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Ivanka Trump rebranding herself as grown-up First Daughter of America

The President's favourite child and most trusted confidante is at the heart of the new White House. As Ivanka assembles her own power base, Anne McElvoy reports on the rise of Trump's eldest girl

Ivanka Trump. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)
Ivanka Trump. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)
Pointed gesture: Donald Trump with Ivanka
Power change: US First Lady Michelle Obama greets President-elect Donald Trump as (from left) Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump and Ivanka. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It is not an easy gig being the First Daughter. One minute you're the official dish of liberal internationalism, Justin Trudeau, humble-bragging about "a great discussion with two world leaders about the importance of women having a seat at the table".

The next, your clothes line is being dumped into discount stores and social media is slamming your recommendations of religious tolerance towards synagogues, on the grounds that your father has not been so open-minded about treatment of Muslims.

Brand Ivanka is a powerful entity, but in the combustible world of The Trumps, also an unstable one.

On the plus side, the 35-year-old is close to the heart of the President's inner circle - and in functional West Wing terms, a lot more so than Melania, her stepmother, who does not look likely to take on the public-facing aspects of the First Lady role with huge enthusiasm. In the final throws of the campaign and during the sometime erratic transition of the Trumps to power, Ivanka has been one of the most consistent characters. I watched her alongside her father on the trail: a sleek, sphynx-like figure, whispering and laying a calming hand on his elbow just before he went on stage - most likely a "calm down" gesture to dissuade him from unnecessary fights in the last days of the race. When he uses his coded signal to get someone out of the way - "Look after these good people" - it is Ivanka who most often distracts or shuffles them off to an aide's ministrations.

When she addressed a room of influential women in New York recently, including the veteran journalist Tina Brown and designer Tory Burch, about her advocacy for working women, even staunch Democrats came away muttering words like "gracious" and "not entitled". Unlike her father, Ivanka cultivates a quiet, patrician way of speaking, the result of an expensive school education in Manhattan and Connecticut - the equivalent of boarding school in the shires for wealthy New Yorkers. It's a reminder that the Trumps frequented a New York of well-heeled Democrat circles before Donald's political ambitions led him to (loosely) embrace the Republican Party.

Now she is a stranger in Washington, the tough company town of US politics. On the convoluted White House flow chart, she has no official role. It is her husband, the property mogul Jared Kushner (36), who advises the President, albeit in an uneasy stand-off with Steve Bannon, pugnacious ideologist of Trumpism and architect of his controversial rapprochement with Russia.

A source on the transition team notes: "Nothing got done in detail during those first days without Ivanka's agreement. She has the advantage of knowing how her father operates hour to hour. She would get into the design detail of where he'd like a lamp or where he likes to sit on the sofa (in the middle) when receiving guests." But fixing the cushions is far from the limit of her ambitions. She was present at the White House for meetings with the visiting US head of the mighty Blackstone financial group and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan. And signalling her interest in weighty parts of the US constitution, she was a guest yesterday at the Supreme Court, listening to part of a case on arbitration agreements involving care homes and their status in federal law. Her five-year-old daughter Arabella accompanied her, which might look like an early bid for female legal empowerment, or simply cute window-dressing, depending on your level of cynicism.

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A key hire is Dina Powell, a long-standing Goldman Sachs high-flyer - and head of the Wall Street giant's foundations focused on women's empowerment in business. "That was a smart move," says Vicky Ward, a New York business writer who specialises in disentangling the opaque world of Manhattan high net-worthers.

Citing Powell's appointment, even the President (then elect) seemed to have reached for the corporate feminism pamphlet in an encomium which read: "[Powell] has been recognised for her strategic oversight of key programs and initiatives and is a leader in both economic growth and the crucial empowerment of women in various aspects of business development and entrepreneurial endeavours."

An Arabic speaker - Egyptian by birth, with a network of top contacts in the Middle East from her days working for the Bush administration - Powell is, in effect, chief adviser to Ivanka, with a powerful Rolodex of her own across the main parties in Washington.

There is speculation that Ivanka is assembling a squad to balance the shoot-from-the-hip ideologists close to her father, to appeal to women who may not be Trump fans but are quietly unconvinced by the liberal feminist arguments against him. It is Ivanka who could swing the vote his way for a second term.

All White House teams are prone to infighting but this one looks particularly divided. The abrupt sacking of Michael Flynn as national security adviser illustrated how quickly the favour of President Trump can translate into embarrassment and exile. Ivanka is, of course, unsackable - rumoured to be his favourite child, she built her business career inside the Trump Empire, first in her father's property business and alongside him on The Apprentice TV show that launched his political career, before branching out to run her own fashion and jewellery label.

But she cannot now easily disentangle Brand Ivanka from Brand Donald, having explicitly linked the two. After one convention speech on social media she promoted her dresses in the 'shop the look' vein.

He, in turn, has underlined the association, attacking the Nordstrom department store for dropping her clothing line, and suggesting that the decision was politically motivated. That is unlikely. Retail sources tell me that Nordstrom decision pre-dates Trump's accession to the White House. Even during the campaign, Ivanka's studded shift dresses and fringed evening wear hung in large quantities in discounted Century 21 stores. Sometimes the First Daughter's judgment looks rather better than those paid to hone the Trump message.

She exchanged furious words with Kellyanne Conway, his chief aide, when Conway urged people to "Go buy Ivanka's stuff ... it's a wonderful line", on the grounds that her brand had been further damaged by being dragged into a debate about the ethics of White House staff endorsing commercial products.

Since then, stores concerned about negative customer response, including TJ Maxx, have asked for Ivanka Trump signage to be removed. Her spokesman is bullish, citing a profit of $21m for 2016. The brand sits oddly in American fashion retail, at its best when it provides updated basics: simple, keenly priced tactile pieces but often teetering into the unwearable (thigh-split numbers more suited to Las Vegas).

Her personal style has always been slinky body-con. The old wasp rule of "never wear white after Labor Day," is not one that Ivanka has time for.

An air of stubborn, showy Eighties glitz surrounds Ivanka's world, embodied in the decision to post an image of herself in a flouncy silver-foil number with husband Jared in evening suit at the height of the refugee chaos unleashed by her father's executive order on migrant numbers and entry criteria.

Jared and Ivanka have been married for seven years and have three children. The Kushner family sound every bit as demanding as the Trumps, as Vicky Ward described in profile for Esquire magazine. "Both (Ivanka and Jared) have been raised in hermetically sealed family units - nearly every day the adult Trump children have lunch with each other in Trump Tower - and taught never to question their parents' narratives in public. When Trump's anti-immigrant comments caused a number of companies to sever their ties with his properties, Ivanka told a source: "It's his money. My father's entire life has been a dream come true. He has to follow this dream."

The Kushner dream is partly linked to the rehabilitation of Jared's father Charlie, who served a jail sentence in 2005 for illegal campaign contributions, tax-evasion and witness tampering by hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law after a family business feud. The Kushners are strict Orthodox Jews, which meant Ivanka had to undergo a long conversion. The couple are strict observers of religious customs and had to get a rabbinical permission to travel to the presidential inauguration by car on a Friday night.

The Ivanka-Kushner connection also lurks behind another critical relationship - between Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News TV station and the Trump administration. Ivanka acted as trustee for a trust handling the shares of the media tycoon's two daughters by ex-wife Wendi Deng (she resigned from the role before Christmas). The relationship between Ivanka and Wendi remains close. When Kushner and Ivanka split briefly in 2008, it was Deng who got them back together. The driving force in the alliance is said to be Kushner, who has cultivated a set of senior New York business figures.

Now Kushner has his seat at the White House table and so does Ivanka. It is the dream come true for a couple who relish power and wealth. But for Ivanka, the difficult days are just starting.

As a long-standing friend puts it: "When Donald was fighting for the presidency, she was the acceptable face of the Trump clan. Now things are much more bitter. You can't be one thing in New York and another in Washington." Brand Ivanka will have to choose its destination.

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