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My Modeling World Encounter With Donald Trump

The Donald’s Model History


This is not going to be a political post, but let me just say that I’m not using “model,” as in ideal, and I can’t bring myself to title this “My Modeling World Encounter With President Donald Trump.” Enough said.

My first encounter with Donald Trump was in 1988. It was not the real Donald but it was real life (as opposed to not-the-real-Donald in the Twitter imposter sense). Two college friends in Boulder had dressed up as NYC’s flashy new couple about town: Donald and Ivana Trump. It was some approximation of this look (below), with some fur thrown in (to be fair here, we must remember that 80s fashion wasn’t kind to anyone). At the time, my roommate and I were dressed as static and cling. I had no idea who the Trumps were. Nor that I would hanging with the Donald a few years later.

Ivana and Donald Trump

Donald Trump, with his first wife, Ivana, circa 1988

Ivana probably had no idea her husband would soon have an affair with Marla Maples and trade her in for a newer model. Ivana had been a fashion model and Marla was an actress and occasional model. (We’re seeing a trend here.) Donald’s obsession with models became even clearer when he transported busloads of them up to his little place in Palm Beach, Mar-A-Lago (see photo), for an Ocean Drive Magazine party. It was 1993. I was young and had nothing else to do that night. The sleaze factor was mitigated by the fact that male models were invited as well. This, in my experience, was also the difference between free model dinners in Madrid (both genders invited) and Milan (only women, more often mere girls). It’s the difference between feeling like you are at a fun party and feeling like you are being pimped out.

Mar-a-lago, the Trump estate in Palm Beach

Mar-a-Lago, the Trump estate in Palm Beach

The Mar-A-Lago arrangement pretty much worked for everyone: the men looking for hot arm candy, the models looking for sugar daddies, and those of us who just wanted a peek into the lifestyles of the rich and famous and some free drinks.

Jill Johnson-Donald Trump-Jeff Bowman

Jill Johnson, Donald Trump, and model Jeff Bowman at Mar-A-Lago

Not surprisingly, Trump was a jovial, charming host. I mostly hung out with my longtime model pal Jeff Bowman. I chatted with Donald and we discussed my plans to move to New York, the big daddy of all modeling markets, the following spring. “If I can ever help you in New York, just let me know,” he said. He seemed genuine, no wink, but I’m sure it’s an offer he made to many models.

I never took him up on it. I’m not sure how I would have…just strut into the Trump Building (which one?) and demand the Big D fulfill his promise? Ask if he could arrange a spread in Harper’s Bazaar perhaps, or a billboard in Times Square (clothed, please)? Oh well, alas, it did not come to pass.

Within a few years, a budding model named Ivanka Trump modeled in the big Versace show in Bal Harbour. She had a decent career (possibly with the help of rhinoplasty). Her dad started a modeling agency, Trump Model Management. He snagged some of the industry’s best bookers. His agency represents many modeling legends: Ali McGraw, Carol Alt, Kim Alexis, Tatjana Patitz. His agency became a loyal advertising client of my magazine, Tear Sheet. Not everyone took a chance on us 20-something publishers, so for that I’m grateful.

My friends and I used to see Donald out on the club scene. We witnessed the courting of Melania. We thought, He’s too old for her! She saw green. Or maybe even red, white, and blue… The rest of us never saw it coming.

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