Late in the day on a Monday, with the low winter sun slicing through all the new buildings rising above midtown Manhattan, Ivanka Trump is sitting behind a big mahogany desk in her office in Trump Tower, recounting for me some of the things that have happened so far this year. It’s less than two weeks into 2015, and while most of us are still coming out of a holiday fog, Ivanka has already launched a thousand ships.
For starters there are the two massive new Trump hotel projects she has been overseeing, both of which are apparently ahead of schedule: the Old Post Office building, two blocks from the White House, that is being turned into what will no doubt be the grandest hotel in Washington; and the 800-acre Doral resort in Miami, a deal brokered a few years ago while Ivanka was in the hospital having her daughter, Arabella (several days after giving birth, she went to tour the site on a golf cart).
Then there is The Celebrity Apprentice, which just premiered its fourteenth season. “Which puts us in . . . what?” says Ivanka in her husky voice. “Simpsons territory? The ratings have climbed back up to where they were five years ago.” Ivanka attributes the spike to pent-up demand, as the show took a year-and-a-half hiatus (she and her father were too busy actually running a real estate empire to film a reality TV show about running a real estate empire). Plus, she says, “we have an unbelievable cast who, as my father says, just hate each other. Which is good!”
Sitting before her on the desk are the fourth-quarter sales figures for her namesake line of apparel and accessories: all up, every category. “Which is awesome,” she says, sounding genuinely pleased. Last fall, she quietly launched ivankatrump.com, a site geared to the young professional woman—“the everyday version of Ivanka,” as someone on her team puts it—the same woman, presumably, who is buying all those Ivanka Trump shoes at Nordstrom, at the moment her biggest retail partner. “The style sensibility is there,” says Pete Nordstrom, the store’s president of merchandising. “It’s relevant, it’s modern, but reasonably priced.” What struck him most, though, was Ivanka’s approach: “She said, ‘I’m serious about this; I’m not just a name, licensing a product without any involvement.’ She wasn’t asking for anything; there was no sense of entitlement.”
When your father is Donald Trump—when you are to the brand born, as it were—a sense of entitlement about turning your name into a logo might be expected. After all, Donald Trump is virtually synonymous with the modern-day concept of branding. But what most people agree makes him and his empire so enduring is that he is unapologetically himself. What Ivanka seems to have inherited is not his style (thank God), nor (one hopes) his crackpot opinions, but the idea that if you are going to have the chutzpah to brand yourself, you damn well ought to be true to yourself.
For Ivanka, what is true is that she is a young professional woman with a husband (Jared Kushner), two kids, and a big, busy, glamorous life. One of the reasons she decided to launch a brand in her own image is that The Apprentice made her famous: a 20-something real estate diva. As she herself points out, “Young professionals don’t usually have pop-culture relevance.” She started getting piles of fan mail from girls who wanted to grow up to be just like her.
Before long publishers came knocking, asking her to write a book. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to look like I’m telling people I have all the answers. I’m 27.’ ” But she decided to go for it because, as she says, “the business-advice books are typically written by 60- or 70-year-old men, reflecting back on their careers. So they’re not particularly relatable to a young woman just starting out.” The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life became a best seller, which led to ever larger piles of fan letters. Today, she routinely tops likability surveys. As a friend of Ivanka and Kushner’s once observed, “Her father is hated by half of America and loved by the other half. The half that love him love her, and the half that hate him love her—because she’s not him!”
I’m here to attend a few meetings with Ivanka, but before I do, I stop off on 26 to pay my respects to The Donald. “She was a very successful model, and she just gave it up and went to Wharton,” he says, still surprised after all these years. “She said, ‘I love real estate.’ In the end, she chose the family business. Ivanka is a natural dealmaker. She’ll take this company to great levels.” When I ask him to elaborate, he says, “First of all, she’s got tremendous heart and a great warmth, and people see that. While she can be a very tough person if she has to be, she really wants to see the best in people.” He sounds almost disappointed about that last bit.
Next I find myself in a conference room with startling views of Manhattan. Ivanka sits at the head of a table the size of a tennis court, flanked by middle-aged men, most of whom have worked for her father for years. For my benefit, she goes around the table and introduces Ray, Brian, Steve. When she gets to the man seated next to her, she says, “Andy is our head of construction. He built every building since Trump Tower.” She pauses for a moment and adds. “Since 1981 . . . the year I was born. I like saying that just to make Andy feel old!” and everyone laughs, Ivanka the loudest.
At the end of the meeting Ivanka shares a story. “So, my husband’s idea of a date night somehow always involves me looking at one of his development sites.” Everyone nods knowingly. “So we went to this great restaurant in Brooklyn on Saturday, and all of a sudden I find myself standing on the roof of the Whole Foods in Gowanus in the pouring rain. At midnight. And he’s showing me this giant site he just bought. I’m like, ‘Huh. So this is why you chose that restaurant.’ ” The room cracks up, meeting over.
We head down to a lower floor for an Ivanka Trump brand meeting in a small, glassy conference room dominated by an egg-shaped white table. Ivanka is dressed today, as she is most days, almost entirely in her own merch: an oversize black cable-knit sweater with a cowl neck, gold jewelry, and black strappy heels. Only the white pencil skirt is by another designer (JMary).
I have written about Ivanka before, in 2007, just as she launched her fine-jewelry collection, a luxury she describes as for “the self-purchasing female,” which sounds like the title of a Beyoncé song. Despite the bad economy, it succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, paving the way for her line of shoes. And that is when she saw that there was a big hole in the market: No one was designing for the young professional woman who wants clothes with more style than Ann Taylor but not as fashion-disposable as H&M. “When you think about some of these traditional companies, there’s no story behind them. The girls in our office will have, like, a shell from Jones New York or an Ann Taylor Loft skirt. They’re definitely not Instagramming that purchase.”
Around the table sit Johanna Murphy, who previously ran e-commerce for Kate Spade; Marissa Kraxberger, who came from Oscar de la Renta; Abigail Klem, who ran ready-to-wear merchandising for Diane von Furstenberg; and creative director Suzanne Bryant, formerly at Michael Kors. (Ivanka clearly wants to be taken seriously by the fashion world.) Today, they are going through the brand book. “This is kind of our bible,” says Murphy. “The North Star, whenever you start to lose your way.” She explains further: “We are targeting millennials who aspire to have very big careers, but they are also training for marathons or learning French or starting a family. Every aspect of their life is just as important to them as their careers.” Murphy tacks glossy pages of the brand book on the wall. One side reads, “We Are FEMININE” in big type over pictures of women in tastefully sleeveless floral-print dresses; on the opposite page, under “We Are Not GIRLY,” there are three women dressed in polka dots and bubble gum–pink stilettos. It continues: “We Are APPROPRIATELY SEXY . . . We Are Not SEXPOT; We are DETAILED . . . We are not OVERDONE,” and so on.
Ivanka loves this. “Because it’s so funny seeing the way our competitors think women dress. Me and my peers, we’re working really hard at being moms and sisters and professionals. There was a previous generation of women who rose through the ranks in an environment when work and life were highly compartmentalized. And 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. And I think a lot of companies don’t recognize that.”
One of Ivanka’s mentors is Glen Senk, the former CEO of Urban Outfitters, who compares her to Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal. “Sophia started life as a Dumpster diver and Ivanka grew up on Fifth Avenue—but their message is actually very similar: It’s about empowerment and redefining what it means to be a woman in this generation.”
Recently Ivanka has been making the rounds of morning talk shows promoting the Web site—and its “Women Who Work” video campaign. “I think we’ve really hit on something that is relevant but also optimistic.” She quickly gets down to brass tacks, adding, “and obviously, it benefits the brand. It’s very much in line with our current positioning.” If I have one criticism of Ivanka, it’s that she can sometimes slip into a Boardroom Lady character, saying things like “Thanks for taking the lead on that.” Perhaps this is a side effect of playing a version of herself on The Apprentice all these years, or maybe it’s simply a defense mechanism built up after having been thrust into the spotlight since she was a child.
On the other hand, what do I know? Maybe that’s how you have to talk in her world. When I ask her older brother, Don, Jr., what it’s been like working side by side with his sister these past ten years, he says, “It’s amazing to see the level of talent she possesses now; she’s just a more complete businesswoman.” And even he, who freely admits he knows nothing about fashion, recognizes she may be onto something with her latest venture. “She was able to very easily identify something that’s been lacking. She was able to find the niche because . . . she is that niche.”
Jared and Ivanka have become avid art collectors, and the house is filled with modern art, much of it by emerging artists. There is a Christopher Wool, Ivanka’s favorite artist, in the living room, which is dominated by a baby grand and low, luxe sectionals. The walls in the foyer are painted to look like a gray, cloudy sky—done by one of the artists who works in Marilyn Minter’s studio. In the hallways, there is a series of Garry Winogrand photographs. When I first met Ivanka, she was living alone in a smaller apartment on a lower floor; soon the family will be moving to a larger apartment on a different floor, with terraces. As she is giving me a tour—like the woman who lives here, the apartment is stylish and sexy but not showy or excessive—she says, “It’s very hard to think about life before Jared.
What did I do with all of that free time?” (As I recall, she was dating playboys, traveling, and reading the pile of books on her nightstand.)
Ivanka and Jared met when they were both 25, in 2007, for a business lunch set up by a commercial real estate broker and another friend who thought they could do deals together. “They very innocently set us up thinking that our only interest in one another would be transactional,” says Ivanka. “Whenever we see them we’re like, The best deal we ever made!” They dated two years prior to getting married in 2009 at a lavish, star-studded wedding for 500 at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. To many people’s surprise, Ivanka converted to Judaism, as the Kushners are Orthodox.
The couple seem almost ridiculously perfect for each other. They are both from famous real estate families, both attended Ivy League schools, both became big shots in their fathers’ companies, and both showed themselves to be exceptionally ambitious at a young age. A year before Jared met Ivanka, he bought a majority stake in The New York Observer, the weekly newspaper, for nearly $10 million. “His own dreams are bold, and I love that in someone,” says Ivanka, “but he’s incredibly relaxed and calm. The world could be collapsing around him, and nothing fazes him. He’s very solution-oriented. Plus it was nice finding someone who is a genuinely good person. I don’t take that for granted. I feel really lucky to have met, like, a great New Jersey boy.”
Just then, the elevator opens: Jared is home. He’s wearing jeans, sneakers, and a blue sweater with a white collared shirt underneath. Like Ivanka, he is fair-skinned and willowy, with strikingly wide-set dark eyes. Indeed, they both have a kind of otherworldly, almost alien attractiveness, as if they’ve come from the future. He’s holding a brown paper bag filled with roasted chestnuts for Arabella and, after kissing Ivanka, gets down to his daughter’s level and patiently shows her how to crack one open.
As Ivanka told me earlier in the lobby, “For me, being so close to work is everything. I get here in three minutes and give them a bath, read to them, and put them to bed, and then I go out almost every night right afterward with Jared.” Kushner will tell me later, “I would say she is definitely the CEO of our household, whereas I’m more on the board of directors. We both pick up slack for each other where it’s needed, but she doesn’t want to outsource mothering, so she’s very involved.”
Jared’s brother, Joshua, has his own venture-capital firm and was an early investor in Instagram. Today he’s building a digital health-insurance portal called Oscar. He is also dating Karlie Kloss (“Two for the Show,” page 512). This gives some sense of the intersecting worlds that Jared and Ivanka travel in: fashion, finance, media, art, real estate, technology, society—all jumbled up together. (“Between her and Jared,” says Johanna Murphy, “they know everybody.”) It is perhaps too glib to compare them to Donald and Ivana, but it is irresistible nonetheless. In some ways they are the twenty-first-century analog to the It Power Couple that her parents were during the go-go eighties. “If you don’t see it,” says Don, Jr., “you’re clearly missing something. Jared is a very impressive guy; the deals that he’s doing are very big. She’s doing the same thing. They’re both very social. There are definitely quite a few similarities. But I would say Jared and Ivanka are centered in a more low-key, contemporary, family way. I think they don’t need to be as sort of . . . out there in the more outlandish eighties way that my parents were.”
When I bring this up to Ivanka, she sighs. “I saw the glamour and the excitement that surrounded my parents. Rooms would hush when they’d walk in. But I think for Jared and me, it’s more about real relationships. I always prefer smaller groups.”
Two of the people who are often in those smaller groups are Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky. “She’s always aware of everyone around her and ensuring that everyone is enjoying the moment,” says Chelsea. “It’s an awareness that in some ways reminds me of my dad, and his ability to increase the joy of the room. There’s nothing skin-deep about Ivanka. And I think that’s a real tribute to her because certainly anyone as gorgeous as she is could have probably gone quite far being skin-deep.” Or, as Jared will tell me later, “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. We both work very hard to not allow things that aren’t meaningful into our lives.”
Eventually, we head to the Trump SoHo, where Ivanka and Jared are being interviewed for a Milken Institute event for other young professionals who hope to become . . . oh, let’s just call them movers and shakers. Afterward, the three of us head down to the Koi restaurant in the lobby for a drink. Because we are with Ivanka, who designed this hotel, the waiter just starts bringing food to the table: edamame, followed by tuna sashimi, and finally some Kobe-beef dumplings. “I don’t eat raw fish; I should have told them,” Ivanka says to Jared. “I’m going to have to hoard the edamame.” And then to me. “And we don’t eat meat. . . . Or, well, we keep kosher.” I had been reluctant to bring up the subject of Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism, but now I don’t have to. “I always shied away from it being a public conversation because it’s such a personal thing,” she says. “We’re pretty observant, more than some, less than others. I just feel like it’s such an intimate thing for us.” And then she says, “It’s been such a great life decision for me. I am very modern, but I’m also a very traditional person, and I think that’s an interesting juxtaposition in how I was raised as well. I really find that with Judaism, it creates an amazing blueprint for family connectivity.”
“Also the ritual for us having Sabbath,” says Jared.
“Yeah, we observe the Sabbath,” says Ivanka, sipping her lychee martini. “From Friday to Saturday we don’t do anything but hang out with one another. We don’t make phone calls.”
“Ivanka’s such a type A,” says Jared. “She just gets it done. But she said, ‘If we’re going to do Shabbos, I’m going to cook.’ She never cooked before in her life, and became a great cook. So for Friday, she’ll make dinner for just the two of us, and we turn our phones off for 25 hours. Putting aside the religious aspect of it; we live in such a fast-paced world.”
“It’s an amazing thing when you’re so connected,” his wife adds, “to really sign off. And for Arabella to know that she has me, undivided, one day a week? We don’t do anything except play with each other, hang out with one another, go on walks together. Pure family.”
Earlier in the day, when I asked Ivanka about what it’s like being married to Jared, she said, “You realize in life not that many things matter that much, but your choice of spouse is really everything. I am running a thousand miles a minute, and so is he, but none of it really matters. And I wouldn’t be able to do any of it if I didn’t have somebody who cared about me and had my best interests in mind. If I was married to somebody who, even if beneath the surface, didn’t like the fact that I work so hard or didn’t support my ambitions for myself or felt self-conscious about my last name . . . I think it would be very hard to build a solid foundation on that.”