Style & Substance: Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump, scion of ‘The Donald,’ proves she’s no apprentice when it comes to fashion as the bright, young business executive expands her brand into handbags and footwear. Jeff Prine slips into the boardroom

Ivanka Trump in a diamond necklace from her fine jewelry collection.

Ivanka Trump in a diamond necklace from her fine jewelry collection.

For someone who’s lived just about every moment of her 28-year-old life in a fish bowl, Ivanka Trump is surprisingly poised. It’s a comment you hear about her from board members at Trump Entertainment Resorts where she and her father were brought back recently to turn around the casino operations. (“The board likes both of us,” her father said. “But they’ve really gotten into Ivanka.”) She seems to move seamlessly among the more than 70 projects she oversees as executive vice president of development & acquisitions at the Trump Organization, from overseeing the completion of the latest Trump SoHo in New York to the Trump Towers in Istanbul. Forbes just named her one of the notable heiresses making a difference in the world, noting her role as spokeswoman for Girl Up, a new U.N. campaign that recruits young women here to support U.N. programs for girls in developing countries.

Her wedding last fall to Jared Kushner, owner of The New York Observer, was by all accounts a fairytale—elegant without the usual paparazzi-hanging-out-of-hovering-helicopters-type spectacle that usually surrounds celebrity nuptials. In her bestselling self-help book, “The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life” (Touchstone: 2009), she writes: “There’s a message I put out to people who are prepared to write me off before even meeting me: get over it. It’s the same message I gave to myself when I spent too much time worrying what people thought of me, or how I’d risen to my position or what attributes I brought to the table.”

Role Model for a New Generation?

That kind of sensible advice has made Ivanka Trump a role model for women, particularly those who bump glass ceilings on the job every day. She’s amassed 700,000 followers on Twitter in only a few months and her tweets include updates on her latest business endeavors: her fine jewelry collection that premieres this fall in 40 leading independent jewelers, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and her footwear and handbags collections that will hit major department stores in 2011.

On the eve before retailers will get their first glimpses of the Ivanka Trump shoe collection licensed with Marc Fisher Footwear, and her handbag collection licensed with Mondani, at this month’s market weeks, Trump sat down between filming takes of “The Apprentice” to talk about what she brings to the fashion plate.

Ivanka Trump in one of her family's hotel properties

“It’s a natural extension of what I do in my capacity every day as executive vice president at the Trump Organization where I’m involved with every aspect of our hotels, golf portfolio and condominium developments and their brand development. And that includes developing a permanent brand that appeals to younger consumers and offers different pricepoints without sacrificing quality they would expect. The idea is to cultivate younger consumers with shoes and handbags at pricepoints they can afford and nurture a relationship that would carry through into the future.”

Although both of her parents have had an array of merchandise bearing their names, Trump is in no hurry to blanket retail shelves with Ivanka merchandise. “I’ve been approached to launch all types of merchandise simultaneously but I think it’s better to cultivate them one at a time.”

Nor is Trump someone who lends her name just to turn a fast buck.

“I’m very involved—that’s my nature in general. I think it’s important to believe in a brand and maintain what it represents—many times in celebrity brands there’s a big distance from who the person is and what is their aesthetic. I am 28 and look at this business in the long term.”

Although the Trump name conjures up its own set of adjectives, the Ivanka Trump brand appears to have its own mystique. “We believe Ivanka has something fresh and distinctive to offer in, what is otherwise, a celebrity-saturated market,” says Marc Fisher, ceo at Marc Fisher Footwear. “She has a substance, a successful career and a fashionable life that is appealing to all women.”

Rough diamond tassel necklace from Ivanka's jewelry collection

Adds Andrea Hansen, ceo of Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, “I think a great part of her appeal is the mix of business woman and ‘American royalty.’ She’s a modern day, intelligent and articulate, eloquent Grace Kelly. At a time when we are so often disappointed in our youth, especially those of privileged background, Ivanka makes us proud in every way.”

A graduate of the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, Trump approaches forays into footwear and handbags with the same zeal she brings to her real estate and hospitality businesses.

Next ‘IT’ Bags

“I do a competitive study and look to see where there’s a void to fill. Like in real estate, you look at comparable properties and see what’s out there and how you can surpass it.”

While her fine jewelry collection hit pricepoints starting from $450 up to $50,000 and up for major diamond pieces, her shoe and handbag collections are targeted to department store and specialty chains. Most of her handbag styles will retail between $78 to $148; the shoes, $80 to $150.

Trump’s competitive research found some niches that she believes aren’t being addressed. “Shoes and handbags definitely lacked a sophistication and delicacy especially at pricepoints under $170. There’s a lot of clunkiness and flashiness and just plain kitsch. My goal is to create an elegant, glamorous thin and beautiful heel for my shoes. You’ll never see thick Lucite wedges in my collection.”

The same can be said of many handbags. “There’s too much of a trend toward teen looks, glitter, and little sophistication product and materials,” she adds.

Trump sees her brands aimed at “a modern female—a look that is feminine and suited for a woman who isn’t afraid of being too girly and elegant but yet has functionality, too. She’s someone who is ambitious, successful and dreams about the future.”

Preferences in her own handbag wardrobe provide some insights into what her handbag line might entail.

“I go for structure—clean, crisp lines. I like clutches and day bags. You won’t see me carrying soft, loose bohemian silhouettes. I like also like exotic skins and textures—and bags that easily work from day into night.”

In fact, Trump’s personal style and determination to create something new in handbags impressed Steven Hedaya, Mondani’s president. “The market is currently saturated with either basic, ordinary bags or flashy, overly embellished bags. Ivanka and my design and merchandising teams have collaborated on a collection of beautiful handbags that are uniquely chic for the intelligent, self-assured woman.”

Trump says she personally selected her licensed partners, finding the right people to “trust and oversee the business.” She even initiated monthly brand meetings where teams from her jewelry, footwear and handbags show how their collections are progressing and work on design synergy. “For instance, Marc Fisher liked a clasp from the jewelry collection and is planning to integrate it into a pump style. One of the pattern fabrics planned for the inside of a shoe caught Steven’s eye who thought it might be good as a handbag lining.”

“Ivanka is not only the inspiration for the collection, she has been hands-on with every aspect of its development,” says Hedaya.

Trump will also play a role in marketing her branded collections, too, via Twitter and Facebook. Tony Hsieh, ceo at Zappos.com, urged her to take up tweeting, even setting up her account which quickly garnered a huge following. “Social networking has been a great way to connect with our consumers. It increases brand awareness and perception, plus you get feedback on the aesthetics and what people might expect.”

Hedaya says that some of the new IT—“Ivanka Trump”—bags will be incorporated into the social networking sites—not to mention some “surprise appearances” on “The Apprentice.” Now that trumps all.

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Jeff Prine

Jeff Prine, Editor at Large, Accessories Magazine
Jeff returns as a regular contributor to Accessories magazine. Initially Jeff worked as senior editor at Accessories more than 20 years ago and his love of the industry has followed him until present. Since his tenure here, Jeff has continued to report jewelry, watch and other luxury goods trends as executive editor at Modern Jeweler magazine, fashion director at Lustre, and as contributor on products and trends for consumer and trade publications and websites. In addition to his editorial experience, Jeff also served as an adjunct instructor for accessories merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology. jeffp@busjour.com