Lifestyle icon talks ‘1860’s’ approach to equality, how gays ‘up their game’ in her midst and same-sex weddings
You don’t have to tell Martha Stewart that gay men love her like their own mother.
The influential entrepreneur’s and domestic diva’s deep-rooted connection to the LGBTQ community goes beyond special appearances on Ugly Betty and Ellen — in a cameo appearance on a hen she appeared as herself in a 1995 episode of the groundbreaking sitcom. Stewart, throughout her half-century-long career, has long embodied a quality near and dear to the queer community: perfection. After all, before “live your best life” was a meme, it was Stewart’s honed methodology.
Could that affinity for precision and flawlessness — for the perfect Christmas ham, the perfect vegetable garden, the perfect dating persona — be why Stewart is very clued into the fact that many gay men perceive her as a mother figure?
It’s a relationship worth exploring, and during my limited 15 minutes with Stewart, I dove into the lifestyle maven’s personal affiliations with many LGBTQ people: her nephew, Christopher Herbert, as well as her dearest gay friends, whom she hosts at her various homes. While “in a car, so if any confusion, blame the cell service,” Stewart, 76, was reflective and laid-back as she served up a savory platter of gay talk.
Such as her age-appropriate philosophy on equality, gays who host Stewart at their get-togethers (she jokes, though she can’t possibly be kidding, that it “ups their game”), and her memories of transforming, stunningly, into ’40s film icon Veronica Lake for late, gay makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin.
I’ve really appreciated the inclusivity on VH1’s Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, with guests ranging from LGBTQ icons like Patti LaBelle and Kathy Griffin to gay TV personality Ross Mathews and also Laverne Cox. How aware are you of being LGBTQ inclusive when it comes to this show and your career as a whole?
Oh, thank you. Well, we’re kind of in the showbiz world and being inclusive, that just sort of goes with the terrain. I don’t care who the person is; I care about what the person does, and how they do it.
Martha Stewart Weddings magazine famously introduced same-sex couples into its pages in 2009, with Jeremy Hooper and Andrew Shulman sharing their vows with family and friends in Litchfield, Connecticut. Why was it important to be at the forefront of marriage equality in that way, and what did that moment mean to you?
I believe in “all men are created equal.” I think I go back to the 1860s, and before! (Laughs) And I don’t think any compromise is necessary. I think it’s a fact that all men are created equal, and so I just treated people like equals my entire life. Equals in every single way, no matter what their proclivity is or what their sexuality is, or their color or their race. It doesn’t matter to me.
That wedding issue was a big deal as it was one of the first mainstream wedding magazines to have featured a gay couple’s wedding, and then there was another in 2011.
I know! And that was my nephew. That was Christopher Herbert marrying a Native American man (Timothy Long).
Seeing as though gay marriage wasn’t even recognized legally coast to coast then, were Martha-worshipping housewives open to displays of same-sex affection?
It was legal in Massachusetts, where they actually got married. I went to their wedding. They had a pre-wedding in Massachusetts, which was the legal wedding, and then they had the family celebration at my farm, which was another tying of the knot. The ceremony and that Celtic tying of the knot were so beautiful.
Was that the best same-sex wedding you’ve been to?
I’ve been to a lot! I mean, I have a lot of gay editors, both male and female. One of our style directors at ‘Weddings’ got married, and he had a fantastic wedding at a nightclub in Brooklyn. That was so fun, and that was also featured in the magazine. And I’ve been to several female weddings. You know, every wedding is special to me.
Is it intimidating for people to host Martha Stewart at their wedding?
I don’t know if it’s intimidating, but I think it ups their game a little bit! (Laughs)
What do you look for at a same-sex wedding?
I like to see what the couple is wearing. I like to see how they handle relatives. But I don’t differentiate a gay wedding from a straight wedding. I just don’t differentiate. I just went to Steven Gambrel’s wedding. That was so beautiful! He’s a very famous, very wealthy interior designer, and he married his longtime partner at their beautiful home in Sag Harbor, Long Island. It was an extraordinary evening. The father of Steven’s partner got up and said, “This is our family’s first gay wedding,” and he said, “It’s a momentous occasion for our family, and we embrace it.” It was one of the nicest father speeches I’ve heard at a wedding. Everybody sort of wanted to cry because he was visibly uncomfortable and yet accepting at the same time. It was very moving.
You also attended out Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld’s A-list tribute party in October.
Oh my god, that was a fantastic party! Mariah Carey singing! She sang a couple of songs for Karl dressed in a Chanel sequined dress that was, you know, perfectly clinging. It was beautiful, and Karl was so thrilled.
Growing up in New Jersey in the ’40s and ’50s, what was your introduction to the LGBTQ community?
In my class, I knew that several of the boys were gay. It wasn’t talked about, and nobody made fun of them. Nutley High School was a pretty liberal school but also quiet, so there were some gay boys that we knew, and I think one or two girls. But they hadn’t come out, and the boys were really not out if you want to use that word. But they were definitely gay.
And then in our own family, I had one cousin who was gay who lives in Buffalo and then my nephew is gay, and I think even though he didn’t come out until college, we all sort of knew he was gay. My daughter who has radar like crazy, Alexis, who I’m sure you know, she knows. And my mother didn’t have a clue. It wasn’t part of her lifestyle. She just didn’t have those friends.
Snoop Dogg has said that you love to get him drunk. Do you have a gay friend who’s especially good at getting you drunk?
I don’t like getting drunk, so not necessarily, no.
If I get tipsy, it’s probably because I haven’t eaten anything. I don’t get up saying, “Oh, I’m gonna get drunk today.” I just don’t do that.
Is entertaining a group of sophisticated gay men the ultimate challenge?
No. Again, I don’t differentiate if I have a group of gay men (over). I just don’t ever think that way. I don’t differentiate. (Art bag business owner) Christopher Moore came to my house recently with four gay friends just to look at the gardens, and I gave them cappuccinos, and they were happy. I actually didn’t have any food in the house, so I couldn’t give them anything to eat, but they were perfectly happy. I just don’t ever think that way. I don’t differentiate.
Wait, let’s back up, Martha. Didn’t you have any food in your house?
Well, nothing except eggs. I could’ve made them scrambled eggs. I thought after, “I probably should have fed them something” … but I didn’t. (Laughs)
Is it true that Cher was the one who convinced you to work with famous late, gay makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin when he photographed you as Veronica Lake for his 2000 book Face Forward?
No, I knew who Kevyn Aucoin was, and he was such an amazing makeup artist. And I like doing things like that. I have a face that can become other people. And I just thought, “Oh, god, what an opportunity.” He did such an amazing job.
In the gay community and beauty world, those photos are quite legendary.
Oh, I know who it was! It was the guy who worked for me (Alex Peruzzi). He’s Linda Evangelista in the book — he was head of merchandising in my craft department. A very handsome boy.
How do you reflect on that shoot?
I didn’t know that Kevyn was suffering from a pretty hideous disease, but I did remark on the size of his hands. He had that disease that enlarged appendages. His hands, his feet, everything was oversized. And I couldn’t believe that someone with such monster hands — these big hands — could do such delicate makeup work, but he did. He did amazing, amazing work. It was an art form of his to see a structure of a face and turn it into another face.
Looking back, have any gay people influenced your fondness for decadence or even your path to becoming a lifestyle icon?
No, not really. Although when I was catering (Stewart launched a catering business in the ’70s) many of the young men who were my waiters were gay, and they still are. The gay community works a lot in the catering business in New York; they are either actors or artists, and they need to make money, so they make money in catering. But they were all chosen for skill and aptitude for the kind of job they were doing, and they were all great. But my daughter and I both have a lot of gay friends. My closest friend is Kevin Sharkey, and he’s also like the surrogate uncle to Alexis (and her family), and he lives in their same building, and he’s Tio Kevin to them. I even introduce him playfully to friends as my gay son.
I want to be Martha Stewart’s gay son.
A lot of his friends would like to be Martha’s gay son!
How does one achieve Martha Stewart “gay son” status?
He’s worked for (me for) 18 years, that’s how! He worked his way up!
Photo: Martha Stewart with nephew Christopher Herbert
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).