So the Ivanka Trump brand is over: kaput, shutting down, soon to be no more. Really?
Do not be silly. The Ivanka Trump brand is alive and well and working in the West Wing as an special adviser to President Donald Trump. It is the Ivanka Trump fashion line that is closing, as announced Tuesday by the first daughter. The one was only ever a shadow expression of the other — or rather, an homage of sorts to what she liked to wear. Which was exactly the problem.
The company was based on the premise that there was a group of women who would want to buy, with hard dollars and cents, the image Ivanka Trump herself was selling to the world. The one she disseminated so relentlessly via guest appearances on her father’s television show and stories in Vogue and books and on her own Instagram page: Herself as the glassy blond embodiment of the woman who had it all — a big job, family, a perfect blow out, time to exercise. The promise for sale was that you could try this image on with the ease of slipping on a power sheath dress.
It is the promise of every celebrity- or personality-driven fashion line. It is why Uniqlo was willing to pay so much for Roger Federer to become a brand ambassador; why Coach wanted to team up with Selena Gomez. Why so many actors and athletes now see their next career step as clothing, and why so many are willing to back them in that move. It is not about aesthetic vision or achievement. Certainly, Trump’s clothing and accessories, polished and derivative as they were, were not changing anyone’s ideas about the ways fabric related to the body or the possibilities of form.
The brand equity and value lies with the fame and myth of the personal brand, not the fashion brand. There is a reason, after all, Trump did not name her line Gilded Futures, or some other such vague, kitschy title. And there is a lesson in the last year and a half of this line for anyone who is tempted to conflate life and a shell-pink car coat.
L’État, as Louis XIV said, c’est moi. The brand was her. The idea that she could dissociate herself from that sales pitch by “stepping back” from the company when she went to Washington was always patently silly.
She may have put it in a trust, may have recused herself from day-to-day decisions, may have stopped wearing the products and being a walking, if unannounced, advertisement for her own business (albeit after getting in trouble for seeming to do exactly that).
She may even have changed her style once she started meeting with world leaders — notice that? How all the skirts have dropped below the knee, and the tight, power-boss silhouettes have given way to softer, more 1950s lines, complete with bows and ruffles? — and may have often worn other brands, such as Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors and Carolina Herrera. The Ivanka Trump company might even have taken her image off its website. But her name was still on the label, and in every mention of the line.
If anything, the ubiquity of this administration and its frenetic news cycle, the omnipresence of the name Trump, made her association with the line ever more intense. If a company lives and profits by perception, so does it die. At one point it was probably seen as a potential business boon that Ivanka Trump’s profile was about to go global. Instead, the sins of the one became the sins of the other.
And thus did some of the Trump opposition turn their efforts toward lobbying department stores to drop the Ivanka Trump brand. And when Nordstrom did (upsetting the president, who then used his bully pulpit to strike back) and Marshall’s did and, most recently, Hudson’s Bay in Canada did, they said it was because the brand was not selling well. It became impossible to know how much that was true, or how much it might also have to do with, say, in HBC’s case, Donald Trump attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the G-7 meeting in Quebec, and offending a whole host of loyal customers.
And thus, when China granted the Ivanka Trump company a host of trademarks, questions were raised about currying favor with the administration. So when Ivanka Trump was cast as the champion of women — someone who would whisper in her father’s ear in their support — the women laboring in the factories in India and China that supplied her brand were weaponized against her. When she was trotted out to discuss the president’s drive to bring manufacturing home, the fact that her company manufactured overseas became part of the debate.
So the fashion dream, at least for now, come to an end. But so, once upon a time, did the fine jewelry dream (remember that?). The brand survived that snafu, and so it will this one, because the person is the real product. The question is what shape she will take next.
© New York Times 2018