Melania Trump, Classy First Lady!
Melania Trump. She is a legend in the making, and well worthy of attention. Unfortunately, Melania is tough to write about for any number of reasons.
Melania is a political spouse, with a legendary husband and legendary step-daughter Ivanka and lots of other political things going on. Once you start writing about political types, people get very particular about what they feel is appropriate. Everyone has strong opinions about a public figure like Melania Trump.
|Melania Trump's official White House portrait (Source: White House).|
However, Melania Trump is the First Lady of the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. There's no doubt about that. So... let's learn about her and be as evenhanded as we can without turning this into a mere puff piece.
Given that Melania began appearing on the front pages of newspapers for absolutely no reason whatsoever during the 2016 Presidential campaign, Melania must be someone that people are interested in. I mean, there's the proof in that infamous New York Post edition above.
|Melania with The Donald on the night he clinched the Republican nomination for President, 3 May 2016. Many people commented on how gorgeous Melania looked. She appears to favor white during political appearances.|
Choices must be made about what to post here. Everyone has to have a bias, right? Don't want to offend anyone. No matter what you post, someone will think you are slanting things.
Well, screw it. Let's learn a little bit about Melania and just stick with the facts. There is a lot of misinformation about Melania, but the facts are there. Nothing in here is intended to be disrespectful or, for that matter, fawning. Buckle up, bucko.
Melania has her own page that discusses her basic life story. In essence, she was born April 26, 1970 in Sevnica, Slovenia as Melania Knavs. For professional reasons, Melania later changed the spelling to Knauss. This decision received some criticism at the time from Slovenians due to its Germanic spelling, but it was just a more accessible name for the western press. Besides, she was simply a local girl, so the only people who took umbrage were local folks.
|Sevnica Castle in Melania's home town (Kraji - Slovenia).|
When Melania was born, Slovenia was a province in Communist Yugoslavia under World War II hero Marshal Josip Broz Tito. Sevnica is a small town of 5,000 in southeastern Slovenia (northeast of Zagreb). It is dominated by a medieval castle, Sevnica Castle, which overlooks the Sava River which divides the town in half. Sevnica was the scene of bitter fighting during World War II, as the Germans used the Sava River as a defensive line during the last months of the war. The entire region was full of partisans who fought the German occupiers. There are memorials to fallen resistance fighters in the town.
|Viktor and Amalija Knavs, Melania's parents.|
Melania's father, Victor, was a Communist Party functionary of some sort (apparently a driver for party bigshots at one time), and also held other jobs. Her mother, Amalija Ulcnik, was not in the Party, but was some kind of fashion designer for Jutranjka, a children’s clothing factory across the river that is now home to a booming plastics business. They lived in an apartment building in town that still exists - it was painted grey because the communist government did not like bright colors (now, it is painted bright orange and blue).
Melania's parents are still very much with us, incidentally, and Victor bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump. Victor later turned his auto expertise into a lucrative business importing and exporting car parts. The couple now pretty much lives with Melania in the United States (or at least lives in one of Melania's homes), but do occasionally return to Sevnica. They still own a stately home on the outskirts of town, though that's stately by Sevnica standards, not Trump standards. Victor's occasional visits home are noticed there, and the town relishes the continuing association.
Melania began modeling at age 16 at the factory where her mother worked (some sources say she began modelling at age 5, which would not have been too unusual in that place at that time; Melania may just have gotten serious about modelling as a career years later as a teen). Melania moved to Milan at 18 when her career took off.
People in Europe tend to learn a lot of languages because there are a lot of languages to learn. Melania speaks Slovenian, Serbian, Austrian, English, French, Serbo-Croatian, and German (I think those are all different languages, or at least dialects; it is common to say that Melania speaks five different languages). Anyway, Melania speaks all the languages in that neck of the European woods, plus English, too, of course.
|Melania in high school, 1984. She is the girl in the front row on the left.|
Melania studied art and architecture at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. She left before graduating because her modeling career was taking off (there is some controversy over that fact, but it appears to be accurate). Who can blame her? Most supermodels do the same thing. You have to strike while the phone is ringing, or... it may stop ringing.
The story goes that Melania was "discovered" by Stane Jerko at a modeling fashion show for Jutranjka catalogs. She appeared with sister Ines, and the event was a big deal because it was held in Belgrade. Jerko asked if he could take some pictures of Melania, and she agreed. Some of those are the black and white in this article. Unlike many fanciful tales of models being discovered on the street or at the mall and so forth, this one appears to be accurate.
In New York, Melania's career took off after she met agent Paolo Zampolli. Among many other jobs, she appeared on billboards for Camel cigarettes, Lord & Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman. She Melania did the usual risqué photoshoots that European models do. Much more so than in the United States, female models in Europe are expected to accept nudity or at least extremely skimpy attire. Provocative poses are de rigueur, you do them or you don't eat. Work is work, and nobody is giving top working models handouts.
As one version of the story goes, Donald and Melania met at a party. This probably isn't a secret, but among the well-to-do in New York City, there occasionally are parties where all the eligible young models are invited to meet the town's financial titans. You know, they "just so happen" to be at the same place at the same time. To be perfectly blunt, they are a bit like a cattle call, with the men looking for a pretty lady and the hopeful women parading before them looking for a billionaire. Let's be polite and call it "networking." Donald noticed Melania at one such party and got her number. Supposedly, Melania at first wasn't that interested, but the whole thing is part of the Trump mythology at this point, so who knows what actually happened. Most models are not distressed to be asked for their number by a celebrity billionaire. Draw your own conclusions.
|Donald Trump and Melania in 1999, long before their marriage but when she definitely was his lady (Photo by Diane Freed).|
In another version of this famous meeting, Melania was at the Kit Kat Club during New York Fashion Week in September 1998 when Donald Trump showed up with another woman. The story goes that Trump asked Melania for her number, but she refused to give it to him because he was with the other woman. That didn't stop her, though, from taking his number - actually, he gave her several of his numbers. Take your pick as to which story is true.
|Melania's 1999 Ocean Drive cover.|
There are some allegations that Melania's papers may not have been in order when she came to the USA in the 1990s. Apparently, Melania simply followed the normal path of European models at the time, as she wasn't in any position to ask for any favors from the US government. She was simply a typical hard-working professional, and the lawyer (who continues to practice) just did what he usually did. Might as well mention this allegation because it's one of the standard lines of attack on The Donald and, yes, another part of the Trump mythology.
|Young and mature Melania.|
Melania appeared on numerous fashion magazine covers during her modelling career. Among the covers are editions of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Vanity Fair, all quite prestigious. A partial listing:
Bulgaria: 'Harper's Bazaar' - August 2010
France: 'Paris Match' - March 17, 2005
Italy: 'Vanity Fair' - December 23, 2015
Spain: 'Hola' - January 27, 2005
UK: 'GQ' - January 2000
US: 'Ocean Drive' - April 1999; 'Vogue' - February 2005; 'InStyle Weddings' - Summer 2005; 'Avenue' - March 2010; 'Philadelphia Style' - December 2011.
In addition, Melania has been on tabloid covers a lot, especially recently. In fact, Melania was on a whole boatload of covers in 2016 and later due to her celebrity as a political spouse. However, these are for her political situation, not as a model, so they belong in a separate category as quasi-news items. The covers listed previously are almost all because she is a beautiful international model, not because she became Melania Trump.
Melania currently designs jewelry, or at least did before becoming First Lady. She has sold it on shopping networks such as QVC. Nothing unusual about that... though it is interesting that such a well-to-do lady would even bother hawking stuff to the public. But then, Melania always has been a hard-working, independent woman.
|A photo shoot for the 2016 campaign at the Trump pad in Trump Tower in New York City.|
Melania was in the 2000 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Her appearance was before she had married Donald Trump and long before she became a celebrity as The Donald's lady. Appearing in Sports Illustrated is pretty much the pinnacle of supermodel aspirations, and it solidifies Melania's credentials as a successful model without regard to her later celebrity. Melania did it without any help from anyone, and Sports Illustrated does not pick models for that issue just because they are celebrities (or, at least, it didn't then, though the magazine seems to have relaxed that policy a tiny bit in recent years). Thus, anyone who questions Melania's credentials as a top model is ignoring the facts.
By 2000, Melania was campaigning with Donald Trump as he tentatively ran for the Reform Party nomination. He ultimately did not pursue it past the early stages. But, they both got a small taste of campaigning - together.
Melania did some television ads while she was dating Donald Trump. For instance, in one Aflac spot in the early 2000s, she appeared with comedian Gilbert Gottfried.
Donald proposed to Melania in 2004, and they married on January 22, 2005. They had been together for the better part of a decade at that point.
The wedding at The Episcopal Church in Palm Beach and reception at Mar-a-Lago was a high society event. Attendees included Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Rudy Giuliani, Heidi Klum, Star Jones, P. Diddy, Shaquille O'Neal, Barbara Walters, Conrad Black, Regis Philbin, Simon Cowell, Kelly Ripa, and then-Senator Hillary Clinton and former president Bill Clinton. Billy Joel sang "Just the Way You Are" and "The Lady is a Tramp" (with altered lyrics).
Melania became a naturalized US citizen in 2006. She also gave birth to a son, Barron William Trump, in March of that year. Melania has taught him Slovenian, and of course he knows English. Melania calls Barron "Mini-Donald." Barron Trump has been attacked at various times for fidgeting during speeches, and Melania has stepped forward quite forcefully to defend her son.
|Donald and Melania Trump with Barron Trump.|
Melania has done a lot of charity work which has nothing to do with politics. Her charities include The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. She was Honorary Chairwoman for Martha Graham Dance Company in April 2005, and she supports the Police Athletic League, which honored her with Woman of The Year 2006. Other charity work:
- Honorary Chairwoman for The Boy's Club of New York for five consecutive years;
- In 2005, The American Red Cross awarded her with the title of Goodwill Ambassador.
- In 2008, she rang the closing bell at NASDAQ to commemorate the Fifth Annual National Love Our Children Day and the beginning of National Child Abuse Prevention month.
Melania long ago told the New York Times how she would approach the role of First Lady:
"I would be very traditional, like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy."She appeared to emulate Jackie at her husband's inauguration.
|Donald and Melania Trump after a Presidential Debate in Colorado in 2016.|
Melania was not in the Communist Party despite the fact that it was definitely around when she was a girl. Only about 5% of the population actually enrolled in the Party. It was considered somewhat prestigious, and party members were known and noticed. Melania's father, as a party member, always had a job. Victor and Melania's mother worked at the local clothing manufacturer, Jutranjka. She was a pattern maker, Victor was a driver for a director.
Melania was not religious as a child. She was not baptized, and she did not practice Catholicism, which is the most common religion in her region. It would have been uncommon for a Party member's child to practice any religion.... except Communism, that is. However, since becoming First Lady, Melania Trump has indicated through various subtle gestures that she at the very least is a Christian, and perhaps a Catholic. For instance, Melania has read the Lord's Prayer at a rally - something unheard of in US national politics, but nobody seemed to mind. Melania also donned a veil for an audience with the Pope and treated the entire audience with the greatest respect. However, otherwise Melania remains quiet about her religious leanings.
|Melania in 2006. Well, Melania and Barron. Sort of.|
Melania has done some daring photo work, and fairly recently, too. She posed pregnant in front of Donald Trump's plane, which is in line with a longstanding tradition of celebrities posing whilst pregnant. That trend began decades ago with Demi Moore.
|And add Donald Trump. Look, they are proud of these pictures, nobody created them without their knowledge and there has been no attempt to suppress them.|
Melania also did a controversial photo shoot for GQ. Considering what top models do, it was rather tame and tasteful, but did involve suggestive poses. That's part of the job. Melania herself has said:
"I was a very successful model and I did some photo shoots. Yes, they were a little risky, (but) nothing more than you see each year in Sports Illustrated."Well... they were kind of "risky," even for Sports Illustrated. But they were not, you know, over the line. They were European artsy photos which often get quite provocative. That's just how the modeling business rolls.
Melania wanted to become a model from a young age. She sketched designs for clothes, like her mom, and took art classes. However, simply wanting to be a model does not make one a top international model. Melania's rise required the help of many people and, of course, her innate gifts. Simply getting to New York at all was a monumental achievement for a simple girl from Slovenia. Anything beyond that, as they say, was gravy.
Melania's parents are comfortable in their own right and do not impose on their son-in-law's wealth. The keep the same one-car garage riverside house that they built in the 1980s. They do spend the vast majority of their time in the US now, helping Melania with Barron. However, they keep a very low profile and never make the news.
Melania has commented about her becoming a citizen:
"I went through a whole long process [to become a citizen]. It didn't even cross my mind to just stay here. I think people should follow the law."Melania, of course, automatically would have become a citizen when she married US citizen Donald Trump.
Melania has an earthy attitude about her husband. A contestant on "The Apprentice" once said to Melania: "You're very, very lucky."
"Thank you," Melania, holding a glass of champagne, replied, smiling. "And he's not lucky?"
Most would agree that he is, in fact, quite lucky. They both are. Would you rather be lucky or President? Donald Trump would rather be both. And he is.
Melania has commented about her relationship:
“We don’t have fights. We disagree but that’s OK. That’s very good in the relationship. I tell him my way and he accepts that, and I tell him what I think and he’s the same. He thinks what he thinks.”People sometimes claim that Melania does not provide "intimate details" about Donald. She says they like to spend time together, do this and that ... but, critics complain, no intimate details. Well, maybe so, but you must take into account that Melania comes from a different culture with a different manner of expressing things. Nobody wants to cut Melania any slack and imply that lack of details means there is something wrong with her relationship with Donald Trump. However, just because Melania looks like the girl next door doesn't mean that she has the attitudes and ways of the girl next door.
Melania continues to have a keen fashion sense and always is perfectly coiffed. Melania retains the sleek elegance of a top model and routinely wears clothes by top designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, who say they are thrilled at the exposure and are not overly interested in U.S. politics.
The 2016 Presidential campaign brought Melania a brand new spotlight.
Melania gave a speech at the Republican National Convention that included some quotes from somebody else's speech, for which the campaign had to apologize. As the campaign explained, it was the fault of a veteran speechwriter who had not properly vetted the speech. Mr. Trump and Melania forgave the speechwriter because everyone makes mistakes and she meant well. It was an innocent mistake, and Melania is no political pro. Fortunately, everyone seems to have gotten over the incident, in large part because Melania was extremely gracious in saying that she greatly admired Michelle Obama, from whom the offending passage was borrowed. It was an extraordinary moment and helped to save Donald Trump's campaign after the initial gaffe.
|Melania with VP candidate Mike Pence's wife Karen in Pennsylvania.|
Melania promised to work on making the Internet a nicer place. She vowed to work to make it free of bullies.
Melania kept a fairly low profile during the 2016 campaign, but then, the Trump family is large and vocal. Melania didn't really need to go on the stump to spread the family's message. Everybody looked forward to her elegant appearances. After the election, she gave a very well-received speech in which she quoted the Lord's Prayer. As noted above, Melania comes from a different environment. Others might not express themselves that way - but Melania does. And many people love it.
Despite not giving a lot of speeches and so forth, Melania Trump proved to be a key asset of the campaign as candidate Trump climbed slowly but steadily in the polls.
Late in the campaign, Melania gave a well-received speech in Pennsylvania. Huge lines snaked across the parking lot of people who wanted to see the future First Lady. She wowed the crowd.
|Melania and Jackie: who wore it better (source: THE STAR).|
Donald Trump, of course, ultimately won the election in what many considered to be a massive upset. To the inauguration, Melania wore an elegant powder blue ensemble by Ralph Lauren with her hair swept in an updo at the inauguration. Many found it reminiscent of another legendary First lady of exquisite taste and grace, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Draw your own conclusions.
|Melania wore a custom sky-blue Ralph Lauren ensemble (Photo: Getty Images).|
Melania had a very simple but effective upswept hairdo for the inauguration.
Melania and son Barron remained in New York City after the inauguration so that Barron could finish out the school year. Only after he finished his school year, when it was right for her son, would Melania move down to Washington. New York in fact came to DC for the inauguration: Melania and Barron were the "Big Apple" of President Trump's eye as he took the oath of office.
|Donald Trump takes the oath of office (Credit: Andrew Harnik, AP).|
Later that day, Melania changed into a stunning Hervé Pierre creation for the evening's balls.
|Donald and Melania at an inauguration ball (courtesy CNN).|
Melania showed off a variety of looks during the week.
|On Thursday night before the Friday inauguration, Melania wore a sequined champagne gown by Reem Acra for the Indiana Society Ball. She showed the dress off as well as any (other) model in the business (AFP).|
Whether conscious emulation or not, it is this author's opinion that Melania bears a striking resemblance to screen legend Sophia Loren. Any lady should be proud of such a complimentary comparison. Is it a coincidence? Judge for yourself.
|Melania emulating Sophia Loren? Here's Sophia's take on that.|
There is no question that Melania now is the pride of her hometown village of Sevnica and, really, her entire homeland of Slovenia, and even the entire world. The largest Christmas tree in Slovenia’s capital far away from Melania's hometown, in Ljubljana, is now called Melania, and the region does a booming business in "First Lady" products. A local dessert has been named "Melanija" in her honor. Melania carries herself in a way that casts her upbringing and background in a positive light. At the most basic level, Melania reflects positively on the immigrant experience. It also shows that models are more than just clotheshorses, they can be refined, intelligent and radiant. Really, anyone associated with Melania should be proud of her.
|Melania handles herself with poise and dignity (Courtesy CNN).|
Melania is legendary throughout the Balkans, not just Slovenia, but the Trumps remain very protective of her image there. Let's give an example. The American Institute (Američki Institut) in Zagreb sponsored an educational campaign in September 2017 that put Melania's image on billboards to encourage people to learn English. A local Trump lawyer, however, quickly had the billboards removed for using Melania's image without permission. There also apparently was a belief, disputed by the school and not admitted by the Trump lawyer, that the image was being used to mock the First Lady in some way or exposing her to ridicule. The school said that the campaign, short as it was (only a few days), drew a positive response. What does all this say about Melania? Hard to say, but everyone in the area recognizes her, that's for sure.
|A billboard featuring Melania Trump in Zagreb, Croatia (billboard designed by Ivis Buric and Ivan Turcin for the ). The billboards quickly were taken down after legal threats from the Trumps.|
No matter: Melania remains a bright light on the world stage.
|Melania Trump at a state dinner in Tokyo on 6 November 2017, wearing a Valentino draped silk gown with matching Manolo Blahnik stilettos (Reuters).|
During the Trumps' Asia trip in November 2017, Melania continually stunned the global audience. In a rare combination of celebrity legends, Melania wore a skirt from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's The Row label. Fashion designers love it when a prominent figure like Melania wears their clothes, especially for such a high-profile affair.
|Melania dons a black turtleneck and double face cashmere wheat-colored wrap skirt from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s “The Row” label while touring the Great Wall of China (AP/Ng Han Guan).|
Hers is the American fairytale, the spunky immigrant who comes to America and changes the world. Not everybody believes in fairytales, but for one girl, they came true.