In a boardroom above the bustle of New York's Fifth Avenue, a young woman is presiding over a business meeting. Her champagne-coloured hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and she's wearing cashmere in an absurdly subtle shade of wheat. To her left, a man leans in - a touch too keenly - and nods. Someone makes a joke, everybody laughs and half a dozen shoulders relax: the deal's been done and Ivanka Trump is smoothing down her pencil skirt and heading in my direction.
"So sorry I'm late," smiles the 30 year-old. Four minutes late could be considered punctual, but I suspect that the daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump - and executive vice president of development and acquisitions at the Trump Organisation - operates to a schedule that begins with conference calls before the sun's up. "Actually, this morning wasn't too bad," I'm assured. "I'm working on a deal with some folks in from Israel so I was up at 5.45am and in a breakfast meeting by 7.30am." She shows me through to her corner office. "Arabella wakes up at 6am so I try to spend an hour with her before I start the day."
Arabella is Ivanka's 10-month-old daughter with her property heir and publisher husband Jared Kushner - and one of the many reasons women may be predisposed to dislike Ivanka. Never mind her father's $US2.9 billion fortune, no new mother has a figure like that - full-breasted and sinuous-hipped, dwindling down into the slenderest legs. No new, working mother has skin like that, so finely milled that the pores themselves appear to have been sieved out. Very few women (mothers or not) have Ivanka's poise. It's a relief when - in the middle of showing me the blueprints for one of her new projects, the historic Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington - I catch her parting the documents on her Apple desktop to reveal closed-circuit footage of what looks like a nursery. "This way I can watch Arabella all the time," she flushes. "It's genius. Obviously, I keep the volume off but at least I can see her."
You'd think one of the perks of joining the family firm - something Ivanka did shortly after completing an economics degree at the University of Pennsylvania seven years ago - would be a generous maternity leave. In fact, eight days after Arabella was born, Ivanka flew to Miami to clinch a deal on the Doral Hotel and Country Club, one of the company's latest acquisitions. "I got the call three days after I got back from the hospital, and I wanted this deal," she says in a husky voice. "I mean, I really wanted it. So I asked my doctor, and he said, 'It's not a good idea but is it a small property at least?' I told him it was 800 acres," she laughs. Wasn't she still feeling fragile? "Oh yes," she nods, "but in a family business you can't just say 'I'm done for three months'. Unlike what people think, it's actually harder to draw a line in the sand."
"What people think" has been a factor in Ivanka's life since before she could walk. In the 1980s, Donald and Ivana Trump - a Czech-born fashion model and former Olympic skier - were Manhattan's golden couple. Handsome and influential, Trump dominated the business pages of every newspaper. The pair had three children - Ivanka, Donald Jr, 31, and Eric, 28 - but their union didn't last. When Ivanka was nine, the tabloids revealed her father's relationship with an actress named Marla Maples. Over the following months the little girl suffered the ignominy of her parents' break-up and divorce being plastered over the cover of the New York Post.
Her father didn't stay with Maples, divorcing her in 1999 and marrying model Melania Knauss six years later. "My mother and father were young, good-looking and charismatic, and there was tremendous interest in covering them in the media," she shrugs. "I knew very early on that no matter what I accomplished there would always be someone saying 'she would never have been able to do that without her parents'. And you know what? I can't argue with that, because it's a hypothetical. So rather than dwell on it, I decided that what matters to me is that I'm respected by people I interact with - not people who have decided to dislike me."
Had I known how sharp Ivanka was, and how determined she was to make the most of her provenance rather than let it destroy her, I wouldn't have felt as sorry as I did for her as the world watched her grow up. "My parents actually did a very good job of sheltering us, so unlike a lot of people who are suddenly thrust into the public eye later on in life and don't know the downsides, I was always well aware of them." There were upsides, too, and Ivanka understood the power of using her own image to endorse the family brand. Framed magazine covers of the former model in various sultry poses adorn the walls of her office, and she still does all the modelling for her clothing, jewellery and accessories range herself. "I've been able to spot good opportunities and seize them. With The Apprentice [which Ivanka joined as a boardroom judge in Series 5 of the US version], I agreed to do it knowing that I shouldn't give too much access to my life." Despite numerous offers, she refused to sell her wedding or pictures of her daughter. "It was very important for me to maintain a barrier for safety reasons and in order to give Arabella the option of preserving a little bit of anonymity."
Anonymity, when you look like Ivanka, isn't an option. She was 14 when she first started modelling; 16 when she shot her first cover. After that came the catwalks - Versace and Thierry Mugler; and the campaigns - Tommy Hilfiger and Sassoon. I think about the way her male colleague had looked at her earlier. Can those looks be a drawback in the business world? "Ultimately it's outside of my control," she says, embarrassed. "So I try not to think about it. That said, my brothers and I joke about how if we give a group of male bankers our business cards, they may follow up with me first." She laughs. "Look, it doesn't hurt to stand out from the pack - as long as it's used appropriately." And that, she maintains, means not "utilising your sexuality in the boardroom".
However, Ivanka doesn't see why today's female workforce should eschew all femininity. "When I first started working, I was super-aware of the fact that I was a 5ft 11in, 22-year-old blonde, so I'd wear black trouser suits. Now I'll wear pink if I want to because, although overt sexuality isn't good in the boardroom, femininity's great. My mother's generation had to dress like men to be taken seriously. With those 1980s power suits, shoulder pads and slicked-back hair, they were physically trying to resemble the male prototype. We're very fortunate not to have to do that."
We may have come a long way since then, but the word "ambitious", she feels, is still an insult when applied to women. "I have to adjust my tone with certain people lest they think I'm a shrew," she smiles. "The truth is that women are not good at asking for things. And a lot of time if there is an ask, it's a vague one. Sometimes to get ahead you have to use the word 'I' instead of 'we'. You have to differentiate yourself from your colleagues." Other differences between the sexes are shrugged off as stereotypical or untrue. "I know a lot of over-emotional businessmen," she says wryly. "Over-emotional, very successful businessmen."
Wealth and status may make juggling work and motherhood easier, but guilt, she says, "is the female condition" that bonds us all. "It's there all the time but I love what I do and sacrificing that is a dangerous thing. You have to know for sure that you won't hold it against your family later. Still, there are a few things that I never want to compromise: being a good mother to my daughter and a great wife to my husband."
Kushner - who owns the New York Observer - has a lot in common with her father ("They're both incredibly intelligent, hard working and passionate - all the good stuff"), and the couple are "constantly bouncing ideas off each other and being geeky together". She glances down at her watch - another meeting awaits - then quickly back at the grainy footage of Arabella's nursery.
Has motherhood softened her? "Not professionally," she says, "but I do now know that I'm capable of loving something way more than I thought humanly possible. I'd love to have three more, but I don't know if that's feasible." Remembering something, she laughs. "My mother's so funny. When I was pregnant, I told her I wanted four children. 'Have one,' she said, 'then we'll talk'."
The Telegraph, London