For many years, Alexis avoided the perception that she’s a glue gun–wielding acolyte of her mother. Her occasional forays into the hospitality business met with mixed results. She bought and renovated a motel in Bridgehampton, but couldn’t stand dealing with the guests. She had similar problems with the gym she opened in East Hampton in 1996, not far from her mother’s home on Lily Pond Lane. “If you’re nasty to me in my place of business, I’m going to be really nasty back,” she says. “I’d be like, ‘Get the F out … And then they’d say, ‘You can’t do that!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I can. I can’t kick you out because you’re short, or gay, but I can kick you out because you’re an asshole.’ ” (This apparently happened with only a couple of clients, including one Stewart describes as a “nasty, nasty man who was always dropping his weights on purpose.”)
Before the Sirius project, Alexis had never appeared on her mother’s show, which she says has gone a long way toward convincing people that she hates Martha. The daughter-stand-in role was often performed by the spectacularly résuméd Sophie Herbert, Martha’s niece, a yoga teacher who spent four months in India teaching English, studied yoga therapy for disabled children, and donated proceeds from a side gig as a singer-songwriter to the Tibetan Children’s Village. Sophie, Alexis says, goes on far more overseas trips with Martha than she does.
But it is Alexis, and no relentlessly perky cousin, who will almost certainly inherit the entirety of her mother’s empire, which includes 90 percent of voting rights and 55 percent of the common stock of MSLO. The company is not worth what it once was—shares are hovering in the $7 to $9 per share range, down from a high of over $37. Still, if tomorrow the 67-year-old Martha perished in a bizarre accident involving pruning shears and a strong gust of wind, Alexis would be worth about a quarter-billion dollars, and she’d have to decide whether to step up and help steer the company, or sell the shares. Surprisingly, Alexis doesn’t seem inclined toward the second option. “Sell it to who?” she says. “When my mother’s dead?” She ponders what kind of company Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia would be if Martha Stewart wasn’t, well, living. “I’m assuming my mother’s not going to die until she’s good and ready.”
The idea of succession is, by most accounts, not a conversation easily broached with Martha either. But clearly efforts are in the works to broaden the brand beyond a single name. In February, MSLO ponied up $50 million for Emeril Lagasse’s media and merchandise franchise, and other personalities may be added to the roster soon. And then there’s Alexis—both the least likely and most probable candidate for the Martha mantle. “We’re looking for other avenues to grow our business that don’t necessarily have to be Martha-centric,” says Charles Koppelman. “If we follow the Whatever girls down the road the next couple years, I think they could be a significant brand unto themselves. Could they have a magazine? Could they have a television component? Could they be selling products? Why not?”
It was during her mother’s trial and eventual incarceration that Alexis finally began to show real interest in the company. She was in the front row for every day of the six-week trial; she crumpled and wept when the jury read its guilty verdicts, and then she flew her mother to West Virginia and dropped her off in the pre-dawn hours at Alderson Federal Prison. “It was great for her actually,” Alexis says about the place Martha now refers to as “Yale.” “She lost weight. She couldn’t work. Enforced rest. Enforced reading time. Enforced exercise. It was like a spa with really bad food.” Alexis visited her nearly every weekend. “Some weekends I would try to not go and she’d freak out. ‘You’re not coming next weekend,’ she’d say, and I’d be like, ‘Fuck.’ ”
Alexis agreed to take on the Caroline Kepcher role in her mother’s version of The Apprentice. She also planted the seed that Martha should pursue a deal at Sirius. “I said if they would hire Howard Stern, then they would hire a felon,” she says. Soon, Alexis’s austere Tribeca loft started showing up in the pages of Martha Stewart Living, a clear appeal to younger readers who felt more comfortable with a Barcelona chair than the fussier touches her mother favors. And these days her blog is packed with recipes and photographed dishes that look just as impressive as her mom’s.
Not that Alexis’s new interest in her mother’s territory comes without complications. Here’s Martha, asked if she agrees with Alexis’s contention that she’s the better cook. “Not really,” she says, the slightest bit of edge creeping into her voice. “Look how many wonderful cookbooks I’ve written, okay. Right now cooking isn’t my main interest as it is her main interest right now. I garden a lot more than she gardens.” Are you competitive about your cooking? “Oh, no!” says Martha.