Ivanka Trump, like her friend Chelsea Clinton, doesn’t like the press very much. Perhaps that’s understandable coming from the daughter of Donald Trump, who grew up with outrageous headlines targeting her father hitting the newsstands with alarming regularity. One of them – a quote from his then mistress Marla Maples – spelled “THE BEST SEX I EVER HAD”.
In a 2007 interview with GQ, Ivanka described the media at that time as “vicious and brutal”, as she recounted being accosted by photographers outside the exclusive all-girls Chapin school in Manhattan. One of them asked her for a comment on whether it was true that her father was good in bed. She was nine.
“It taught me not to trust anyone,” she said. “You can never let your guard down, and I never really have since that time.”
Ivanka might – not without cause – loathe journalists and want to avoid interactions with the press that don’t “advance the brand”, but the daughter of the Republican frontrunner is going to have a tough time avoiding the spotlight in months to come, especially if she resumes campaigning for him, and if she grants more media appearances to support him now that she’s given birth to her third child. Her father had hardly been shy about using her calm and efficient public persona to his advantage before she took a break in advance of Theodore’s birth.
Though Ivanka tends to shy away from discussing his specific policy prescriptions, by all indications she’s completely supportive of his ambitions, even if she’s hinted that she quibbles with some of what he’s said he’ll do in the White House.
“He’s my father and I love him and I fully support him. I’m always there for him if it’s helpful”, she told Town & Country this year. She added:
“In a political capacity, I don’t [challenge his statements]. 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.”
Away from the campaign trail, Ivanka is busy. Over the past decade, the 34-year-old entrepreneur has sold everything from baby shoes and high-end jewelry to resort branding deals and luxury real estate. People want what she is selling. The question, which some have already started to ask, is whether they will continue to support her brand when it’s inextricably linked to her father’s comments about Mexicans, women and Muslim people.
Any businesswoman would suspect those comments might be bad for business, and Ivanka has already seen companies such as NBC and Macy’s cut ties with her father over some of his more incendiary comments. But personal loyalty comes first in the Trump family, who seems to regard adversity as a challenge to overcome to build strength. In fact, Ivanka often says that her parents’ divorce and the subsequent media coverage brought the family closer together.
After her parents’ messy and very public divorce, Ivana enrolled her kids in boarding schools to avoid being hounded by the media. Though Donald was arguably responsible for some of the most vicious media coverage, Ivanka wrote in her book that she never blamed her father for the ensuing chaos. Rather, she said, the divorce “brought me closer to my father. Not because I was taking his side, but because I could no longer take him for granted.”
Ivanka soon ended up at the prestigious Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut.Though her older brother found boarding school a relief, Ivanka told Town & Country: “I just wanted to get the hell out of Wallingford” – and she did, sort of, by becoming a model at age 14.
She first had to make a deal with her parents – they told her she could model as long as she got the school’s permission, didn’t miss classes and maintained her grades. The school, she wrote in her book, was harder to convince, but she used the fact that “they’d granted similar leave to a student who was training to be an Olympic skier, so I used precedent to my advantage and got what I wanted”.
It was, she has said, the first step in doing something on her own not related to the family business – and the first time doing something with which her parents weren’t initially thrilled.
Signed to Elite Model Management, Ivanka had a spread in Elle, appeared in Tommy Hilfiger ads, was featured on the cover of Seventeen in 1997, walked on a Paris runway for Thierry Mugler, did a charity event for Versace, and co-hosted the Miss Teen USA 1997 pageant – all before she was eligible for a learner’s permit.
She didn’t love modeling though, telling Marie Claire in 2007: “It’s as ruthless an industry as real estate – the people you meet in that business are just as fricking tough.” In her book The Trump Card, she says she realized on her second assignment – the Tommy Hilfiger campaign – that “models were the meanest, cattiest, bitchiest girls on the planet … entitled, unsupervised, undereducated, pampered teenagers whose every success came as the direct result of someone else’s disappointment”.
After high school, she gave up modeling and went to Wharton business school. After graduation, she opted out of a job working for her father – to take an entry-level position with another New York real estate development firm, Forest City. When she started, she told Politico in 2015: “I was doing grunt work along with 15 other fresh-out-of-college kids”, and she made $50,000 a year.
Ivanka wrote in her book that succeeding there “meant that I could move on to the Trump Organization knowing I have something to offer beyond my last name”. After two years at Forest City, she joined her father’s business, where she’s since risen to the position of executive vice-president of acquisitions and development.
As such, she would probably argue that she’s joined the “highest ranks” of women who work for her father, a line she used to defend her father’s record on women’s rights in an interview with Town & Country. “He 100% believes in equality of gender”, she also told CNN. “Socially, politically and economically … I think he’s one of the great advocates for women”.
Though her detractors are quick to say that her meteoric rise at the family company – in addition to her current position, she was also, from 2006 until last year, a judge on her father’s NBC reality show Celebrity Apprentice – is little more than nepotism, Ivanka has an answer for them.
“No matter how different a career path we choose from our parents, people will always say we wouldn’t have gotten there if it hadn’t been for our name”, she told New York magazine in 2004. “And in the end, there’s no way to tell if that’s true or not.”She told Politico in 2015 that she and her brothers used “the skepticism and criticism” as “motivation to be better, to do more, to push ourselves harder.”
Still, those who have dealt with or mentored her hardly seem to find her mediocre.
Michael Ashner, the chairman and CEO of Winthrop Realty Trust, dealt directly with a then pregnant Ivanka while negotiating the sale of the Doral, a Florida golf and resort property, in 2011. He told Town & Country in 2015 that “she’s one of the most capable businesspeople I’ve ever dealt with. I was surprised. I wondered if she’d be like her father, or have any affectation. She does not.”
In her personal life as well as her professional life, Ivanka’s seemingly very much been the architect of the life she wants. In 2007 – less than two years after the end of a long relationship with producer Bingo Gubelmann – she told GQ “I love flirting right now,” after which she said: “Like, I can’t wait to get married and have a bunch of little brats.” (She said much the same to Marie Claire that year.)
It’s possible that, by the time she did those interviews, she had already been introduced to her now husband, publisher and real estate heir Jared Kushner – she told Vogue in 2015 that they had been set up on a business lunch. They married – after she converted to Judaism – in 2009, and she had her daughter Arabella in 2011, her son Joseph in 2013 and now Theodore.
She studied for her conversion to Judaism with Rabbi Haskel Lookstein at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on East 85th Street – a necessary condition for his family, which is Orthodox, to approve of the relationship.
Ivanka called the process of conversion “an amazing and fulfilling experience”, though she didn’t feel the need to be entirely serious about it. In a 2008 interview with New York magazine, she recalled the early days of her relationship: “One of the jokes I first started making when Jared and I first started dating is, I’m a New Yorker, I’m in real estate. I’m as close to Jewish, with an ‘i-s-h’ naturally as anyone can start off.”
As for Kushner’s view on his wife, he once said: “There’s not a lot of bullshit in Ivanka’s life. Living through everything that she saw as a kid, she has a very good filter on what’s real, what’s not, what’s worthwhile, and what’s not.”
In the face of her father’s increasingly offensive political statements, some may question whether Ivanka’s “bullshit” filter is still working. Ivanka has a lot to lose – perhaps even more than Donald himself, as he’s already had a lengthy career and she has spent much of her adult life trying to be more than just the inheritor of his estate. Will her loyalty to her father ultimately help or hurt the family business to which she’s dedicated much of her professional life?
Americans have always come running back to the Trump brand no matter what. Ivanka, like the rest of her family, is banking that they still will.
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