The lead photograph of Ivanka Trump in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar has her standing atop an elegantly distressed ladder with an inner-city skyline in the background. She is wearing a strawberry-colored, $6,990 Carolina Herrera gown with a portrait neckline and a pair of barely visible, but clearly glorious, $725 Manolo Blahnik shoes that do not receive nearly enough love from the photographer.
Fashion magazines regularly work their aesthetic magic on the subjects that they profile, and Trump is no exception. Her skin looks especially poreless. She has no lines, no creases, no shadowy folds. Her golden hair is gently blowing in a perfectly calibrated wind. She is luminous.
The New York City over which Trump towers does not look especially glamorous. There are no iconic skyscrapers in glass and chrome glittering in the distance — no TRUMP in big, gilded letters. Instead, the horizon is dominated by brick high-rises: modest and just a little bit dreary. It is gritty and real. In contrast, Trump looks especially ethereal.
The headline, "Growing up Trump: Ivanka Trump tells all," promises that the story will give readers something — if not authenticity, then at least some tidbit that will allow people to know her better, to know her as more than the titles that are applied to her. Daughter, mother, business woman, sister. Writer Lisa DePaulo questions Trump on her friendship with Chelsea Clinton, her father's unorthodox presidential campaign and her self-declared women's advocacy. She answers; she doesn't answer. It's a familiar, coy dance.
The pictures, however, are a blatant study in avoidance. In both images, by photographer Mark Seliger, viewers see Trump in profile. She never looks her audience in the eye. Her gaze is focused off into the distance. The viewer is kept more than an arm's length away. As she stands perched on the ladder, we look up at her. She is elevated. The positioning suggests that she is, in some way, above politics and above the fray.
But also, in her rather regal gown set against a grimy landscape, her privileged life and position are underscored. She makes it very clear in the accompanying article that her wealth has afforded her a host of advantages. In the story, she comes across as self-aware. And in the imagery, she is comfortably advantaged.
Often, in fashion photographs, women, in particular, will try to express — in an idealized way — a side of their personality that is mostly hidden from public view. The wonky politician exudes glamour. A demoralized first lady shows gleaming confidence. A typically prim and controlled political spouse poses in jeans and with windblown hair.
Not Trump. She has been referred to as a "princess" by her brother, Eric. And the image of her in Carolina Herrera underscores that.
She has been touted as a smart, confident business woman — an executive in the Trump empire. A go-getter. "The Apprentice" sold Middle America on that identity. And that part of her public persona is celebrated in the second of the two Seliger photographs. In it she sits at the end of a conference table with her legs stretched out and her Jimmy Choo pumps propped up on the table's edge. She is wearing one of her self-branded dresses — a short-sleeve, form-fitting navy dress that sells for $118. It is accessorized with about $10,000 worth of rings and earrings from her fine jewelry collection.
Fashion photos are not truth. They are fiction, hyperbole and sleight-of-hand. But they also tell a story in a single perfectly lit, costumed and choreographed frame. They are a controlled environment in which a new view of a familiar figure can be unveiled. A presidential campaign unfolds in the public square and in unpredictable, unwieldy ways. A fashion photo is a unique opportunity to add well-considered, fresh details to the political narrative, to expand it — not organically, but with beautifully manipulated precision.
The pictures of Trump are on message. But they don't expand the story. They offer an airbrushed version of the airbrushed Ivanka Trump that the public has already seen but still doesn't really know.