Future US first daughter Ivanka Trump blurs the line between professional and political

Mr Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka listening to a speaker on the second day of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Mr Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka listening to a speaker on the second day of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - In the week since Mr Donald Trump's election as president of the United States, much has been written about the potential conflicts of interest a sitting president with a global business may encounter (among other things).

Less attention, however, has been paid to the even fuzzier situation of the close family members of a sitting president, and their business interests - though on Monday, it became clear that this is another potential minefield, at least when it comes to first daughter Ivanka Trump and a brand that is largely built on her image.

A group of journalists, including reporters at The New York Times and Vogue, received an e-mail from Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, the upscale brand that Ms Trump founded in 2007, titled "Style Alert" and touting "Ivanka Trump wearing her favourite bangle from the Metropolis Collection on 60 Minutes". The bangle, a gold-and-diamond bracelet that costs US$10,800 (S$15,280) on her website, was clearly pictured on her wrist during her interview with her father, stepmother and grown siblings with Lesley Stahl on Sunday night.

Such e-mails are not uncommon among fashion brands, which tend to trumpet every celebrity sighting in their products to the world at large.

What was different about this e-mail, however, was that it came not from the communications office, but from the vice-president for sales, the person in a brand who would generally work with a company's wholesale partners (in Ms Trump's case, stores such as Neiman Marcus in Georgia, Florida and Illinois, and Charles Schwartz & Son in Washington, D.C.). And that after pointing out the bracelet, it urged recipients to "Please share this with your clients". In other words, it used Ms Trump's appearance by her father's side to directly promote the selling of her products.

When reached, Ms Monica Marder, the vice-president, said repeatedly "I am not available for comment" and then, when asked if she had sent the e-mail, hung up the phone.

 
 

But a day later, Ms Abigail Klem, president of the Ivanka Trump brand, said: "This notification was sent by a well-intentioned marketing employee at one of our companies who was following customary protocol, and who, like many of us, is still making adjustments post-election. We are proactively discussing new policies and procedures with all of our partners going forward."

This is not the first time Ms Trump's brands have used her role in her father's political career for marketing purposes. In July, she wore a dress from her own collection to introduce her father at the Republican National Convention (she also wore her own brand shoes and jewellery). The next day, her company tweeted out a picture of her from the podium with the words "Shop Ivanka's look from her #RNC speech" and a link to the Macy's website, where a similar style from the brand was offered. The US$138 dress reportedly sold out in a day.

At the time, the decision was met with some opprobrium, even though the stakes were lower.

Mr Trump has stated that his children will have no formal roles in his White House, because they will be running his business, and there is no law that prohibits presidential relatives from continuing their own business, though Section 713 of Title 18 of the United States Code forbids the use of likenesses of the presidential seal for promotional purposes. Ms Trump has not come close to that, but the appearance is still ethically blurred.

Whether or not she knew of the bracelet e-mail before it was sent, her name is still on the top of the alert.

In the past, attempts by relatives to profit from a connection to a president, such as Mr Billy Carter's introduction of Billy Beer during his brother Jimmy Carter's administration, and the creation of Mr Roger Clinton's band, Politics, during his half brother Bill Clinton's terms in office, were roundly deemed inappropriate.

The tension between Ms Trump's position on her father's transition team and her unofficial, but powerful, role as a representative of women and the younger generation in his organisation, and the fact that she is her own best ad and her brand is thus understandably using her as a celebrity, makes the issue even more complicated, and it underscores her status in the public eye and the amount of attention she will incur. The question now is how she uses it.