Jayme Chandler Franklin, an alum of the Trump White House and Fox News, believes in wearing her values on her sleeve. So last month, when the affidavit supporting the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search warrant was released to the public, and some online conservatives waxed conspiratorial about what sorts of federal perfidy might have hidden in the document’s copious redactions, Franklin’s contribution to the media moment was something more novel: a fashion show.
On The Conservateur, Franklin’s fast-growing D.C.-based fashion-and-lifestyle platform, she and co-founder Isabelle Redfield quickly assembled a gallery of stylish black-and-white striped outfits, mimicking the look of the blacked-out lines of the federal legal filing.
“Attention TC Girls!,” the pair wrote. “The Department of Justice just released the Mar-A-Lago raid affidavit underlying the FBI search warrant executed against former president Trump. While the details are still unclear, we know one thing for sure: transparency is officially out of style. Bring back black and white stripes for this season’s hottest style: corruption chic.”
Even casual readers of the publication will know that the alleged corruption in question likely involved the folks who searched the former president’s property, not the family that lives there. If the title doesn’t make their allegiance clear, the image dominating the home page will: It’s a glamour shot of Lara Trump, “The Conservateur’s first cover girl,” clad in a magenta taffeta ball gown, seated atop a grand piano in a suitably Versailles-like Mar-a-Lago living room.
The lavishly produced photo shoot takes readers inside Mrs. Eric Trump’s Florida life: There’s Lara, on horseback, in a blush gauze gown belted with clustered pearls! There’s Lara on the porch wearing a swirl cascading diamond maxi gown! There’s Lara in a medallion guipure crop top and a treated illusion tulle skirt, posing with her adorably tow-headed kids! “For Lara, family always comes first,” the caption assures.
Marvel if you will, you sheltered readers accustomed to seeing only movie stars and activists captured in this kind of lush soft focus. But as a matter of where business and culture are headed — Franklin and Redfield may actually be onto something, something that makes their fledgling project worth watching, and that also explains why a fashion brand is incubating in Washington, a city fashionistas tend to mock.
Franklin’s theory of the case is that American culture is hopelessly split, with mainstream organizations — from sports leagues to fashion magazines — incapable of being welcoming places for her kind of conservatives. She sees the rise of a “dual economy,” where different sectors of society turn to different companies for all manner of entertainment and lifestyle services, as a massive opportunity. And though election returns bear out the Washington region’s deep-blue status, the presence of the political industry also means there’s a critical mass of young right-leaning professional talent here, the sorts of folks who might contribute to her publication or at least enjoy a pretty-looking and sometimes quite funny site that also has pieces like “Resume Tips for the Conservative Girl.” (Spoiler alert: Proofread, keep it up to date and keep the design simple, i.e., pretty much what you’d advise the moderate girl, the progressive girl or the anarcho-syndicalist girl to do.)
“It’s an incredible niche that I want to capitalize on,” she says. “If the left wants to take all the companies and stuff to the left, there’s room for us.”
The article accompanying the Lara Trump shoot offers a pretty good idea of what the niche includes.
For instance, motherhood: “Hollywood celebrities, medical professionals, and corporations spread the dangerous lie that childrearing can and should be deferred,” but “with kids, [Lara is] more woman than she’s ever been.” (For the record, Lara had a career as a TV producer, married Eric at age 32, had her first child at 35 and her second at 37.)
And values: “She and her spouse are teaching their children to be good citizens too, instilling civic duty and love of country — foreign concepts in some quarters of the culture.”
And the politics of the Sunshine State: “Safe in DeSantisland, a majority of Floridians are proudly patriotic, especially the many Republican transplants who escaped blue state tyranny during Covid-19. Lara’s family doesn’t have to worry as much about critical race theory in classroom curricula or obscene books in the children’s library.”
A lifelong conservative, Franklin envisioned the site while a fish-out-of-water undergrad at Berkeley. “It was a passion project at first, sort of a resume-builder.” She and Redfield met at boarding school, then both migrated to Washington after college, interning for Republicans on the Hill. Franklin wound up with a job in Donald Trump’s White House, staying past January 6 until the bitter end, then landing a job at Fox. A few months ago, she decided to make a run at turning her little site into a going concern. The merch from the site (“Make America Hot Again” hats!) has helped float things; she’s expecting to take on investors soon.
The Conservateur’s mix is kind of like that Lara Trump feature, disaggregated: one part fashion advice, with an emphasis on the traditional (“Conservative Clean-Girl Beauty”). One part traditionalist cultural commentary (“Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman”). One part occasionally trollish service journalism (“Weekending on the #BidenBudget”). And one part hagiography about far-right celebs (“How Christina Pushaw Handles the Haters”).
Of course, it’s easy to puzzle at the juxtaposition of traditional sexual morality (“I fell for the greatest feminist lie: casual sex has no consequences,” one story declares) alongside adulatory coverage of a president who wasn’t known for his fidelity (a dating piece is illustrated by a photo of Donald and Melania Trump). And it’s easier still to make fun of the abject fawning over Trump world celebrities — though it’s not clear if the worshipful tone is any gentler than the standard celeb mini-profile in one of the legacy fashion magazines Franklin and Redfield disdain.
Franklin, who did a summer program at Conde Nast and once thought she’d go into the fashion industry, says she feels particularly alienated by women’s magazines. “The stuff they were writing in these magazines, whether it was BLM or a lot of pretty far left social advice, it didn’t reflect my values,” she says. “They do a ton of headlines that are outrageous — sex this, sex that, I had an orgy with seven guys.”
There were also sins of omission, in Redfield’s telling. “A lot of us on The Conservateur really admired the beautiful women who worked for Trump. And they never got their due in the fashion media. We were outraged that one of the most beautiful first ladies in American history did not have her time to shine as had been done before in Vogue. So we ditched our subscriptions and got to writing.”
The Conservateur’s sense of its niche also represents a certain amount of culture change in the capital, where ambitious post-collegiates working in politics once had relatively similar (square) tastes, whatever their ideology. Like the rest of the country, we’ve drifted further apart, even if, unlike the rest of the country, people in the game are still much more likely to encounter members of the other team as they go about their jobs.
Under her own byline and on social media, Franklin can come off as a censorious culture warrior. “I just don’t understand how so many people think it’s normal to bring their children to these creepy, perverted, and bizarre drag shows,” she tweeted this week. But in conversation, she profiles like an optimistic and relatively down-to-earth businesswoman, albeit one who has the odd tic of referring to herself and her adult female colleagues and readers as “girls.” At 24, she’s been married a year (she met her husband on the Trump campaign, where he did outreach to Evangelicals) and is currently expecting their first child, a daughter. The business, she says, will work if it can stay useful. “We like to just give general advice — hey, you have an internship, what should you wear. We’re about to release our fall fashion guide this week.”
For the record, fashion is one place where the platform’s house style differs from that of the Trumps. “The Conservateur girl style is all-American rather than more European,” Franklin says. “That’s definitely our brand.” This fall’s musts: knit dresses, tube dresses, cowboy boots, white tanks, blue jeans, loafers, and charm necklaces. She’s also into cowboy hats. Ivanka’s look, it ain’t.
Franklin and Redfield wouldn’t be the first D.C. types to launch a publication that aims to focus on general-interest subjects with a we-just-happen-to-be-conservative identity. The Daily Caller once promised high-minded rigor. IJR was going to be full of memes and fun. But the demands of traffic were hard to resist in a culture where the market rewards rage-stoking. Both companies wound up with much darker, meaner reputations. (In Why We Did It, his new book on the descent of conservatism, oppo-staffer-turned-GOP-apostate Tim Miller vividly chronicles IJR’s fall away from the “balanced-diet content strategy” toward harsher, incendiary “digital heroin.”)
Franklin says that if it goes that far, she’d prefer a subscription model, something that creates less pressure toward clickbait. “We’re builders, not wreckers,” Redfield adds. But a site with stories like “The Case for Resisting Vaccine Peer Pressure” also can play in the rougher neighborhoods of the Internet even without a nudge from the traffic gods. Conversations tend to hop from fashion and magazine-making to what’s best for the team. “We were very careful at the beginning to make sure we framed the conservative movement in the best light possible,” Franklin tells me. They were recently invited to meet with Mike Pence to discuss the future of the pro-life movement.
But worrying about things that might upset the mix is all down the road a bit. For now, they’re busy trying to line up the new cover girl. The Lara Trump piece was a smash, their highest-traffic item; it also sent a bunch of traffic to their merchandise store when Trump posed in one of the Conservateur hats. Next up for a luxe photo shoot, they hope: Kristi Noem, the Trump-aligned governor of South Dakota.