BERLIN — Ivanka Trump’s personal brand, upcoming book and burgeoning position on the world stage have all been based on her image as a do-it-all feminist and working mother.
That powerful package has resonated in some parts of the world, like China, where the first daughter is worshiped by young women infatuated with her looks — nary an errant hair out of place, a perfect outfit rarely repeated — and awed by her apparent ability to juggle family and career.
Judging from her mixed reception here, European women are more incredulous about Ivanka Trump’s brand of feminism and her attempts to reconcile her own moderate politics with her father’s fierce conservatism.
And they viewed her arrival in Berlin, her first international trip as a representative of the U.S. government, on Tuesday with the deep uncertainty they reserve for all things branded “Trump,” shorthand for a hard-right, nationalistic, “America First” worldview.
Ivanka Trump appeared unruffled during a somewhat tense outing at the W20 Summit, where she shared a stage with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands to discuss women entrepreneurs.
As her global recognition grows, her public image fares better further afield. In China, where wealthy and connected children of business and political leaders often run state-owned enterprises or hold other prominent positions, young women are enchanted by her perfectly curated public façade, as the New York Times recently reported.
They view her, Jared Kushner and their three children, often photographed against a brilliant Palm Beach sunset as they descend the steps of Air Force One, as something akin to a 21st century version of the Kennedys’ “Camelot.”
That image doesn’t translate to Europe, POLITICO found in interviews with more than a half-dozen women who make up Berlin’s fashionable and intellectual set, including lawyers, journalists, jewelry designers and translators. These cosmopolitan women keep themselves up to date on all things Ivanka-related — from the trademarks her brand has applied for abroad, to her career that started on the catwalk, to the official role she now plays in the White House as a self-professed champion of women and girls.
But if she has come to be viewed as a role model in China and by some of her father’s critics at home as the better angel on his shoulder — a softening influence who keeps private counsel with the president and guides him toward a more moderate approach — that trust in her judgment has yet to puddle-jump across the Atlantic.
Women in Berlin expressed bewilderment at Ivanka Trump’s elevation to a senior role in the White House with no previous political experience. And they said they struggled to reconcile her image as a feminist with her fierce and unquestioning defense of her father.
“People wonder about her seeming like a very strong woman, and at the same time seeing him as the worst kind of sexist, and wonder how that works out,” said Heather Kimber, a British translator who works in Berlin. “Of course, she’s very beautiful, which is likely to generate more skepticism than if she looked a little bit less like a model.”
Lilian von Trapp, a Berlin native and former lawyer who recently launched her own eponymous ethical jewelry line, said her own experience creating a business from scratch gave her some respect for Ivanka Trump’s entrepreneurial spirit. But von Trapp (who is distantly related by marriage to the famous “Sound of Music” von Trapp family) said she does not view the first daughter as a role model or as qualified to hold a position on the global stage.
“German people are more critical,” said von Trapp, contemplating the first daughter over a cup of coffee at SoHo House Berlin. “If you’re born that rich and your first job after modeling is to work in the office of your father, how hard can that be? All of her clothing lines are produced in China. It gives you an off feeling about all of this.”
That “off feeling” about the role Trump’s family members play in the White House is felt at home, too. About 61 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump installing his daughter and son-in-law, Kushner, in senior administration roles, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll last week.
“She sells herself very well,” von Trapp said. “The truth is, we really know nothing about her behind the image. We are in this kind of waiting position now, to see if she can be taken seriously, or whether this is just a fake.”
Tuesday’s conference was an opportunity for Ivanka Trump to prove herself to this discerning European set, which appeared critical but open to be proven wrong.
“As a feminist, I do believe we have to empower each other before criticizing,” said Nuray Ozea, an activist in the women’s movement in Turkey, who attended the W20 conference with no preconceived notions about the first daughter. “I’m not in a position to judge whether she is qualified or not. I am happy to see her lobbying for women’s rights.”
And Ivanka Trump — fresh off a commercial overnight flight from Washington — came prepared with facts and figures at her fingertips to prove she was a serious advocate for female entrepreneurs.
Discussing how a lack of technology serves as a deterrent to entrepreneurship, she pointed out that “1.7 billion women don’t have access to a smartphone.” She said it was “critical” to focus on science, technology and math education, and she called a lack of mentors for women “an interesting challenge to solve.”
“There certainly isn’t one solution for it,” she said. “When you talk to female entrepreneurs, their networks are smaller than their male counterparts.”
Members of the audience booed and hissed when she described her father as “a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive,” but she shrugged it off, telling reporters after the panel, “I’m used to it,” and doubling down on her portrayal of the president as a champion of women throughout his private-sector career.
Ivanka Trump followed up the panel with a tour of Siemens, the German manufacturing giant, and a visit to Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial. In the evening, she was scheduled to attend a closed-press gala dinner.
White House officials said Ivanka Trump made the trip at Merkel’s invitation and hoped to use the platform only to emphasize her policy aims.
But the majority-female audience she addressed Tuesday at the Intercontinental Berlin, as well as the German press, viewed her trip as in part a diplomatic mission to further relations with Europe.
The president and other top advisers have espoused a more nationalistic, anti-European Union outlook that has alarmed some in cities like Berlin.
“Everything and everyone associated with Donald Trump is viewed with suspicion in Europe,” said Julian Reichelt, a journalist with the largest Berlin tabloid, Bild, who traveled with Merkel to Washington last month. “In general, the view of her is not very flattering — it’s of a rich kid daughter, who now has even more privileges through her dad, with zero competence to work in the White House.”
Still, some women in Europe were willing to give Ivanka Trump time to prove herself.
“My preference is that we focus on her role as an entrepreneur and a mother,” said Megan Brown, who works as a consultant in Brussels and attended the W20 conference in Berlin. “She’s built a business with help from her father. But the business and the brand, she’s built.”
“Maybe she should think to change the name to just Ivanka,” Brown said. “Her brand is stronger than her father’s.”
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