How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Martha Stewart reformed, style-wise at least

March 5, 2013: 3:43 PM ET
Martha Stewart and her new tote, in court

Martha Stewart and her new tote, in court

When Martha Stewart appeared in court in downtown Manhattan today--her first time in a courtroom since 2004, when she was convicted of lying about a stock trade to the government--she took a brand new tack, style-wise.

In place of the extravagant Birkin handbag that critics clutched upon to cast Stewart as a diva hardly relatable to her middle-class customers, she carried a bag that ordinary folk can afford: a walnut-colored Avery tote, part of a Martha Stewart Home Office line and available at Staples (SPLS) for $79.99.

Leave it to Stewart to jump on a new-product promotion opportunity while she is testifying before the law. This time, the legal battle involves Macy's (M) and J.C. Penney (JCP) over the distribution of her merchandise. Macy's, claiming it has an exclusive deal to sell Martha Stewart home goods, sued Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO) and J.C. Penney to stop Penney's from carrying her items in its stores.

Taking the stand this morning (her first time, since she did not testify in her 2004 criminal trial), Stewart praised J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson, who joined the retailer from Apple (AAPL) in late 2011, cut a distribution deal with her and bought a 16.6% stake in her company as part of a grand Penney's turnaround plan that has so far sputtered. "He is a visionary," Stewart said in her testimony today, professing that Johnson "has the foresight to reimagine the department store."

Stewart tried to sneak into and out of New York Supreme Court through a back door, aiming to avoid the press. She got swarmed. As she carried that $79.99 tote on her shoulder, she was wearing a taupe Lanvin tunic and miniskirt, crème-colored Hermes blouse, and brown suede Manolo Blahnik booties. Obviously, whatever the pressures upon her, the 71-year-old brand diva will bend on style only so much.

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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