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Melania Trump: First Lady of the United States

I am a retired engineer and small business owner who has authored over 70 books on history and various topics.

Melania Trump

Melania Trump

Early Life

Situated in south-central Europe, the country of Slovenia is the home of the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump. The daughter of a working-class family, Melanija Knavs, was born on April 26, 1970, in the small city of Novo Mesto, which is located on the bend of the Krka River not far from the border with Croatia. Her father, Viktor Knavs, was in charge of car dealerships for a vehicle manufacturer owned by the communist state. Melania’s mother, Amalija, worked at a children’s clothing manufacturer, where she had a modest job as a patternmaker. Many of the factory workers had their children participate in fashion shows featuring children’s clothing, and this simple opportunity marked the early beginning of Melania’s modeling career when she was only five years old. She later spoke of this time, saying, “I always loved fashion. My mother was a fashion designer, so it was always in my blood.” However, as a child, Melania never enjoyed standing out or being the center of attention, according to her elementary school friends. From a young age, Melanija would go by the Germanized version of her name, Melania Knauss.

For many years, Melania lived with her parents and older sister, Ines, in a small concrete apartment in Sevnica, in the Lower Sava Valley. When Melania was a teenager, the family bought a two-story house in the same town. Later, as their financial situation improved, they moved to a high-rise apartment in the country’s capital city, Ljubljana, where Melania attended high school. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Ljubljana, where she wanted to pursue studies in architecture and design. However, at the end of her first year at university, she dropped out. One of her Slovenian friends remembers young Melania as a striking, smart, and practical girl who loved to sew and create beautiful clothes.

Novo Mesto, Slovenia on the Krka River.

Novo Mesto, Slovenia on the Krka River.

Modeling Career

Besides her work as a child model for the clothing factory where her mother worked, Melania’s actual modeling career began at age 16, when she did several commercials and posed for fashion photographers. As soon as she established herself as a model, she decided to translate her Slovenian last name “Knavs” to German, introducing herself as Melania Knauss. Shortly after, her modeling career extended to the international scene, and at eighteen, she started to work with an Italian modeling agency from Milan. In 1992, she was a runner-up in a beauty contest in Ljubljana that brought her another international contract. As her modeling commitments increased, she gave up her studies to focus fully on her contracts with fashion houses in Paris and Milan.

Melania’s career took a new turn in 1995 when she met Metropolitan Models co-owner Paolo Zampolli who was visiting Europe to scout for new talent. Zampolli convinced her to move to New York. He thought that she had not just the looks, but also the temperament that would allow her to be successful in the fast-paced scene of New York modeling. A year later, Melania took Zampolli’s advice and moved to New York City. Zampolli made arrangements to ease her transition to America, and Melania settled in an apartment on Union Square in Lower Manhattan, with photographer Matthew Atanian as her roommate.

Interview With Melania Trump in 2016

Relationship With Donald Trump

In New York City, Melania kept the same low-key lifestyle that she had back in Europe. She avoided the party scene and seemed to have no interest in the city’s thriving nightlife. She was also very cautious about dating. Many of her acquaintances found it unusual that she had no history of boyfriends. She went out rarely and did not seem interested in having a rich social life.

In September 1998, Paolo Zampolli hosted a lavish party at the Kit Kat Club in Times Square during New York’s Fashion Week. It is here that Melania Knauss met Donald Trump for the first time as Trump was a good friend of Zampolli. At the time, Trump had already separated from his second wife Marla Maples. However, at the party, he was accompanied by his then-girlfriend, Norwegian businesswoman Celina Midelfart. According to Trump’s account of the events, he approached Melania Knauss, asking for her number while Celina was at the bathroom. Melania decided to take Trump’s number instead. They met a few weeks later and began a relationship.

Melania’s modeling career continued as usual while she dated Donald Trump. She appeared on the cover of many important American magazines, posing for Vogue, Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Avenue, among others. As their relationship progressed, Trump relocated Melania’s family to New York, and he also visited Slovenia, although just for a day. In 1999, the couple gained public attention for the first time, after two interviews in The Howard Stern Show and the New York Times, where they disclosed personal information about the nature of their relationship.

When the possibility of Trump becoming president started to get discussed, Melania confessed to seeing herself as a very traditional First Lady if the opportunity were to arise. In 2000, she made several public appearances to support Donald Trump who was in the race for the Reform Party presidential nomination that year. Around the same period, she modeled for the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated magazine.

Knauss and Trump become engaged in 2004 and on January 22, 2005, they married at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida. The reception took place in the ballroom of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Many celebrities attended the special event, including Heidi Klum, Shaquille O’Neal, Simon Cowell, Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, among others. Billy Joel performed at the reception. Both the wedding ceremony and the lavish reception were widely publicized. A year after the wedding, Melania became a naturalized U.S. citizen. The couple’s first and only son, Barron William Trump, was born on March 20, 2006.

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In the first years of her son’s life, Melania was not very visible in the media. However, in 2010, she made a big comeback as a businesswoman, launching her first line of jewelry. In 2012, she became involved in the development of luxury skin-care products. In spite of her efforts, her business endeavors were short-lived. Moreover, her skincare collection business ended in a series of lawsuits.

Donald and Melania Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Donald and Melania Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Presidential Campaign

In 2016, as it is expected of spouses of presidential candidates, Melania Trump became involved in Trump’s political pursuits, but only marginally. Furthermore, some of her attempts backfired. The most viral incident was the discovery that her speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention contained phrases taken from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The campaign staff took the responsibility to defuse the situation minimizing the effects on Melania’s public image. Since Melania had already proclaimed ownership of her speech, the public was difficult to convince of her innocence.

Overall, Melania Trump rarely spoke to the media during the campaign and often refused to give interviews. While Trump campaigned across the country, Melania preferred to stay at home with their son and follow the campaign on TV. She also confessed in interviews that she loves being a mother and focuses on her son, while her husband deals with his business and political affairs. Melania spoke of raising her son, “I am a full-time mom; that is my first job. The most important job ever. I started my business when he started school. When he is in school, I do my meetings, my sketches, and everything else. I cook him breakfast. Bring him to school. Pick him up. Prepare his lunch. I spend the afternoon with him.” Melania talked, however, about what her objectives would be as First Lady, expressing her desire to focus on the needs of women and children and to combat cyberbullying, of which she had been a victim herself.

A viral scandal occurred in February 2017 when Melania Trump sued the owner company of The Daily Mail which claimed unfoundedly in an article that she had worked as an escort in her early modeling days. The parties settled the lawsuit in April 2017 and The Daily Mail was forced to publish a retraction and apologize. Melania Trump was paid nearly $3 million for the emotional distress caused by the false allegations.

The First Lady meets the children at the youth center on Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on September 15, 2017.

The First Lady meets the children at the youth center on Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on September 15, 2017.

I cannot, or will not, take the freedoms this country offers for granted. But these freedoms have come with a price so many times. The sacrifices made by our veterans are reminders to us of this.

— Melania Trump

Life as First Lady

On January 20, 2017, once her husband was sworn in as president, Melania Trump became First Lady of the United States. The Trump family decided that for the remained of the school year, Melania and her son would continue to live at the Trump Tower in New York City so Barron could continue the school term without interruption. On June 11, 2017, the family reunited at the White House in Washington, D.C.

Melania Trump is the second foreign-born woman to become First Lady, after Louisa Adams, wife of Quincy Adams, who was born in London to a British mother and American father. She is, however, the only First Lady in the U.S. history whose mother tongue is not English.

Melania Trump hosted her first event at the White House on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2017. She talked to her audience about the role of education in fighting gender inequality and shared her experience as a female immigrant. During a visit to Vatican City in May 2017, Melania Trump revealed that she is a Catholic. She is now the first Catholic to live at the White House since the Kennedy family in the 1960s.

As First Lady, Melania Trump works with several charities such as the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Police Athletic League, and the American Red Cross, among others.


© 2017 Doug West

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