Ivanka Trump talks being a mogul, a mother, and more
Town & Country
January 1, 2016
“Does my father respect women? Well, clearly. Otherwise, I wouldn't be where I am. If he didn't feel that women were as competent as men, I would be relegated to some role subordinate to my brothers.”
Absolutely the daughter of her father—for whom the man is the brand and the brand the man—Ivanka Trump arrives on the 25th floor of the Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan wearing a dress and shoes from her eponymous label.
The frock, like its crisply poised wearer, is beautiful: black, fitted elegantly around her growing baby bump, with artful patterning. The shoes, black stilettos adorned with conservative tassels, are sex and business in a single vessel. Later an assistant will bring Trump her handbag, also from her label: black again, with a splash of leopard print.
Trump, 34, is executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organization, tasked with building and selling Trump properties all over the world. She also runs—from a suite of pink lower-floor offices she takes me to later—Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry and the Ivanka Trump Collection, a panoply of clothing and accessories for which she is a walking advertisement. She promotes her lines regularly with the hashtag #womenwhowork, a sort of rallying cry for her target market, on an Instagram account she fills with snapshots of her products, her work, and her home life artfully produced for her 670,000 followers. (She links these posts to her Twitter account, which has 1.75 million followers.)
Her office in the Trump Tower, just blocks from her penthouse in another Trump building, is both imposing and homey, featuring the visible churn of New York below and an orderly array of cherished clutter: glassware sent by bankers she has done deals with, a boxing glove given to her by Celebrity Apprentice contestant Lennox Lewis, a handwritten letter from Oprah Winfrey thanking her for appearing on her show when Trump was “18 or something.” There are also pictures of family, including some of her 2009 wedding (which was held at Trump National Golf Club, in Bedminster, New Jersey) to publisher and real estate developer Jared Kushner (who also comes from a landed and storied dynasty) and of their children, Arabella, 4, and Joseph, 2. “They’re the most important to me,” Trump says, referring to Kushner and the children, in her consistently soft, mellifluous voice.
Being Ivanka Trump is clearly an impressive balancing routine, consisting, as it does, of a dizzying variety of professional responsibilities, her marriage, and her growing brood. And then there’s the fact that she’s the most visible child of the Donald, who is one of the most controversial people in America and who just happens to be running for president.
Ivanka, who introduced her father when he announced his candidacy, has been described as “the quiet power behind the Trump throne” by Politico: the levelheaded, calm antidote to her father’s speak-from-the-gut rabble-rousing. In the last year alone he has proposed a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and the deportation of 11 million residents of this country to somewhere south of the border. He has made comments widely deemed to be sexist about Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina. He is also responsible for shattering cable news viewership records; last August’s Fox News GOP debate trounced the season premiere of The Walking Dead. And, himself a billionaire, he has proposed a tax hike on hedge fund income. Clearly, he has touched multiple nerves.
Meanwhile, Ivanka stands by his side, a quiet but clear supporter, appearing consistently cool and supremely well behaved. Amazingly, the perpetual fracas that swirls around Donald bypasses her. She enhances him, but he does not damage her. He has said his daughter is his close adviser, though she plays down her influence. “His focus is on politics, and he is running for the highest elective office in this country, and arguably the world, and so from a business perspective I’m busier than ever. My brothers and I are running our business,” she says, referring to Eric and Donald Jr. “But it’s amazing to see how his message has resonated and what he’s been able to accomplish as a non-politician with a very strong point of view.”
She is not part of his campaign, she states, “but he’s my father and I love him and I fully support him. I’m always there for him if it’s helpful.” Donald says Ivanka inherited from him “a certain business ability and a vision into the future.” She was also, he writes via e-mail from the campaign trail, “always a great student without having to work hard, a person everybody liked right from the beginning. And yet I could always see an inner strength or toughness.”
Indeed, his most provocative moments don’t seem to faze her particularly. Asked about his comments on Fiorina (regarding her face) and Kelly, she said, “You could also list a few comments he’s made about men that are unflattering. I think he’s highly gender-neutral. If he doesn’t like someone he’ll articulate that, and I think it’s also part of what resonates about him. He’ll say what he’s thinking. I think that’s very refreshing, because with most politicians I’ve witnessed, you have no idea if what’s coming out of their mouths is married to their viewpoints.”
But does she never admonish him for his more outrageous assertions and personal insults? She smiles, serene as ever. “Well, I’m his daughter. In a political capacity, I don’t. It’s his campaign. I don’t feel that’s my role. But I would challenge him as a child. That’s what children do. Arabella challenges me every day. People ask me, do I ever disagree with my father? It would be a little strange if I didn’t.”
Even the candidate’s critics can’t help being charmed by his daughter. Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes (who called Trump’s remarks about Megyn Kelly “unacceptable” and “disturbing”) says, “Ivanka is the secret weapon of the entire Trump organization. She not only has tremendous business savvy, but she’s also street smart. There’s no doubt she exhibits the best skills of her father, has already developed an impressive personal brand, and besides is a very nice person.”
“You hear that name, Ivanka, and you expect fur, leather, but she’s really poised, elegant, down to earth,” says Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, who has gotten to know the Trump family over the years and has taken Donald to task on the air on issues ranging from equal pay for women to his comments about the criminality of Mexican immigrants. “You may question the views of Trump,” she says, “but when you meet his children you’ll walk away questioning your own questions.” Brzezinski knows what it’s like to have a high-profile political father—hers was President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. “I’ve known enough ‘daughters of’—I’m a ‘daughter of.’ The situation can be difficult to negotiate. I’ve never met one like Ivanka. She has managed to get everything good out of the situation and make it better for herself and the people around her.”
I ask Trump if her father respects women. “Well, clearly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be where I am,” she says. “If he didn’t feel that women were as competent as men, I would be relegated to some role subordinate to my brothers. I think this is one of his great strengths: He fully prioritizes merit and accomplishment and skill and ability over background, education, and gender.
“This company, over four decades, has always had women in its highest ranks,” she adds. “It’s easy to look around today and say there are a lot of women in a lot of companies. It was less easy when my mother was a major executive here”—Ivana Trump worked as vice president of interior design after she and Donald married—”and she was surrounded by women who worked at the highest levels within this organization. I think he’s one of the great advocates for women, and he has been a great example to me my whole life.”
So her father is a feminist?
“You’d have to ask him that.”
In her view?
“He 100 percent believes in equality of gender, so, yes, absolutely—socially, politically, and economically.” He has, she says, “confidence in women to do any job that a man can do, and my whole life has been proof of that.”
She’s so convincing, so well spoken, that it’s easy to picture Ivanka herself entering politics. “It’s not something I’ve ever been inclined to do, but I’m 34, so who knows?” she says. “At this point I would never even contemplate it, but that doesn’t mean that when I’m 50 I won’t have a change of heart.”
Trump grew up in Manhattan, attending the Chapin School, then Choate Rosemary Hall, in Wallingford, Connecticut. She began her undergraduate years at Georgetown before transferring, like Dad, to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated—cum laude—with a B.S. in economics in 2004. When she was a girl—the family lived in midtown Manhattan’s Trump Tower—both her parents were “naturally very competitive.” It’s in her mother’s DNA, she says with a laugh (Ivana was a serious skier). That competitiveness wasn’t “negative,” Ivanka says; it was “a bit of a kick to have that natural resistance to complacency, and an important instrument to achieving lofty goals.”
Donald and Ivana divorced when Ivanka was 10. “I give my parents a lot of credit that they made a difficult situation as easy as they could for us,” she says of the split, which spurred many a salacious headline. “In a strange way the divorce brought me closer to them individually, and closer to my siblings. Divorce is never a nice thing, but it’s very easy to take family for granted, and when there’s a divorce you don’t take things for granted so much.”
“As the middle child, Ivanka was the peace maker and keeper,” says her mother Ivana Trump. “She was always a savvy deal maker and negotiator, even as a little girl. She could charm anyone.”
As a teen model, Ivanka’s first cover was for Seventeen magazine, and she walked the catwalk for designers including Versace and Thierry Mugler. She laughs about those days now. “I had no interest in being a model. I just wanted to get the hell out of Wallingford.”
As a girl she would tour construction sites with her parents. Her father gave her renderings. A note on one might read, “Ivanka, I can’t wait until you work with me one day.” From him she inherited “this love of building, of tangible things, of the beauty of creating something on a larger scale,” she says. “Creating something that is lasting and impactful excites me.” She rhapsodizes about current projects in Vancouver, the Philippines, Bali—the 40 deals she has “in development.”
She deftly dodges a question about whether her taste mirrors that of her father, who rarely shies away from glitz. “We approach each project in a very customized way,” she says. “Design needs to be contextual to a project’s location while striving to be iconic in its own right. Working with the best architects and interior designers in the world”—how could she have escaped without inheriting at least his affinity for superlatives—”we continue to set the bar around the globe.”
Her preternatural confidence is well deserved, according to people who have worked with her. Michael L. Ashner, chairman and CEO of Winthrop Realty Trust, sold the Doral, a Florida golf and resort property, to the Trumps for $150 million in 2011. “She’s one of the most capable businesspeople I’ve ever dealt with,” he says. “I was surprised. I wondered if she’d be like her father, or have any affectation. She does not. When we were doing the deal, everyone else was doing the New York thing—there were threats, lots of ‘I’m going to do this,’ ‘I’m going to walk.’ That wasn’t the case with her. There was lots of testosterone, lots of raised voices in that room, but she never raised her voice. She was calm, and she knew more about that building than we did.”
One might think her real estate career would have been enough to keep her busy. But Trump wanted something just for herself. And she felt there was a market for what she wanted to make. “Nobody else is focusing on the young professional in a way that feels real and authentic.”
Trump recalls seeing an ad on a giant billboard for a handbag in which a pantsuited, briefcase-wielding, red-haired supermodel was “straddling Park Avenue.” “There’s no way a woman created that concept. It was probably a 70-year-old man.” Even the most conservative female bankers she knows “are not suited in a traditional way. We’re able to express our femininity very differently from just a decade ago, and I think that’s something my brand really embraces: the polished, appropriately sexy aesthetic. It’s a dress you can wear in the boardroom and on a date with your husband.”
The ability to move fluidly between professional and personal worlds is also paramount. “If you’re older than 45, you experienced more of a distinction between home and office,” she continues. “You weren’t getting e-mails at three o’clock in the morning. You probably weren’t getting calls from your boss on a Sunday when your kids were crying in the background.”
It may seem farfetched that the daughter of a man who routinely touts the “billions” he has made would have such an intimate understanding of the messy juggling act performed by most working women. But rather than bristle at that observation—at least outwardly—she offers yet another eloquent, evenhanded response.
“One of my goals is not to preach how to live a great life,” Trump says earnestly. “I’m not saying that if you’re working at home, raising a family, that’s not work. I want to disrupt the narrative around what it means to be a woman who works. The whole point of my brand is that women should be architecting the lives they want to live.”
Jared Kushner, who is chief executive of Kushner Companies, the development firm founded by his father Charles, told me that he is always struck by the inspiration his wife provides to other women. “I find repeatedly that wherever I go in the business world, women young and old tell me what a role model my wife is for them. It’s incredible to see the impact she has had on them,” he says. “They’re also wearing her shoes.”
Like most working moms, Trump worries that she doesn’t spend enough time with her children. “Everything you choose to do outside of being with them has an opportunity cost that’s much more real than the choice of hanging out with your girlfriends after work,” she says. “It was a real source of anxiety when I had just had Arabella. And she was such an independent child—I was reading about separation anxiety, and she just didn’t have it,” Trump says with a laugh. “With Joseph, I was embarrassed when my husband started calling me out on liking that he cried every morning when I left.”
Still, she is the first person her children see in the morning, and she puts them to bed, doing “all sorts of gymnastics” with her schedule to make sure this happens. “She’s a great wife and mother,” Kushner says. “She’s also a big thinker, charismatic, practical, very thoughtful, and compassionate. She doesn’t just compete in five arenas; she thrives in them.”
“I abhor this question of ‘having it all,’ ” Trump says. “People talk about balance. Balance is an awful measure of things, because it implies a scale that inevitably tips. I like to look through the filter of ‘Is the life I’m leading consistent with my priorities?’ For me, my family is the ultimate litmus test,” she says. “Do I feel I’m giving my children what they need? But I don’t do everything. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do professionally if I did. I don’t go to the afternoon classes. I don’t take my son to the sports playgroup in the middle of the day. For some people that’s a compromise they aren’t willing to make, and I respect that.”
Now, to add to her load, she’s “jumping in with a third” child. Will she cap it at that? “Who knows? I think three feels good. I love the idea of a big family. I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that this decade is about my family and my work.” Which is not to say her life is devoid of the glamour one would expect. “She had the most wonderful birthday party a few years back, I believe on Halloween,” says her friend Kevin Systrom, co-founder and CEO of Instagram. “She went all out and had the most amazing Catwoman costume. Ivanka is serious, except when she’s not.”
For Kushner, who comes from an Orthodox family, Ivanka converted to Judaism (apparently from Presbyterianism, according to Donald’s campaign trail talk), though she declines to talk about it. “I will tell you that our Friday evenings are for just our family,” she says of their Shabbat observance, for which she cooks the weekly meal.
Still, she finds time for friends. “We’ve had really useful conversations about running a company,” says Leandra Medine, who is behind the fashion blog ManRepeller.com. Though she and Ivanka are pretty much style opposites, they became friends about a year ago, through Kushner’s brother Joshua. “She really listens to you when you speak to her. She’s also very thoughtful—she sent a Happy Purim card to me and my husband.”
Trump’s jammed schedule does mean that workouts and sleep have suffered. She started running after her staff cajoled her into entering a half marathon. “I had never experienced endorphins from exercise, but now I love running.” When she was training for the race, Kushner recalls her suggesting that they train together—telling him only later that it was an all-woman race. “But now it has become a much-cherished half-hour when there are no phones, no kids, no one to bother us,” he says.
In the pale pink Trump atelier, sketches and swatches are affixed to the walls. In addition to handbags, footwear, apparel, fragrances, and jewelry, Trump may expand into homewares and children’s clothes. She hopes to open her own stores, too. When she was 18 her ambitions were focused but narrow, she says. “It was, ‘I’m going to build x number of buildings.’ ” What maturity has brought is the realization that her ambitions remain big “but much less specific, because you never know where life takes you or what opportunities will arise.” And there it is, yet another glimpse of something inherited from Trump père: the faith that something bigger and better—maybe even the best—is always just around the corner.