On Monday, Oct. 20, Gwyneth Paltrow was dressed for rain. The Oscar-winning actress slinked down the red carpet at the London Film Festival premiere of her new movie, Two Lovers, swaddled in a furry Felder Felder jacket with long, leather sleeves over a gothic, black Salvatore Ferragamo frock. She looked ghoulish. A reporter from The Guardian newspaper stopped her to ask about her new Web site, GOOP, which quietly debuted in late September and has since released four newsletters dispatching advice from Ms. Paltrow on food, fashion and lifestyle choices. What did the name GOOP mean?
“Well, G. P. are my initials and Goop is actually a family nickname,” Ms. Paltrow said.
Did she feel qualified to offer people advice on how to live?
“Oh, I’m not qualified to give advice to anybody,” chirped the wife of Coldplay singer Chris Martin and mother of two. “It’s just fun and I’m enjoying it.”
We are also enjoying Ms. Paltrow’s little Web project, if only for the voyeuristic, presumably unfiltered peek it affords into the kitchen and closet of a woman who—thanks to her regal bearing and general air of having won life’s lottery—has been both irritant and idol to New York for well over a decade.
And yet the essence of GOOP remains elusive. With its watery illustrations and personal-service content, it seems cast (aesthetically at least) in the mold of DailyCandy, the e-mail newsletter with 2.5 million mostly female subscribers that was started out of former New York editor Dany Levy’s Christopher Street apartment in 2000 (bought by Bob Pittman for $3 million in 2003 and then by Comcast five years later for a mind-boggling $125 million). GOOP arrives weekly, not daily. And not dependably, either; the fact that some Observer staffers had to sign up repeatedly before receiving it sparked a frenzied paranoia that Gwynnie herself was peering through our screens, somehow able to divine who was worthy of her dispatches.
Ms. Paltrow’s newsletters contain fashion advice (“Wear legging jeans (I wore these on Oprah!)”); her personal guide to London, where she spends most of her time these days (“The hotels are on the pricey side but my GOOP girls are doing some research into some more affordable prices”); and exercise tips (“Don’t be lazy”).
The site itself is pitched as a home of sorts for Ms. Paltrow’s “collection of experiences,” invoking her ongoing efforts to “make life good” and “nourish the inner aspect.” Critics have responded tartly. “I feel undernourished already,” wrote New York Times magazine columnist Virginia Heffernan in her The Medium blog. “I weep for our inner aspects.” “Why is it called ‘Goop’?” sniped one writer in Canada’s Globe and Mail. “Perhaps ‘Any Old Load of Rubbish’ and ‘Learn From Me, Ungrateful Peasant’ were both taken.”
THERE WAS NO press release or self-indulgent “launch” party heralding GOOP’s arrival. The site was quietly plopped onto the Internet, with very little content and a muted design: The gray GOOP logo appears from a milky white background, and simple symbols denote each section of the site—“Make” “Go” “Get” “Do” “Be” and “See”—into which Ms. Paltrow will drop her nuggets of wisdom. So far, the only content that appears on each page is a short essay from Ms. Paltrow: “My life is good because I am not passive about it. I want to nourish what is real, and I want to do it without wasting time. I love to travel, to cook, to eat, to take care of my body and mind, to work hard. I love being a mother who has to overcome my bad qualities to be a good mother. I love being in spaces that are clean and feel nice.”
GOOP doesn’t exactly let us gawp at Gwyneth’s “clean” and “nice” spaces. There are no juicy details about life with (or without) Mr. Martin, who is frequently on tour, and their two towheaded children, Apple and Moses. In her Oct. 16 newsletter, Ms. Paltrow asks some of her favorite “sages,” from a cabala teacher to a New York psychologist, how to help a pessimistic friend. “I thought it would be inspiring to periodically ask a question to a group of thinkers from various traditions on the subjects that often confound me,” she writes. More recently, she offered some recipes for buckwheat and banana pancakes and Asian tuna sandwiches.
And what of the star’s famous style, analysis of which has long been a staple of glossy monthly magazines?
“I used to spend a lot of time looking at fashion, reading about fashion, generally being bemused by fashion,” Ms. Paltrow wrote in her Oct. 9 newsletter. “Then one day I had children and it all kind of went out the window. For a few years I was basically in sweat pants and I didn’t mind it.” She recalled some lessons she learned from her days attending Spence, the Upper East Side private school: “As I started to get back into the world of work, I needed to wear something easy and chic that did not require a lot of planning or accessorizing. It is here that I did return to high school, but this time for a clothing concept: the uniform.” Three uniforms are proposed, with Ms. Paltrow modeling Option Two: a sweater dress over leggings and a gray tank. “Add boots,” she suggests. She also recommends Tod’s cashmere trench ($1,995). Conveniently, Ms. Paltrow starred in the Italian luxury-leather-accessories empire’s fall 2008 ad campaign, looking very Grace Kelly-like in its collection; messages left with the company’s public-relations representatives seeking information about any product placement deals went unanswered.
Ms. Paltrow’s personal publicists have also been withholding about GOOP. After repeated requests, an assistant to Ms. Paltrow’s publicist Steven Huvane said the actress and anyone helping her with the site would be unavailable to speak with The Observer for this article. A visit to GOOP’s headquarters, listed on the site as 7 World Trade Center, also proved fruitless. “I’ve never heard of it,” said a security guard there. He couldn’t even find GOOP listed in the building’s computer system.
But perhaps the secrecy swathing the site, and its frustrating lack of navigability, are an apt reflection of its creator, with her lithe, barely-there bod and fortressing sense of privacy. In interviews, Ms. Paltrow is controlled, with a restraint that seems not ingrained by brand managers, but part of her very lifeblood as a New Yorker. She has always remained relatively tight-lipped about her relationships, with Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck and now Mr. Martin, whom she married in December 2003, and who often scuffles with paparazzi when they try to photograph the couple together, or even mention Ms. Paltrow’s name.
“I think when people talk too much about who they are, and give the world access to every single thing—what kind of face cream they use, what they cook for dinner, and what nicknames they have for their significant others—that’s all you can think about when you see them,” Ms. Paltrow told the BBC in 2004 in an interview promoting Sylvia, in which she starred as the poet Sylvia Plath. “There’s no mystery. I think it’s a shame, because it’s great when you see somebody with mystery act, because you think they’re capable of anything.”
So why is such an avowedly private New Yorker suddenly trying to become an online personality?
“This website has been a long time in the making,” Ms. Paltrow wrote in her maiden newsletter, sent on Sept. 25, around the time of her 36th birthday. “I have thought about it for years and have been recording information and making notes for this very moment …”
GOOP could be a potential cash cow for an actress increasingly limited in her choice of leading roles in youth-obsessed Hollywood. But Ms. Paltrow doesn’t seem to be struggling too hard in that department. This summer, she had critical success as Iron Man’s sexy-librarian leading lady (and is scheduled to appear in the sequel). Two Lovers, a romantic drama in which she plays Joaquin Phoenix’s love interest, is scheduled for a February release stateside. And the same week that GOOP oozed onto the Web, PBS began broadcasting Spain … On the Road Again, in which the actress frolics around Spain with her friend, the chef Mario Batali. Perhaps this Web venture is merely marking a new, warm, accessible multimedia chapter in the actress’s career; it’s also a way to keep in touch with her fans without a scrim of potentially untrustworthy media between them. “Over the years, I have tried lots of different things,” the actress writes in that introductory essay. “I have made lots of mistakes. But I have figured some things out in the process and I would like to share them with you.” Would that she would share more!
And yet with every piece of herself that she metes out to GOOP, Ms. Paltrow risks compromising the self-containment that has long defined her brand. She is stepping into a realm hitherto cornered by celebrities who bank on making their life experiences public. Oprah is the model, with millions following her messages of empowerment. Martha Stewart has cornered the homemaker market with her recipes and crafty how-tos. But what does Gwyneth want?
“I can’t guess her motivations, but we all know celebrity sells,” said Ms. Levy, the DailyCandy founder, who attended Spence with Ms. Paltrow and wrangled her to write a “Favorite Things” feature during the site’s early days. “I don’t know what revenue model she’s thinking of; maybe she’s just doing it for fun. I think it’s great.”
“I would tell her stay true to her vision and have fun with it,” Ms. Levy said. “I would tell her what I would tell any entrepreneur: Make sure your focus is sharp. Know who you are and who you are speaking to.”
And this is where Ms. Paltrow’s GOOP could get sticky. In the current recessionary climate, even her presumed core audience of young shopaholic-spiritual mommies might have more pressing preoccupations than the latest fashion and travel advice from an actress who makes millions of dollars; unless she sharpens the content, adds some humor and tones down the self-involvement, she risks being made an object of ridicule.
“Get more scoop from GOOP,” the actress urges. Know “when GOOP officially opens its doors.”
Gwynnie! You need to open that door a bit wider.