Happy Birthday, Martha Stewart: 20 Vintage Photos of the DIY Icon – Vogue

Before her name became a byword for “good taste,” Martha Stewart was born Martha Kostyra, the oldest daughter of six children in a well-to-do Polish Catholic family. Raised in Nutley, New Jersey, she displayed an entrepreneurial knack from an early age: A 10-year old Martha booked her first paid gig by planning birthday parties for the kids in her neighborhood. She began modeling as a teenager, earning $50 an hour to appear in ad campaigns for the likes of Chanel and Tareyton cigarettes. With her 5’9” frame and knockout beauty, Stewart’s modeling portfolio radiates the same mix of cold charm and playful sensuality that would later define her entire brand.

But it would take some time before Stewart became known, as David Letterman once referred to her, as the “James Brown of home entertaining.” Stewart modeled into her early twenties, mostly as a way to supplement her scholarship money at Barnard College. After graduating with a degree in architectural history, she married Yale Law student Andy Stewart, had a daughter, Alexis, in 1965, and worked on Wall Street as the only female stockbroker at her firm. “The job taught me so much about what it takes to build a real business, a real company—a meaningful and useful enterprise,” Stewart later recalled. “Yet it was not until I left Wall Street that I discovered my true entrepreneurial bent. I loved ideas. I loved building. I loved creating…. And I loved making money as a result.” 

Stewart in Better Home & Gardens, June 1977

Photo: Susan Wood

Raised by parents who passed on their love of cooking and gardening, Stewart left Wall Street in the mid-’70s to start a catering company out of the basement of Turkey Hill, her iconic former residence in Westport, Connecticut. Stewart’s kitchen skills and sophisticated aesthetic earned her a reputation amongst any East Coaster lucky enough to attend one of her garden parties. Many of the recipes she developed as a caterer would eventually be featured in her first cookbook, Entertaining, which became an instant bestseller when it hit holiday shelves in 1982.

Almost 40 years, 97 books, and an entire media empire later, Stewart remains as gloriously un-relatable as ever. When she isn’t posting thirst traps from the pool of her Hamptons estate, Stewart is still dreaming up new ways to expand the reach of her brand even further (her latest endeavor: CBD skincare). To celebrate the DIY icon’s 80th birthday, Vogue dug into the archives to compile a photographic tribute to Stewart’s pre-fame days as a rising model and aspiring businesswoman.

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