clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A Dispatch From Ivanka Trump’s New Store

What it lacks in square footage, it makes up for in potential ethics violations.

The Ivanka Trump brand boutique in Trump Tower Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Ivanka Trump’s new store is tucked inside the lobby of Trump Tower, a pink-lit alcove in her father’s golden cathedral to himself. To get a peek at it, shoppers have to run the gauntlet of security protecting the building: passing through a pair of armed guards with assault rifles flanking the Fifth Avenue entrance, putting their bags on an airport-security-style X-ray belt, walking through a metal detector, and opening their coats at the behest of an agent at the front. And that’s when the president is out of town.

At 3 p.m. on opening day, half a dozen women with glossy hair and tasteful-yet-conservative outfits unpacked Ivanka-branded satchels and shoulder bags from cardboard boxes, arranging them on rows of shelves next to gold-tone charm necklaces and faux-pearl studs as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” played overhead.

Given the Trumps’ predilection for all things yuge, I’ll admit: I was expecting something bigger. It’s a tiny store — more of a kiosk, really. When I visited, three teenagers passed by, rubbernecking on their way to the exit. “How do you even get into it?” one of them asked. Mostly, tourists stood outside and snapped photos, watching Team Ivanka squeeze past one another with clipboards and pile extra inventory into drawers.

The company’s namesake, of course, wasn’t there, having stepped away from the brand’s day-to-day operations in January to comply with federal ethics rules. As an official advisor to the president, she was busy in DC watching him cut a symbolic piece of red tape on a pile of government regulations taller than himself (see? Yuuuge). The 36-year-old did, however, take home at least $6 million from sales of the line between January 2016 and May of this year, according to ethics disclosures, raising conflict-of-interest questions about the location of the boutique.

Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, told the Washington Post that by setting up shop in the lobby of her father’s most famous property, her company is taking advantage of the pull of the presidential office. “By selling directly to die-hard Trump supporters, who are already hanging out at Trump Tower, she gets to pocket even higher [profit] margins,” he said.

Across the atrium from the store, visitors can sip a glass of Trump Winery Bordeaux at Trump Bar, then head downstairs for an Ivanka Salad at Trump Grill(e) and a cone at Trump’s Ice Cream Parlor. When the president is in town, they might hope to catch a glimpse of him on the way to his three-story penthouse, where this summer he held meetings with members of his administration. For years, Ivanka’s now-mostly-defunct fine jewelry line occupied the prime lobby real estate, courting wealthy shoppers with $12,000 diamond bracelets and $4,000 sapphire rings. In March, however, the company announced that it would be shifting its focus to more accessibly priced products, and by this summer, signage was up on the newly rebranded storefront.

Ivanka’s past high-end retail ventures — on Madison Avenue in 2007 and Mercer Street in 2011 — were bigger and splashier, though neither lasted. The Soho flagship, a two-story emporium where a customer could “purchase her wedding jewelry as well as a new briefcase or iPad case for work,” Trump once told WWD, shuttered in 2015. Since then, the shoes, handbags, fashion jewelry, and clothing (all of which are licensed to other manufacturers) have been primarily sold to department stores like Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Dillard’s, although several have parted ways with or distanced themselves from the brand in the wake of this fall’s #GrabYourWallet campaign, including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Belk, Burlington, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls.

The tower itself stands on a site of department store carnage, its former occupant the legendary chain Bonwit Teller, which opened in 1929 under the name Stewart & Company (Eleanor Roosevelt attended the unveiling). Donald Trump unceremoniously demolished the building in 1980, in the process losing the original Art Deco grillwork and destroying the limestone bas-reliefs from the facade, both of which he had promised to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Situated as it is in a building owned by its own parent company, Ivanka’s new store should be relatively insulated from the current retail apocalypse, which has seen dozens of major retailers (including stockists Lord & Taylor and Macy’s) shed physical stores in an effort to mitigate flagging sales. That the boutique is probably a tenth of the size of the founder’s own closet also probably doesn’t hurt. However the real test, if it ever comes to it, will be whether it can hold its own in the world beyond the family’s gilded walls.