During the mid-aughts, I was obsessed with American Vogue. Not particularly the fashion spreads, even if I enjoyed them (unlike everyone else, I didn’t mind countless editorials of Caroline Trentini jumping), but the section of the magazine that was exclusively the domain of young society doyennes of the day. Marina Rust (whose column I devoured), Lauren Dupont, the now-maligned Lauren Mortimer, Plum Sykes, pre-Socialite Rank Olivia Palermo, Jessica Joffe, pre-Moda Operandi Lauren Santo Domingo and a young, pre-Jared Kushner Ivanka Trump. In hindsight, I suppose it’s no surprise I ended up working at Lifestyle Asia.
Ivanka was fresh off an appearance at the Jamie Johnson (heir to Johnsons & Johnson’s) documentary, Born Rich, which explored the lives of young people of their ilk: born with a silver spoon in their mouths, reared in private schools across the nation, expected to attend (or already attending) the Ivy League and someday inherit the family business. More often than not, they seemed undeserving of this privilege, but I remember watching Ivanka and thinking she seemed the most grounded: someone richer than Croesus but with a sense of drive and ambition to do more than what was expected of her and make a name for herself.
Last night, as Ivanka’s father’s presidency ended in ignominy, I suppose you could say she did just that, even if it wasn’t exactly successful. As the daughter of the President of the United States, she constantly flouted rules put in place to prevent presidential abuse. Despite qualms about her security clearance, she was given access to confidential files. It took her until 2018 to step back from her clothing business, which created a conflict of interest. As late as 2020, she violated federal ethics law when she posed with a can of Goya Beans to applaud its CEO’s support of Trump. She perfected her brand of #whitefeminism, upholding herself (and by extension, her father) with a stunning lack of awareness at the cost of her actions.
What will happen to Ivanka Trump now? Before her father ran for President, she and Jared occupied the top echelon of New York society: young, white (but able to preach #diversity because of Jared’s Judaism), good looking and most of all, rich, they rubbed shoulders with New York’s mostly liberal social set. Ivanka used to be friends with Chelsea Clinton. She was always among the first to be invited to a fête. She had the advantage of being a “working-woman” as well as being a socialite, so while she attended Met Galas she could also preach about mentoring women in the workplace. All of this made her seem like she could be our friend. In essence, life would have perfect for her had she stayed in her lane.
Today, she and Jared are considered pariahs. There will be no Met Galas in their future (and there really won’t be, for anyone, because we are all still in a pandemic). There are no charitable causes that can change the ambiance of corruption that taints her, and there will be no seat at the table with the Marina Rusts and Lauren Santo Domingos of the world.
AN AGITATOR IN PROENZA SCHOULER
Before Lauren Santo Domingo was Lauren Santo Domingo, she was Lauren Davis from Connecticut, daughter of Ronald V. Davis, former CEO of The Perrier Group of America. Raised in similar privileged circles as Ivanka, albeit a quieter one, she got her start as a Fashion Assistant at Vogue, before working her way up to Associate Fashion Editor and Sittings Editor. She had stints at J.Mendel and Carolina Herrera, and her patrician features (a trait shared with Ivanka) always lent itself well to publications like Vogue, Vanity Fairs, and New York Magazine. A junior-charity event held in a museum during the mid-2000s always had Lauren and Ivanka ruling the roost, their names embossed in glossy invites.
When Lauren married Andrés Santo Domingo (who currently has a $3.3B net-worth with his fortune in the beer business), it was considered the first major society wedding of the century. I remember poring over the report in Vogue of the celebration that took place in Cartagena: how her nine bridesmaids (a veritable who’s who in New York society: Tinsley Mortimer, Coco Brandolini, Fabiola Beracasa, and more) were dressed in frothy creations by nine (nine!) different designers that were meant to match the frescos painted on the ceilings of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo (later, I read an outraged reaction in Vogue about the fact that all the bridesmaids had bare shoulders, a no-no in Catholic churches), that the bride wore an Olivier Theyskens-designed Nina Ricci gown, hand-sewn at the atelier. It took them 1,200 hours (“with an additional 800 hours from the legendary Lesage embroiders,” supplied Vogue helpfully) to make. For the reception, she wore a different Nina Ricci dress, after which Theyskens cut the skirt off to make dancing the night away easier. So much of this wedding is permanently-seared onto my brain, and it is always the reference I think of when writing countless wedding features for the magazine. Clearly, Vogue thinks so too, because they put her on the cover of a book they published on the best weddings ever featured.
In 2010, Lauren started Moda Operandi, an online shopping operation where you could instantly put down a deposit for whatever piece you saw on the runway and then buying the entire thing when ready to be sold. Once pilloried as an unsustainable business model, it is now a successful brand and has expanded to homewares and furnishing. In 2020, it raised $100M in funding.
What sets Lauren apart from the rest of her cosseted cohorts is that she has not been afraid to wade into political commentary, particularly when it came to Ivanka’s role in her father’s administration. In recent months, after Trump’s loss in the 2020 Election, it has been de rigueur for some of Ivanka’s old crowd to spill the beans on her (one former best friend wrote an exposé for Vanity Fair that told of Ivanka’s distaste for the poor) but Lauren had been doing so since the start.
The Daily Beast called her “an agitator in Proenza Schouler.” I remember being amazed at Lauren’s boldness. None of the socialites at her level had taken steps to call Ivanka out: everyone was and remain aloof when it comes to their former bosom buddy, even after the results of the election. To be clear, I am not saying that what Lauren is doing has changed anything at all. Her barbs can’t alter the 406k deaths caused by COVID-19 in the United States due to government ignorance, that black people face mass incarceration for minor crimes at a higher rate than their white counterparts, and that Donald Trump incited a rebellion when faced with the unavoidable end of his term. While Lauren was probably getting her hair done (she once told Into The Gloss she had never washed her own hair), Stacey Abrams was hard at work flipping Georgia into a blue state and turning the Democratic presence at the Senate into a majority. But it sends a clear message: you are no longer welcome here. The ranks have closed and Ivanka Trump is an outsider now. Instead of building a wall, she faces a wall.
MRS. ASTOR WITH A CAUSE
It had me thinking: why doesn’t the Philippines have a counterpart to someone like Lauren Santo Domingo? Sure, there are upcoming hell-raisers like Kakie Pangilinan, but Kakie is young. No one in their 30s and above has straight-up spoken out about the things going on in the Philippines. We all speak in safe, socially approved terms, but no one wants to name names and go into attack. The last person I can think of from a great height of social strata that had any guts to incite meaningful change for any cause is Gina Lopez.
I think part of it has to do with the fact that we are hesitant to let go of our comforts. I am guilty of this. I grew up being dragged by my mother into rallies against the current president at the time, where I wilted in the heat and wanted nothing more than to go home (I had a chant too: “pabagsakin si xx, pauwiin si Sara!”). I have, obviously, since then been more politically active, but my generation grew up in a post-totalitarian state where notions of transitional justice were never upheld in a lasting way. We want to believe that everything will be okay, despite knowing that the walls are crumbling.
Lauren also has the added benefit of being in the United States: a country where wealth has more variety among the 1% than in the Philippines, a place that almost feels like only people related to each other in blood or fraternal ties can be considered wealthy. So she can speak out about the President and his daughter and not be afraid of consequences. She can continue tweeting in her ivory tower and be cushioned from the potential blow. The United States is a huge country teeming with multiple opinions, so I am not surprised that a socialite from New York can call out a president and not get any pushback.
Still, I do find it admirable that Lauren uses her platform in ways that I would never have predicted, during the days when I was young and impressionable, reading about the woman called “The Next Mrs. Astor.” You can host dinner parties and be dressed by all the best designers while keeping your sense of self and rightness intact.