Martha Stewart reformed, style-wise at least

March 6, 2013, 1:43 AM UTC
Fortune
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 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 and J.C. Penney 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 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 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.