Our 1998 Interview With 16-Year-Old Ivanka Trump Is an Eerie Look Into Our Gilded, Rotten Reality
Before the uncooperative Democratic legislators, the snooping special counsels, the fights with her father over whether an alleged child molester is an appropriate candidate to support in a senate race, Ivanka Trump’s most formidable enemies were catty fashion editors. Spin interviewed the first-daughter-to-be in 1998, back when she was a humble 16-year-old model, with the sorts of concerns you’d expect from a teenager of her milieu: whether to charge her lasagna lunch at Trump Tower to the family account, the rumors on campus at her prep school that she was chauffeured from class to class in a private limo, etc. At the time, she was grinding away in the celebrity division of Elite Model Management, sitting for Elle editorials and walking the runway for Betsey Johnson.
Even before Ivanka’s association with something so painfully gauche as white nationalist cryptofascism, the gatekeepers of the fashion world were reluctant to allow her into the club. One magazine editor was granted anonymity for the sole purpose of talking shit about her. If the fashion industry had a list of cardinal sins, “trying really hard” and “cool if you’re in Miami” would surely be among them:
“If it wasn’t for her dad, she would at best be a B-model trying really hard to get work in Miami,” says an editor at one of the major fashion magazines, “and even then she’d have trouble, because contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as a good model and bad model. Ivanka seems unable to show any emotion when modeling. She has a great body, but she doesn’t know how to use it.”
For all its casual pettiness, the article is most notable for the eerie ways in which it presages our current moment. Writer Kim France ticks off details from observations that would eventually become inescapable parts of the texture of American life: the Trump family’s unrepentant gaudiness, the buildings emblazoned with the future president’s name, the “chrome and glass and flower arrangements” of the Trump Tower lobby. The piece calls out Ivanka’s “surprising self awareness of the absurdity of being a Trump,” or appearance thereof—a dynamic she has continued to exploit two decades later, using her status as the family’s only credibly cosmopolitan member in an attempt to sell the idea that her father’s policies might be good for women and minorities.
There’s also a sense that permeates the writing, of the unstoppable power of stardom and a little family money to elevate people into positions for which they are grossly unqualified. Without saying it outright, the piece conveys the idea that the young Ivanka Trump has no business being a model, and attained whatever small measure of success she found only on the strength of her father’s name. Her father, of course, has similarly little business being president. But being a Trump opens doors in America. “I think she’ll be a big model because right now is a big time for celebrities and personalities, and the Trump name is bigger than ever,” another industry insider gushes at one point in the piece. If only they could see us now.
Read the full 1998 interview here.