In the more-is-more New York of the 1980s and 1990s, when Ivana Trump was at the height of her powers, “social media” consisted of party pages and gossip columns, and the best way to make your name was to go out. A lot.
Ivana went out.
“She certainly knew how to get in the papers,” said the author George Rush, who, with his wife, Joanna Molloy, wrote the New York Daily News gossip column Rush & Molloy from 1995 to 2010.
Ivana was at all the big New York events, grinning alongside the most rich, famous and powerful people in the city.
Arm in arm with Estée Lauder at Lincoln Center. Seated next to Luciano Pavarotti for a dinner at the Central Park Boathouse. Laughing it up with Jackie Mason, regaling Michael Douglas with stories, being carried like a bride by Fabio, shaking hands with Don King.
Her dresses, jewelry and hair were shiny and comically oversize, even by ’80s standards: An eye-searing metallic pink floor-length gown encrusted with crystals, adorned with a peplum and a matching stole — acres of fabric draped over one shoulder, finished with a stiff pearl and jeweled choker as the cherry on top.
“She was definitely part of the fabric of the New York nightlife scene, uptown — and downtown,” said Michael Musto, the former Village Voice nightlife columnist.
If you had a voracious appetite for magazines and tabloids, Ms. Trump, whose death at age 73 was announced on Thursday, was everywhere. She was both larger than life and also just one of many Manhattan characters who were your neighbors.
Barreling down the F.D.R. Drive in a cab, you may have caught a brief glimpse of the yacht called Trump Princess, anchored at the Water Club.
“I would call her the bold in the bold-faced name,” said Patrick McMullan, the photographer and columnist who snapped thousands of images in his 30-year career covering New York nightlife. “I covered that scene and I mean, I would see Ivana every night. She loved being photographed.”
Ivana Trump (1949-2022)
The Czech-American businesswoman, whose high-profile marriage to former President Donald Trump in the 1980s helped make him a household name, died at 73.
Le Cirque. The Pierre. La Grenouille. Where there were cameras and rich people, there she was.
“Donald never showed much interest in so-called New York society,” said Bob Colacello, the author and social commentator who wrote a 1992 Vanity Fair cover story about Ivana. “But Ivana very much wanted to be part of the whole social scene. So she started taking a more active role in philanthropy, which is the route that new-money New Yorkers have always used to become part of the establishment.”
If you grew up in New York, some names were familiar because they were also mansions, museums, streets or neighborhoods: Hamilton, Bloomingdale, Hewitt, Cooper, Vanderbilt, Astor. But the Trump name was new, and emblazoned in garish gold lettering on a building, rather than carved into turn-of-the-century stone.
Maybe at first Ivana was too flashy, too hungry, too new-money for the old-money crowd. But she barged in. “I remember going down to the Kentucky Derby once, and Marylou Whitney had invited her on her plane,” Mr. Rush said, referring to Marie Louise Whitney, the wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. “The Whitneys were certainly as good a name as you could want.”
Said Mr. Colacello: “One of the things that Donald and Ivana had most in common was they both loved publicity. They both wanted to be famous. In a way, they wanted to be famous more than they wanted to be rich.”
That said, there was evidence that while Ivana played hard, she also worked hard: “Ivana became a businesswoman,” Mr. Colacello said. “She ran Atlantic City. She was running the Plaza Hotel. She was like a general, barking orders, and she liked it, and she was good at it.”
After all the benefit events and galas and dinners, it was the divorce news that pushed Ivana — who was absolutely on a first-name basis with New York — from the party page to the cover. There were cringe-worthy puns (“Ivana Better Deal”), but also some sympathetic allies.
“I liked her and her buoyancy, and her good cheer, and her agile navigation through New York’s social rapids,” said Mr. Rush. “And her resiliency. Her ability to survive that marriage — and remake herself.”
She was often seen with the gossip columnist Liz Smith, and, wearing Barbie pink on the October 1990 cover of New York magazine, she came off as a Zsa Zsa Gabor in “Green Acres”-esque character — or even Patsy Stone from “Absolutely Fabulous” — deeply shallow but seriously amusing, flitting around, leafing everything in gold.
While her ex-husband became something of a local villain, Ivana took up the role of the gay divorcée — dating younger men, skiing in St. Moritz, boating in Saint-Tropez, a cameo in the movie “The First Wives Club.”
“She became almost like a feminist icon,” Mr. Colacello said. “She was fun. She was funny. She was warm, and she was a little screwy.”
And she kept going out, for decades.
“She came to one party I had at Lucky Cheng’s, which was a drag restaurant,” said Mr. Musto. He said not only was Ivana “delightful,” but generous: When a guest admired her jewelry — from the Ivana Trump Collection, naturally — Ivana took off her necklace and handed it to the stranger. “Of course, I don’t think it was worth millions,” Mr. Musto said. “But still.”
Mr. Musto added that while he didn’t know much about Ivana’s personal politics, he admired her for having “survived The Donald with style.” And she was always welcome at downtown parties: “Believe me, the drag queens were thrilled to see her, because some of them would regularly dress like her.”
Now and then, if you went out, too, you’d see her, in a glitzy ensemble, hair lacquered. She and her lavish updo were often seated at the good table at benefit luncheons and in the front row at fashion shows.
Some will remember her as being filled with the kind of joie de vivre enjoyed by any wealthy single mother living in New York.
“She believed in society with a capital S, but she was very down to earth,” Mr. Colacello said. Her ex-husband spent four years in Washington, D.C., and then moved to Florida; Ivana stayed in New York, an Upper East Sider right until the end.
One of the last photographs of Ivana to grace the tabloids was taken long after her glamorous heyday. But there she was in 2018, dressed in a leopard-print jacket while she was buying some street meat from a vendor on East 64th Street.
Mr. Colacello laughed. “I mean, she probably made friends with the guy.”