How Ivanka Trump Courts the Opposite of Controversy
The word “Narcissa” might connote vanity, but the East Village restaurant given that name—after a “beautiful and feisty” Hudson Valley dairy cow—has a distinctly Shaker feel. It’s fitting that Ivanka Trump, Chelsea Clinton, and their husbands chose the spot, some months ago, as a double-date destination. They may have had the Plaza and the White House for their own as girls, but Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton, as 30-somethings, seem to be sternly anti-bad behavior. This has resulted in a close friendship between two poised and gracious daughters who appear determined to court whatever is the opposite of controversy—no matter that their parents are talking smack. Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump: down-to-earth, under-the-radar, family-oriented. Sure, they’re cover girls sometimes. But when it’s up to them: barley and honest vegetables.
Just as her friend Chelsea has studiously avoided speaking about her parents’ marriage and her father’s public infidelities, simply casting herself as their greatest booster, Ivanka positions herself as Donald’s biggest fan. She is, it must be said, a terrific asset. The June day that Donald launched his presidential campaign, Ivanka introduced him in the tower that bears the family name: a prim white dress set before a lineup of American flags, her hair swept back, with golden light beaming down. The effect was of something like a halo. Ivanka lauded her father’s “vision, his brilliance, his passion, his work ethic.” She sang his praises:
There’s no better person than my father to have in your corner when you’re facing tough opponents or making hard decisions. He is battle tested. He is a dreamer, but perhaps more importantly he is a doer. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you today a man who I have loved and respected my entire life, my father, Donald Trump.
Afterward, her father spoke, making a long series of Trumpian pronouncements: “Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me,” or “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
And she traveled soon after to Manchester, New Hampshire, to unveil her father’s campaign headquarters there, and, of course, to defend him (not for the first time). She told the Boston Herald that her father's statements on Mexico were “completely misconstrued,” that she supports him “wholeheartedly.” She said, “My father's not politically correct, he says what he means and he means what he says, and I think that's the way the American people are.”
No wonder her father brags. Asked once if he played favorites among his kids, Donald replied, “Come on! Daddy’s little girl!” (He then remembered his other daughter.)
On Twitter, Ivanka, who is 33, describes herself as an “American wife [to the real-estate developer and newspaper publisher Jared Kushner], mother [to Arabella, who just turned 4, and Joseph, who will be 2 in October] and entrepreneur.” For high school, she went to Chapin and then Choate. For college, she transferred midway through to the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania—just like dad, and both from Jesuit schools (Ivanka started college at Georgetown, Donald at Fordham). She is the executive vice president of acquisitions and development at the Trump Organization; the CEO and founder of the Ivanka Trump Collection of luxury jewelry, apparel, and accessories; the author of The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life; and a longtime judge on The Celebrity Apprentice. All this is to say, Ivanka is brand Trump. But she's a more refined, concertedly feminine variety. Not that there's a dainty, pass-the-smelling-salts aspect to her persona. Ivanka has learned how never to be embarrassed—or, if she is embarrassed, how not to let the public in on the feeling.
The former fashion model stares at the camera with subdued, even gauzy ease, but it's hard to imagine that Ivanka has never blanched or reddened with mortification at her father's comments. When she was 24, he was a guest on The View, and pronounced, “She does have a very nice figure. I've said if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her.”
He has written, “I have only one regret in the women department—that I never had the opportunity to court Lady Diana Spencer.” He has spoken of “the blacks.” He has observed that women are “are far worse than men, far more aggressive, and boy, can they be smart!”
Then there was last week, which brought splashy reports of Donald Trump calling a woman, a lawyer, “disgusting” for needing to pump breast milk, as well as a report that Ivanka's mother, Ivana, alleged “rape” by Donald in their divorce proceedings. (Ivana dismissed the story as “totally without merit.”)
And yet. By week's end, Ivanka had crossed the ocean to make it to Trump Turnberry, one of her father's golf courses in the sport's land of origin, Scotland, where the Women's British Open was played.
She watched the competition with him, sitting in a golf cart, her young son in between them, Donald in a white ball cap with the words “Make America Great Again.” Another Scottish day, she gazed adoringly at her father, this time donning a “Make America Great Again” cap in red.
Ivanka has found a way to glide over her father's shock-jock tactics, and take only from his celebrity what she wants. (According to a family spokesperson, Ivanka Trump was not available to comment for this article.)
She is a study in preternatural poise, a woman who, it seems, learned early what it was to appear adult, because people around her may have acted less than. (You might say the same of Chelsea.) Her parents, Ivana and Donald, were the ne plus ultra of the 70s and 80s plus ultra, the duo who, as Graydon Carter once observed, “packaged themselves as this golden-haired royal couple.” The gossip columnist Liz Smith compared them to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The two worked hard, all the years of their marriage, to project an image of platinum. Ivana told Vanity Fair, “I think it’s upsetting to people that Donald and I have it all.”
Modesty may have seemed gauche, to this couple. Take Donald's descriptions of his properties. Of his apartment, “there may be no other apartment in the world like it”; of his yacht, “probably the most beautiful yacht ever built”; of his living room,“While I can’t honestly say I need an eighty-foot living room, I get a kick out of having one.”
Ivanka, for her part, seems more interested in understatement.
But what she shares with her mother, besides blonde hair, is a propensity for talking about her work, also as a real-estate developer and fashion designer. (Mother and daughter in addition share a profiler, the frequent Trump-observer Jonathan Van Meter, and an impressive postnatal work ethic. In a “special investigative tribute” on Ivana, published in 1989 the now-defunct Spy magazine, Van Meter wrote that she gave birth to her youngest child, Eric, one Friday early in 1984, and was back at work, at Atlantic City, the following Tuesday. As for Ivanka, Van Meter wrote in Vogue this February, she gave birth to her first child, Arabella, in July 2011—and while in the hospital brokered a deal for an 800-acre luxury Trump hotel in Miami. Then “several days after giving birth,” Van Meter wrote, “she went to tour the site on a golf cart.”)
Ivanka may not talk about having it all, but she certainly shows how fabulous it is:
And being that this is the age of the mantra and the lifestyle brand, Ivanka has added a social campaign to her portfolio. In November, she launched an initiative called “Women Who Work,” to applaud and showcase women negotiating the division between work and home. A post-GOOP reverie, applauded on high:
The site is set up as a destination for young, professional women hungry for a “full life, lived to the fullest.” It is filled with tips and tidbits—bonus season is not the time to ask for a promotion; the dancing girl emoji is probably not right for an e-mail to your boss—motivational statements, community engagement morsels. In a short introductory video shot in black and white, Ivanka’s all raspy elegance, wearing black with almost white-blonde hair. “I'm an entrepreneur. I'm also a mother, a wife, and a sister,” she says. “I'm the first one up each morning and the last one to give kisses good night.”
She closes, “Let's show the world what it looks like to be a woman who works.” This is a theme she keeps on hitting:
And where some cry job creep, Ivanka sees the beauty of multidimensionality: women's lives, she rejoices, “are no longer compartmentalized.” Here’s her son with her at the office. The caption? “Meet my new apprentice!”
On IvankaTrump.com, she quotes Google executive Eric Schmidt, with whom she appeared on a panel in May. “I’m sure when Ivanka is up at 2 a.m.,” Schmidt said, “she’s not spending a lot of time trolling social networks. She had important responsibilities after she came home, like her family, and now she’s catching up on work.”
Ivanka told Vogue, “I think now, because of technology, we’re always on. Where there used to be work life and home life, now it’s one life.”
Technology as a way to juggle a mother’s many roles! (Don't tell the working mothers struggling with clopenings and other scheduling-software malfunctions at Starbucks.)
As a vision of modern feminism, nothing could be more anodyne, or ragingly upper crust. All this hardworking demureness conceals the fact that, as a Trump, she doesn’t really have to work. (Although it's pleasant to read that Ivanka, who converted to Judaism—her husband comes from an Orthodox Jewish family—finds in Shabbat “an amazing blueprint for family connectivity.”) The women Ivanka showcases on her website are start-up founders, fashion stylists, TV hosts, CEOs, nutritionists, and dermatologists. These aren't exactly the working women whose votes her father is trying to win.
But #WomenWhoWork, as a brand proposition, is a savvy and entirely bland way to cash in in the après Lean In world. This is Leaning In for the one percent, a resource for women you might call, to borrow a glorious phrase Ivanka once used to describe the clientele of her fine-jewelry collection: “the self-purchasing female.”
Last year, a reporter at Forbes asked Ivanka about her definition of success. She replied, “I want to build a multi-billion dollar global woman’s lifestyle brand. I tend to swing for the fences.” And then she proffered advice she frequently cites, an aphorism from her favorite wise man. “My father has always said,” Ivanka continued, “if you are going be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.” The apple never falls that far from the tree.
In the taxonomy of Trumps, an evolution is definitely occurring. But whether Ivanka is actually a different species remains an open question.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the location of the hotel in the 20th paragraph.