Melania Trump: From Model To First Lady And Beyond

The following article includes brief references to sexual misconduct allegations.

Hailing from a humble Slovenian background, Melania Trump is arguably living the archetypal American Dream. Since being thrust into the spotlight following her marriage to Donald Trump, the statuesque former model has commanded the attention of political media, style mags, and gossip columns. Thus, her substantial cross appeal is key to her fame and fortune, not unlike her husband.

A somewhat mysterious and reserved former first lady, Melania always had an air of refined chic and traditionalism about her, which is reflected in her garments of choice and the perfectly cultivated way in which she carries herself in the public eye. But contrary to widespread belief, Melania is not a shy ingenue who lacks the assertiveness to make an indelible mark on the world. As fashion designer Rachel Roy told Harper's Bazaar, "She is someone who can talk you down from a ledge, whatever crisis you may be in. ... She told me how to protect myself. She is not fearful. She is bold, but she is graceful."

Without a doubt, Melania knows how to politically maneuver. Despite her gaffe-prone husband, she has done a good job of safeguarding her public image in the face of such fierce critiques. But with a number of controversies having surfaced in her public life, she is also not immune to expressing her own Trumpian non sequiturs. After all, that's why the lady is a Trump. Here's a look at Melania Trump's life from model to first lady and beyond.

Melania Trump was born in a Communist country

Born Melanija Knavs (later changed to Knauss), the Slovenian native is the only first lady to have been born in a Communist country, a far cry from the politics of her future husband, who frequently dog-whistled to the alt-right. Melania Trump was raised in a tiny town called Sevnica. As was typical for families growing up in Communist societies, her parents both worked for state-owned companies. Her mom, Amalija, worked at a textile factory and was a budding fashion designer, while her father, Viktor, managed car dealerships.

Speaking with GQ, Trump opened up about her childhood and upbringing. "I love my childhood. It was a beautiful childhood," she told the mag in a sentiment that echoed her husband's unique lexicon. It has been said that Trump was drawn to her future husband due to similarities between the former "The Apprentice" judge and her father. She does not deny the comparisons. "They grew up in totally different environments, but they have the same values, they have the same tradition," Trump reflected to GQ. She went on to explain that she herself is comparable to her husband, as they share traditional values.

At school, Trump was a highly studious pupil, with her former classmates praising her aptitude as a student. "She was a very good student," her childhood friend, Mirjana Jelancic, told ABC News. "She was a really, really nice, good person. ... Amazing girl," Jelancic added.

She has been modeling since childhood

With her cherubic appearance, Melania Trump began as a child model. Her mom, to whom she bears a striking resemblance, had an eye for fashion, and it was her collection of fashion magazines that inspired Trump to pursue a modeling career.

At the age of 16, she caught the attention of photographer Stane Jerko. "It was January 1987 when I went home just before the end of the fashion show," Jerko told TODAY. "On the stairs of the Festival Hall, I saw a girl that immediately caught my eye. There stood a tall, slender and attractive long-haired girl with distinct eyes." This propelled her toward modeling success as an adult, where she posed for numerous reputable fashion brands. 

When GQ asked Trump whether she had undergone cosmetic procedures to enhance her chances at making it as a model, she replied staunchly in the negative, explaining that she has merely been blessed with the good genes of her mother. "A lot of people say I am using all the procedures for my face. I didn't do anything," she protested. "I live a healthy life, I take care of my skin and my body. I'm against Botox, I'm against injections; I think it's damaging your face, damaging your nerves. It's all me. I will age gracefully, as my mom does."

Melania Trump met her future husband in 1998

The erstwhile Melania Knauss had been modeling when Donald Trump was drawn to her alluring statuesque looks — dark brown hair and perfect little '90s LBD in tow. However, she never reached the supermodel status of, say, icons such as Naomi Campbell or Claudia Schiffer, and by the late '90s, a woman in her mid 20s was inexplicably considered "too old" for the catwalk. "She was going to castings every day and not succeeding every day," photographer Matthew Atanian (who was once her roommate) told GQ.

Trump and the former Miss Knauss met through Paolo Zampolli, the founder of ID Models, during a fashion week party. In typical Donald Trump style, he attended the event with another woman but set his eyes on the Slovenian beauty. What's more, he was actually still married to his second wife, Marla Maples, though they had separated a year earlier, per The New York Times. Melania sported her natural glossy locks and subtle makeup.

"He wanted my number, but he was with a date, so of course I didn't give it to him," Melania told Harper's Bazaar. "I said, 'I am not giving you my number; you give me yours, and I will call you.' I wanted to see what kind of number he would give me — if it was a business number ... I'm not doing business with you." However, as she soon discovered, Trump had an entirely different business model on his mind.

In 1999, Melania Trump discussed potentially marrying Don

By 1999, Melania Trump had been on her first date with Donald Trump to an A-list nightclub, and they began a relationship. Now sporting a choppy, super sleek hairdo and a classic '90s brown lippy, a then-26-year-old Melania chatted to ABC News about her relationship with Donald. But she was rather reluctant to discuss whether she would marry the billionaire real estate heir, appearing somewhat uncertain as to their future. 

When asked whether she would sign a prenuptial agreement, she smiled and replied, "You know, everybody has different opinions. So let's see what happens." As an immigrant from a former Soviet nation, it's likely that Melania's elusiveness was reflective of her feeling somewhat alienated from the world of excess and wealth, to which she had just been introduced.

In an amazing moment of portent, Melania was asked about potentially becoming the first lady. "I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy. I would support him," she stated to The New York Times. This was is in reference to the fact that Donald had been toying with the idea of a presidential run at the time. The couple was also interviewed by Dan Rather in 1999 regarding Donald's presidential bid. When the host quizzed Melania on her relationship with The Donald — asking "What's the worst thing about him?" — she remained adamant that there was no "worst thing" about the billionaire playboy. As her boyfriend proudly remarked, "She's done a good job."

She made the U.S. her forever home

New millennium, new Melania. The model decided to celebrate the end of Y2K with a new home — and a brand new look. Following a succession of brown-haired beauties who enjoyed immense popularity in the 2000s, such as Jennifers Love Hewitt and Garner, Trump embraced her shimmering chestnut locks and shed the '90s bob. As for bagging that new home country? It's all in the art of the deal.

Only a few individuals are fortunate enough to be granted a so-called "Einstein Visa." But in 2001, Trump was awarded one to work in the U.S. Questions remain as to how a model was bestowed something usually reserved for those with extraordinary talents. "What did she submit?" immigration lawyer David Leopold asked the The Washington Post. "There are a lot of questions about how she procured entry into the United States." 

However Trump may have acquired the Einstein Visa, there is no doubt that she loves her newfound home. Speaking with Tatler, she argued that she is proof that "the American dream really exists." She suggested that her key life events were all leading up to her role as first lady. "Every step in my life had a different turning point. Growing up in Slovenia, living in both Milan and Paris at a young age, then moving to the United States and living in New York City in my 20s — all of that has led to my serving our great nation as first lady," she reflected. When it comes to fate, she was dealt the Trump card.

Melania Trump has always loved fashion

By 2002, Melania Trump was appearing at ritzy galas with her billionaire boyfriend. These swanky events provided the perfect vehicle for Melania to showcase her sartorial passions. With an increasing public profile came a swag to the formerly reserved model, who now pouted at the camera as she posed with Donald Trump.

"Of course, I always loved fashion — and I was always the tallest one and the skinniest one, so that helped," she told Harper's Bazaar in a little humble brag. Melania has indeed always been fashion forward and quick to embrace the latest trends. Lingerie as evening wear was all the rage in the early 2000s, so Melania can be seen wearing slinky silk dresses that showcased her statuesque figure during public appearances in 2002. Speaking with People, she further discussed her interest in couture, telling the mag that she inherited her passion for fashion from her mom. "I always loved fashion. My mother was a fashion designer so it was always in my blood," Melania enthused.

Also in 2002, Melania took part in an important post-9/11 photoshoot for New York magazine, in which she posed with an actual New York firefighter, Daniel T. Keane. "The person who was doing my hair and makeup, they said, 'Do you know who that is?'" Keane recalled of the surreal experience. "I don't know any models, I really wasn't into the scene. And they said, 'That's Melania Knauss ... That's Donald Trump's girlfriend.' And I said, 'Oh, okay.'"

In 2005, she became Mrs. Trump

2005 was the year of the Lady and the Trump. After Donald Trump finally popped the question, he made Melania Trump his third wife. In true Trumpian style, the couple held a lavish wedding. And you better believe it was a tremendous, terrific ceremony.

According to Vogue, who featured the new bride on the cover of their February 2005 issue, the lucky lady wore a resplendent Christian Dior gown, complete with hundreds of embroidered pearls and crystal rhinestones. The wedding itself reportedly cost $1 million, though there are rumors that the true figure could far exceed that amount. Meanwhile, Melania's diamond engagement ring cost $1.5 million, according to The New York Times. However, the publication notes that the "Apprentice" judge only paid half that amount, despite his burgeoning bank balance. "Only a fool would say, 'No thank you, I want to pay a million dollars more for a diamond,"' he explained. The star-studded guest list even included Donald Trump's future archnemesis Hillary Clinton.

Few photos from the wedding day are public, but at the time, Melania Trump exhibited a healthy glowing tan and had dyed her hair a light honey brown, which she frequently wore in beach waves, as reflective of the aughts. Despite marrying a billionaire, Melania says her life is pretty normal. "My life is very normal­­ — for me. Maybe for some people they would not think that. But for me it is," she told Parenting.

Melania Trump became a mom in 2006

Prior to marrying Melania Trump, The Donald already had a large brood, but he was set on adding another Don Jr. to his name. In 2006, Melania gave birth to her first child, Barron Trump. "Melania loves taking care of the baby," Donald Trump told People. "If we have more, it will be terrific." However, Barron remains the only child of the couple. Following the birth of her son, Melania displayed an unmistakable glow, favoring bronzer and highlighter to compliment her newly dyed locks, which now had a reddish hue.

Like many of the Trump kids, Barron shares an incredible likeness to his father. "He reminds me of Donald. And a little bit of my dad. The baby looks like Donald. He has my eyes, and beautiful brown hair. He has long fingers and long legs," Melania gushed to the Palm Beach Daily News. The new mom spoke of her joy at becoming a parent for the first time. "You can watch the baby, every move he makes. It's just amazing. A great, great experience. I was very lucky. I had a beautiful pregnancy. Everyone is healthy and happy," she enthused.

Melania Trump shares a close bond with Barron, who appeared to be a little budding savant. As Melania explained to People, she frequently communicates with her son in Slovenian. "He talks three languages. He speaks my language — Slovenian — English and French," she said in 2009.

Melania Trump launched her own jewelry collection

In 2010, Melania Trump appeared at various fashion events, showcasing her timeless and ever-evolving style. By this point, she was favoring tasteful LBDs and updos that were a precursor to her first lady chic. Notably, she appeared in a subtle black ensemble at New York Fashion Week, while her husband wore his signature oversized red tie.

To mark the new decade, Melania launched a line of jewelry for QVC, which admittedly doesn't sound like a platform befitting the wife of a billionaire. When Donald Trump became president, the official White House website even mentioned Melania's jewelry line in its biography of the first lady. "Melania is also a successful entrepreneur. In April 2010, Melania Trump launched her own jewelry collection," the bio stated (archived by The Washington Post). As the Post notes, it's highly unusual for the White House site to mention the entrepreneurial pursuits of the first lady, so we suspect that Don may have had a hand in promoting his wife "bigly." However, QVC clarified that, while they did previously sell Melania's jewelry, "QVC does not have an active relationship with the brand."

No one wants to be shaded by QVC, but the television shopping network's loss is Melania's gain, as her brand continues to bring in a modest profit. Melania's businesses made between $15,000 and $50,000 in 2016. Clearly, there is someone somewhere out there living their best life in Melania's QVC jewels.

The fight for first lady

Many laughed when Donald Trump announced that he was running for the presidency in 2015. Yet, in 2016, he was declared the reigning Republican nominee in the presidential election, beating the likes of archrival Ted Cruz.

By this point, there was an increasingly conservative shift in Melania Trump's appearance. During campaign rallies, she sported elegant, neutral toned attire and subtle waves, complete with soft blonde highlights. This would prove to be a difficult year for Mrs. Trump, not least because of the sexual misconduct allegations levied against her husband. In a damning turn of events, Donald was caught on tape making excruciatingly crude remarks about the supposed power he wields over women. The New York Times published the full transcript of the Republican nominee's NSFW faux pas, all of which is too lewd to repeat here.

Following through on her 1999 promise to support her husband no matter what if he were to run for office, Melania Trump fully stood by her man in the wake of the revelations. "The boys, the way they talk when they grow up and they want to sometimes show each other, 'Oh, this and that' and talking about the girls. But yes, I was surprised, of course," she told CNN of the unfortunate incident. Melania is nothing if not loyal, but dismissing Donald Trump's comments as mere "boy talk" is arguably to the detriment of allyship to fellow women.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Becoming the first lady

Against all odds, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton to become president of the United States. When Don was inaugurated in 2017, Melania Trump adhered to her 1999 promise to be like Jackie O., channeling the erstwhile Mrs. Kennedy with a Ralph Lauren duck egg blue suit and classy updo. For the first ever first lady for whom English is a second language, Harper's Bazaar argued that the choice of attire was reflective of Melania remaining committed to representing and "serving a nation that is not natively hers."

Despite Melania being hailed first lady, there was another woman constantly by The Donald's side. This was, of course, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, who was seemingly present at every major presidential event, despite not being Melania's daughter and regardless of the fact that she was approaching 40 at the time. Well, once a daddy's girl, always a daddy's girl.

But Melania was reportedly unhappy with being overshadowed by Ivanka. In her book "Melania and Me," the first lady's pal, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, claims that there was a heated rivalry between Melania and Ivanka. In an excerpt published by New York mag, Wolkoff writes, "It was Donald's inauguration, not Ivanka's. But no one was brave enough to tell her that. Melania was not thrilled about Ivanka's steering the schedule and would not allow it. Neither was she happy to hear that Ivanka insisted on walking in the Pennsylvania Avenue parade with her children." According to Wolkoff, this led Melania to launch "Operation Block Ivanka."

Melania Trump wore a controversial jacket

In a divergence from her usually refined wardrobe, Melania Trump wore a controversial piece of clothing in 2018. She was photographed donning a green army jacket that read "I really don't care. Do U?" on the back. Many felt this was in poor taste due to the fact that migrant children were concurrently being separated from their parents.

The Guardian argued that the jacket decimated the image of Melania as a helpless victim of a powerful man and that the brutal message revealed her true politics: "There was no hidden message. ... The message was literally spelled out in large letters. The vocabulary was brash, the rhythm jarring, there was random capitalization and abbreviation. Exactly like one of @realDonaldTrump's tweets. This was the moment when the world realized that Melania was not secretly signaling to be saved, but really was Donald's partner and ally." However, Melania was adamant that her jacket was not a reference to incarcerated children. Rather, she told ABC News that she wore the jacket "for the left-wing media who are criticizing me. And I want to show them that I don't care."

This was also the year she launched Be Best, an anti-bullying initiative. "Be Best has played a major role in spreading awareness, highlighting successful programs and acts of kindness," Melania said (via Trump White House). Some have argued that the initiative was hypocritical, considering that many of Donald Trump's policies may have been seen as antithetical to the wellbeing of children.

Leaving her first lady duties behind

During the 2020 presidential election, Melania Trump wore eye-catching ensembles, including a vibrant Gucci dress, as she went to cast her ballot. In a campaign filled with invective launched against Donald Trump's competitor, Joe Biden, Melania did her best to remain stoic and graceful. But she couldn't quite escape the controversy of green jacket-gate, and 2020 would prove to be an even more contentious year for the usually reserved model-turned-FLOTUS.

That year, a series of tapes were sent to CNN. They were secretly recorded by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff two years earlier, and Melania can be heard expressing some questionable views. Most damning of all, she condones the incarceration of migrant children in detention centers, claiming that the conditions in which the kids are forced to sleep are of decent quality. "The kids, they say, 'Wow I will have my own bed? I will sleep on the bed? I will have a cabinet for my clothes?' It's so sad to hear it, but they didn't have that in their own countries, they sleep on the floor," Melania said. "They are taken care of nicely there. But you know, yeah, they are not with parents, it's sad. But when they come here alone or with coyotes or illegally, you know, you need to do something." 

Additionally, she appeared to espouse right-wing conspiracy theories that migrant children seeking a better life are coached by their parents to lie about their reasons for escaping their home countries.

Life after the White House

When Joe Biden was declared president, Melania Trump's time as first lady subsequently came to an end. Now in her 50s, she had hardly aged since her '90s modeling days, still sporting the same glowing smile and impossibly glossy long hair.

But 2021 was not without controversy for Melania. Following the Capitol Hill riots, she shared her thoughts via the White House website (archived by Vanity Fair) and didn't appear to condemn the attacks. "I find it shameful that surrounding these tragic events there has been salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false misleading accusations on me — from people who are looking to be relevant and have an agenda. This time is solely about healing our country and its citizens. It should not be used for personal gain," she said.

Moreover, it seems that all is not well in the Trump abode, either. During an appearance with Donald Trump at the World Series, Melania was seen seemingly scowling at her husband while dressed in a chic tan trench coat. This wasn't the first time she withdrew affection from her spouse. Melania had previously rejected his attempts to hold her hand on a number of occasions. Additionally, when Donald celebrated his 75th birthday, his wife was noticeably absent from his celebration photos, leading to speculation that she hadn't attended the bash. This has led to rumors that Melania may be considering a divorce from the billionaire ex-POTUS.

Melania Trump: The first lady of controversy

At 52, Melania Trump is as elegant as ever, pictured above sporting blonde curls and a sequined gown at a New Year's Eve event hosted at the Mar-a-Lago estate. But the FBI previously stormed Mar-a-Lago in search of classified documents that Donald Trump refused to forfeit. Per CNN, Donald took to Truth Social to slam FBI agents for allegedly raiding his wife's closet, carelessly tossing out her designer gowns and shoes during the search. Although she was reportedly irritated by the situation, sources claimed that Melania was confident Donald would never store contentious material among her refinery.

Unfortunately, Melania has been repeatedly pulled into Donald's legal troubles. In February 2023, the Manhattan District Attorney's office alleged that he had paid $130,000 to adult film actor Stormy Daniels in 2016 to divert negative publicity prior to the presidential election. However, he has been advised to contend that he made the payment to assuage conflict with Melania (Daniels' alleged affair with Donald occurred when Melania was pregnant with Barron Trump).

Moreover, questions have been raised as to the influence the erstwhile first lady wielded in the White House. According to former Defense Secretary Christopher Miller's "Soldier Secretary" memoir, Melania was apparently in the Situation Room during the October 2019 raid on ISIS, which resulted in the organization's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, blowing himself up after being discovered by a combat dog (via The Hill). Melania apparently advised her husband to champion the dog as the hero of the day; he obliged, famously praising the pup for his counterterrorism efforts.