The wife of US President Donald Trump, Melania Trump, was born Melanija Knavs on April 26th, 1970 in Novo Mesto, a city of nowadays roughly 25,000 inhabitants located on a bend of the Krka River in the Socialist Republic of Slovenia, then part of Communist Yugoslavia.
Later she adapted her last name to the German version “Knauss” and dropped the “j” from her first name, probably because that way they are both easier to pronounce for (English-speaking) foreigners.
At the same time, this isn’t really surprising as that Central European region had been part of the Habsburg dominion for centuries. Her home town was called Rudolfovo until the downfall of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire in 1918 and is also known as Rudolfswerth.
Her father, Viktor Knavs (born March 1944) managed car and motorcycle dealerships for a state-owned vehicle manufacturer. Officially an atheist, he had his daughters secretly baptized as Catholic.
The second foreign-born First Lady after Londoner Louisa Johnson (1775-1852), future spouse of John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), as well as the second Catholic woman in the White House since Jacqueline Lee (1929-1994), wife of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), the great-grandson of Irish immigrants, Knauss is also the first naturalized citizen and the first whose native language isn’t English, to hold the title.
When the Trumps went to Rome in 2017, Knauss brought her rosary and asked Argentinian Pope Francis to bless it. She also placed flowers at a statue of Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Vatican’s children’s hospital.
Her mother Amalija (born 1945) worked as a pattern maker at a children’s clothing manufacturer in Novo Mesto, where Melania actually started participating in fashion shows as a child, but grew up in nearby Sevnica (Lichtenwald).
There she attended the Secondary School of Design and Photography. Later Knaus studied architecture and design in the capital Ljubljana (Laibach) for one year before dropping out.
Melania has an older sister, Ines, an artist, and an older half-brother from her father’s previous relationship, though they reportedly have never met.
She began commercial work at sixteen when she posed for the Slovenian fashion photographer Stane Jerko. At eighteen, Knauss signed with a modelling agency in Milan, also working in Paris.
In 1995 she met Italian-born, New York City-based businessman Paolo Zampolli, who was on a scouting trip in Europe. A friend of Trump, Zampolli convinced her to move to the US and let him be her agent.
Before doing so, Knauss was featured in a sexually explicit photo shoot for the January 1996 issue of Max, a now-defunct French men’s magazine, with another female model. Trump in 2016 said that this happened prior to him knowing Melania and that in Europe, pictures like this were very fashionable and common.
Her petition for permanent residency in the US was approved by March 2001. The fact that Knauss was already dating Trump at the time she applied probably contributed to her application being successful.
She had met the real estate mogul at a party in September 1998, while he was in the process of divorcing his second wife, Marla Maples (born 1963).
After his divorce was finalized in 1999, they appeared together while Trump campaigned for the 2000 Reform Party presidential nomination, which he lost to Pat Buchanan.
While Knauss continued her career, including cover shoots for various American magazines, the two became engaged in 2004. On January 22nd, 2005 they married in an Anglican service at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida.
The subsequent reception, widely covered by the media and hold at the ballroom of the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago estate, a 126 room, 5,810 square meter mansion, which contains a members-only club with hotel-style amenities, was attended by Rudy Giuliani, Heidi Klum, Shaquille O’Neal as well as Hillary and Bill Clinton, among others.
On March 20th, 2006, Knauss gave birth to their son, Barron William, known to be a big football fan who plays with the Arlington Soccer Association. She chose his middle name, while her husband chose his first name.
In 2010, Knauss launched her own line of jewelry, Melania Timepieces, and a Melania Marks Skin Care Collection at high-end department stores. In 2017, the two companies that manufactured the products under license said they had terminated their relationship with her.
Those were quickly removed after being listed in her official White House biography on Inauguration Day 2017 and an official spokesperson stated that “the First Lady has no intention of using her position for profit and will not do so”.
Although confirming in November 2015 that she had encouraged her husband’s presidential campaign, Knauss played a relatively small role in the process, which is atypical of spouses of candidates.
Knauss sued the owner of British tabloid Daily Mail in February 2017 over an August 2016 article that alleged that she had worked for an escort service while being a model.
The parties settled the lawsuit in April 2017 and the newspaper retracted and finally withdrew its untrue allegations, agreeing to pay 2.9 million US dollars in damages.
In October 2018, Knaus took a solo tour of Africa, focusing on wildlife conservation as well as family policy, visiting Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt.
After the massive irregularities during the US Election in November 2020, which led to Trump allegedly losing his bid for reelection, there were allegations that she might separate from him. That’s most likely another evil rumor spread by the usual suspects…