A new crop of domestic mavens

Actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba are pursuing new careers as lifestyle gurus.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
Gwyneth Paltrow: the queen bee of a new generation.

Both Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey have watched their media empires dwindle. But in their place has risen a new breed of celebrity homemaker – semiretired actresses enjoying a second career as lifestyle gurus.

Jessica Alba has not appeared in a live-action, widely released movie since 2011. In that time, she’s launched a line of eco-friendly baby products and published a new book, “The Honest Life,” about her organic lifestyle.

Blake Lively’s big role in the teen hit “Gossip Girl” has come to an end and her would-be summer blockbusters – “The Green Lantern” and “Savages” – fizzled at the box office. Now, the actress has grabbed headlines for taking cooking lessons at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and installing a massive kitchen in her new home.

But the queen bee of this new era has been Gwyneth Paltrow. During a slow period in her career, she kicked off the online news-letter Goop. While critics mock the website for its casual excess ($100 shirts for babies and four-figure handbags), Goop has secured a place among the big style and parenting blogs. In April, Ms. Paltrow released her second health-minded cookbook, “It’s All Good.”

“In the ’90s, when celebrities wanted to resuscitate their careers, they would create a perfume,” says Deborah Jaramillo, assistant professor of film and television at Boston University. “Now, they are taking a more domestic route. They’re positioning themselves as a Martha or Oprah for their own generation.”

Ms. Alba and Ms. Lively are not the first stars to trade in low-cut outfits for aprons. In the 1940s and ’50s, under the constant watch of the moralistic Motion Picture Production Code, Hollywood studios would arrange for sexier, edgier stars to appear in magazines talking about their homes and offering parenting tips.

Today’s tastemakers may be more concerned with demographics. As Alba and Lively have gotten older, so has their key audience. Alba’s new book spends several chapters talking directly to young mothers, the exact group that Ms. Stewart and Ms. Winfrey have had trouble reaching. Throughout those pages, “The Honest Life” adopts a strong theme of generational responsibility – a Millennial push to curb the use of chemicals in food and body products.

“I’m intrigued by this idea that we’ve moved into a time when women are portrayed as being more socially conscious and not just fixated on babies and cooking,” says Ms. Jaramillo. “Whether you agree or disagree with organic foods and organic lifestyles, there is something positive about the message, even if it is still consumer based.”

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