious Japanese, managing to undersell
even The Gap with its factory-stitched image. "Japanese consumers really
care about value now," Okue adds, "and Martha's ideas are really simple:
If you wake up five minutes earlier, you can do more with your breakfast.
That kind of thing is really appealing."
the home front
hits on a crucial element in the success of Stewart's industry, at least
in America: She sells the concept of a stylish domesticity to the
self-help-seeking masses. The products are almost an afterthought. In the
States, where she is frequently parodied for her stern, authoritative
approach to things like fruitcakes, Stewart's success might be comparable
to the exploits of another celebrity hostess/entrepreneur, Oprah Winfrey.
Winfrey's so-called book club, in which she basically christens specific
novels bestsellers on television, has the publishing industry at her beck
and call, and has authors like recent National Book Award winner Jonathan
Franzen (whose appearance was canceled by Winfrey after he questioned the
quality of her earlier choices) desperate to court her democratized"
But in Japan, democracy is largely nominal, a diplomatic cover for
some rigidly hierarchical systems and assumptions. Little surprise, then,
that to some local fashion arbiters, European models seem better attuned
to contemporary Japanese tastes. An editor at a mass-market Japanese women's
magazine sours on Martha Stewart Omnimedia's chances for success in her
native land. Citing the recent failure of a Japanese version of
Good Housekeeping, she finds Stewart's decidedly American approach
ill-timed. "Today's Japanese are more interested in Italian styles in
furniture and design," she says. "There's an Italian boom, partly because
the aesthetic sense and the use of space are similar. American homes are
unrecognizable in Japan; Japanese women simply don't have the room to
entertain guests." The debut issue of Martha
Stewart Martha is very…blond, from the cover shot of the chief
executive headlocking one of her auburn chow chows to the interior spreads
showing Stewart's extended family before a massive hearth festooned with
Of course, Stewart didn't rise from Jersey-born model to corporate
queen by misjudging public appeal. She spent her formative years at an
investment firm ("My seven years on Wall Street could not have been
better!"), and her sense of the market is as finely calibrated as that of
pop stars like Britney Spears or Ayumi Hamasaki. "We will offer a
combination of products," she says, "some of which are tailored to the
Japanese market and at the same time retain a strong resemblance to the
original merchandise." In other words, she will attempt to incorporate the
kind of transcultural adaptations that have worked so well for American
stalwarts like McDonald's and Starbucks. "Bed sheets…need to fit futon
sizes. If we change the product too much, the look and feel of the brand
will be jeopardized."
Nobu Matsuhisa, the Japanese celebrity chef whose restaurants have
garnered worldwide renown for his European twists on Japanese elementals
at his main venue in New York-plus the celebrity approbation from stars
like co-owner Robert De Niro and Madonna-is a vocal friend and fan of
Stewart's. He met her seven years ago at a private book party, and the two
have appeared together on her television program staged at Nobu New York.
In September, they jointly promoted their Japanese enterprises at Tokyo's
Tsukiji Fish Market, and Stewart says she was "very honored" to pen the
introduction to Nobu's just-published cookbook.
Nobu, whose own operations are expanding into Shanghai, is
positively sanguine about his pal's business propositions in his homeland.
"She has a lot of interest in Japanese history, culture and food. I hope
she will be a success, because I like her." When I ask about the appeal of
European styles, Nobu responds personally. "You know, I go to Europe every
two weeks, but I see people in Japan looking for more American ideas right
now. Japanese culture is different, of course, but people are changing
little by little every year. There are a lot of new buildings going up,
new condominiums. People still have money here, and the spacious American
style is more attractive to them. Plus, Seiyu's power should help her
overcome retail difficulties. Seiyu is very old and very popular."
Stewart's interest in Japan was born in 1977, when she
visited her ex-husband Andy Stewart's publishing company in Tokyo. She
comes to Japan about twice a year now, according to LaLa's Okue, where she
pushes her products, meets and greets LaLa viewers, and takes in the
sites. "My favorite areas are the islands off the coast of Southeast Japan
and also the mountainous regions near Nagano," Stewart says. "And a couple
of my favorite places to go are Osaka airport [designed by Italian Enzo
Piano], the Yakusugi groves on the island of Yakushima, and the Miho
Museum outside of Kyoto." Stewart takes great pains to ensure that her
designs on Japanese consumers are not ignorant-that she is not
participating in an American commercial or cultural invasion. "The
Japanese sensibility towards art and design, cuisine and gardening and
living will not dissipate," she argues. "In fact, the influence of Japan
on other cultures has been extraordinarily powerful, and continues to be
On page 19 of the Martha Stewart Martha's December issue, there is
a picture of the lifestyle executive with her hair tied back in a sloppy
ponytail, her khakis and plain blue Gap-style (or Uniqlo-type) T-shirt
stained with gobs of rich gardening dirt. In an era in which many of us
have mastered our email accounts but can't light a cooking fire in the
forest, Stewart's appeal is instructive: We can go back to the earth, the
basics of existence, without sacrificing our less-than-noble desires for
bourgeois accouterments and acquisitions.
Stewart's new store in Yurakucho is even more succinct in its
back-to-basics, no-frills presentation: cheap towels, pillows, bedsheets
and other domestic items in a city that inflates such costs routinely. The
assumption is that Tokyoites, and other Japanese, want to redefine what is
desirous in leaner times to include the quotidian: Buy a Martha Stewart
item, the onslaught advises, and you buy into an elegant version of the
Stewart's dedication to her marketing empire, however, is anything
but common. On September 11, when the world watched two jets severing the
top floors of iconographic skyscrapers, Stewart was in Tokyo, noting the
grease-stained platters on which her tempura was served. The best tempura,
she observed, leaves no grease behind. "two days after the 11th, we had a
tea party scheduled at the Westin with Martha and her viewers," recalls
LaLa's Okue. "We thought for sure she'd cancel, because she has a daughter
in New York. But she stayed, and she met with all of her viewers. She's
Terrorists, schmerrorists. Martha means business.
Stewart Yurakucho Seiyu, Yurakucho Bldg, 3-8-3 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku.
Tel: 03-3212-6266. Open daily 10am-9pm. Nearest stn: Yurakucho.
Living" on LaLa TV, customer service tel: 0120-977-888, www.lala.co.jp