Ivanka Trump Inc., the merch brand, is over. Ivanka Trump, the woman, continues to command interest, at least as indicated by the press attention she’s garnered since Tuesday, when she announced the shuttering of her company.
Once upon a time, endless coverage and commentary were a good thing — a way of keeping various celebrities in the public eye, their foibles only making them seem more human, like the rest of us. Not any longer. Today, the omnipresence of social media, not only as used by extremists of all stripes, but by thoughtful people determined to function as unofficial watchdogs to those in the public eye, make it harder for bold-faced types to skirt accountability for actions perceived as problematic by significant segments of the population.
Trump is not a self-made person, but one born to having it all. It’s to her credit that from a young age she set out to achieve, and if she did so in part on the strength of the family name and access, so what? So have other accomplished people as diverse as Chelsea Clinton to a generation of the Kardashian-Jenners. Something of an anti-Kardashian (once her teen modeling aspirations passed), Trump didn’t aim for overt look-based success as a purveyor of impeccable contouring or plumped lips, but as an idealized everywoman, living an aspirational (if, for most women, implausible) life of deftly balanced work, marriage and motherhood, always impeccably, though not flashily dressed and tressed. Her message to upwardly mobile Millennials: If I can do it, so can you.
Trump skillfully marketed herself as the archetype of that lifestyle — one in which women collaborate with and help each other achieve big-picture goals and short-term sanity in a world of relentless demands on their time, talents and nerves. She did a good job of it. First came the sensibly priced shoes and then the clothes and, along the way, a web site that (as of Wednesday afternoon) enhanced its e-commerce offerings with advice on everything from time management and grab-and-go lunches to “4 Ways to Cultivate Moms in the Workplace” and “How to Create an Inclusive Work Culture.” For a while, the vertical “Wise Words” dispensed positive, inspirational bon mots. Also on the web site at one time, though apparently deleted, was the notice that Trump had identified “an opportunity to make a broader impact for her customers” and sought “to evolve the company into a solution-oriented lifestyle brand, dedicated to the mission of inspiring and empowering women to create the lives they want to lead.”
It all sounded great. And then she went to Washington.
“I’m never naïve to how much work something takes. But I sort of don’t know how to operate on a different speed, so fine by me,” Trump told WWD in 2015 in reference to her company’s development. Only she has been extremely naïve about her role in Donald Trump’s administration — naïve or arrogant or both. It’s one thing to create an image for yourself around a commercial venture, and there’s no reason to believe Ivanka Trump was other than genuine in advancing her pro-women agenda. We live in an age in which people often self-declare as experts, particularly people who look good in an outfit and start dispensing fashion advice that somehow expands into how-to-live-your-life advice. Often the platform for the latter hasn’t been earned, and when something goes awry, everyone’s shocked.
But most of those who fall victim to their own lack of gravitas with a topic are not formally advising the President of the United States. Trump went to Washington, D.C., with all eyes and a whole lot of skepticism focused on her. Given what’s known about her boss, the task was a tough one, but she took it on. She has had opportunity, oh, so much opportunity, to prove herself, if not as the administration’s moral compass then at least its go-to devil’s advocate. Yet, regardless of what she says privately to the President, time and again, she has chosen official silence over lucid dissent. In response, some of the key retailers that once championed her business let their actions do the talking, dropping the brand. Among the most high-profile: Nordstrom in February of last year, and, earlier this month, Hudson’s Bay, each citing the brand’s sluggish performance as the reason. Now the brand is gone.
“When we first started this brand, no one could have predicted the success that we would achieve,” Trump said in her oft-quoted statement released on Tuesday. “After 17 months in Washington, I do not know when or if I will ever return to the business, but I do know that my focus for the foreseeable future will be the work I am doing here in Washington, so making this decision now is the only fair outcome for my team and partners.”
What work in Washington? That of a silent, ceremonial figure whose primary qualifications upon arrival were looking good and being better than anyone else — but not quite good enough — at managing the boss’ volatile personality?
Every Donald Trump shocker has fallout throughout the private-sector Trumposphere. A self-marketer as smart as Ivanka must realize that her image has suffered exponentially since her arrival in Washington, with her brand’s end a Darwinian demise. It’s hard to believe she’s not already concerned about what professional doors will be open to her once the West Wing gate closes behind her. Then, the “if” she returns to fashion may not be her choice; her public-service record could prove too caustic for potential partners to risk affiliation.
Conversely, those who know Trump say the woman doesn’t lack confidence. Following news of the brand’s closing, scattered pro-Ivanka musings percolated that, although she had removed herself from its operations, the business had remained a perceived ethical albatross and with its end, she can now better focus on her own political aspirations. Stranger things have happened. Recently.