Melanija Knavs was born in Novo Mesto, SR Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia), on April 26, 1970. Her father, Viktor Knavs (born March 24, 1944), was from the nearby town of Radeče and managed car and motorcycle dealerships for a state-owned vehicle manufacturer. Her mother Amalija (née Ulčnik) (born July 9, 1945) came from the village of Raka and worked as a patternmaker at the children's clothing manufacturer Jutranjka in Sevnica. As a child, Melania and other children of workers at the factory participated in fashion shows that featured children's clothing. She has an older sister, Ines, who is an artist and her "longtime confidant", and an older half-brother — whom she reportedly has never met — from her father's previous relationship.
When Knavs was a teenager, she moved with her family to a two-story house in Sevnica. As a high-school student, she lived in a high-rise apartment in Ljubljana. She attended the Secondary School of Design and Photography in Ljubljana and studied architecture and design at the University of Ljubljana for one year before she dropped out.
Knavs began modeling at five years old and started doing commercial work at sixteen when she posed for the Slovenian fashion photographer Stane Jerko. When she began working as a model, she adapted the Slovene version of her last name "Knavs" to the German version "Knauss". At eighteen, Knauss signed with a modeling agency in Milan, Italy. In 1992, she was named runner-up in the Jana Magazine "Look of the Year" contest, held in Ljubljana, which promised its top three contestants an international modeling contract. After attending the University of Ljubljana for one year, Knauss modeled for fashion houses in Paris and Milan, where in 1995 she met Metropolitan Models co-owner Paolo Zampolli, a friend of her future husband Donald Trump, who was on a scouting trip in Europe. Zampolli urged her to travel to the United States, where he said he would like to represent her. In 1996, Knauss moved to Manhattan. Zampolli arranged for her to share an apartment with photographer Matthew Atanian in Zeckendorf Towers in Union Square.
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. She also posed nude for the January 2000 edition of GQ magazine, appearing on the cover naked but for diamond jewelry, reclining on fur, aboard Trump's custom-fitted Boeing 727. Asked about the photos in 2016, Donald Trump said: "Melania was one of the most successful models, and she did many photo shoots, including for covers and major magazines. [The Max photo] was a picture taken for a European magazine prior to my knowing Melania. In Europe, pictures like this are very fashionable and common".
In 2010, Melania launched her own line of jewelry, Melania Timepieces, and Jewelry, for sale on QVC. She also marketed a Melania Skin Care Collection, sold in high-end department stores. According to a financial filing in 2016, her businesses brought in between US$15,000 and US$50,000 in royalties that year. In 2017, the two companies that manufactured her jewelry and skincare products under license said they had terminated their relationship with her. On inauguration day her companies and products were listed in her official White House biography, but they were quickly removed. A White House spokesperson said her companies are no longer active and "the First Lady has no intention of using her position for profit and will not do so".
Acquisition of United States citizenship
Donald Trump and Melania Knauss in 1999
Knauss came to the United States from Slovenia in 1996. She resided in the United States briefly on a visitor's visa and then obtained H-1B work visas. In 2000, she petitioned for a right to permanent residency under the EB-1 program, a program designed for people with "extraordinary abilities". According to information from the Migration Policy Institute, only two percent of people in their field would be expected to qualify.The Washington Post reports that at that time Knauss's credentials included "runway shows in Europe, a Camel cigarette billboard ad in Times Square and — in her biggest job at the time — a spot in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, which featured her on the beach in a string bikini, hugging a six-foot inflatable whale". In the analysis of Joel Gunter of the BBC, "[Melania Trump] does not appear at the time to have excelled in a niche area of modelling, nor won awards or had her work written about in significant publications"; Gunter reports a conjecture that "she may have been boosted by high-profile testimonial letters, said Nita Upadhye, a U.S. immigration specialist at NNU Immigration Law. Testimonials form part of the application, and the more high-profile the reference the more weight it carries. If Mrs. Trump, already dating Mr. Trump at the time she applied, secured letters from luminaries in fashion, that would be significant, Ms. Upadhye said".
During the months that she campaigned with her husband prior to his successful bid for presidency, Melania Trump defended his hard-line on immigration practices and laws by stating that her own path and achievement of citizenship had been legal, unlike those of the individuals Donald Trump was campaigning against. However, investigative reporting done by the Associated Press revealed that she had been paid for 10 modeling jobs she had done before she had obtained her H1-B work visa and was still living in the United States using her visitor visa. The Associated Press commented that "Foreigners are not allowed to use a visitor visa to work for pay in the United States for American companies. Doing so would violate the terms of that visa and could prohibit a foreigner from later changing his or her immigration status in the United States or bar the foreigner from the United States again without special permission to come back".
Melania Trump obtained her citizenship in 2006. According to media reports she sponsored her parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, who went through the immigration process using "chain migration", a route that the president has repeatedly criticized.
Relationship with Donald Trump
Kylie Bax, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton (at that time the President of the United States), and Melania Knauss (future Trump) at the US Open in 2000, Flushing, New York.
Melania gives the thumbs up at a campaign event with her husband Donald and son Barron, November 2015.
In November 2015, she was asked about her husband's presidential campaign and replied: "I encouraged him because I know what he will do and what he can do for America. He loves the American people and he wants to help them". She played a relatively small role in her husband's campaign, which is atypical of spouses of presidential candidates. In 2016, she told CNN her focus as first lady would be to help women and children. She also said she would combat cyberbullying, especially among children. In July 2016, her official website was redirected to trump.com. On Twitter, she stated that her site was outdated and did not "accurately reflect [her] current business and professional interests".
In February 2017, she sued Daily Mail and General Trust, the owner of British tabloid the Daily Mail, seeking US$150 million in damages over an August 2016 article that alleged that she had worked for an escort service during her modeling days. The lawsuit stated the article had ruined her "unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to establish "multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which Plaintiff is one of the most photographed women in the world". Her claim raised potential ethical questions with its implication that she intended to profit from being first lady. On February 18, 2017, the lawsuit was amended, removing the language about her earning potential and focusing instead on emotional distress. In April 2017, the parties settled the lawsuit and the Daily Mail issued a statement that said, "We accept that these allegations about Mrs. Trump are not true and we retract and withdraw them." The Mail agreed to pay her US$2.9 million.
Statement on bullying
Five days before the election, she told a crowd of supporters in Pennsylvania: "Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and teenagers. It is never okay when a 12-year-old girl or boy is mocked, bullied, or attacked. It is terrible when that happens on the playground. And it is absolutely unacceptable when it is done by someone with no name hiding on the Internet". Regarding the contrast of her platform with her husband's use of Twitter during his campaign, Melania said shortly after the election that she had rebuked him "all the time" but that "he will do what he wants to do in the end".
First Lady of the United States
Melania on Inauguration Day
Donald and Melania at the Liberty Ball on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017
French President Macron greets Melania by kissing her hand, 2018.
On March 8, 2017, she hosted her first White House event, a luncheon for International Women's Day. She spoke to an audience of women about her life as a female immigrant, and about working towards gender equality both domestically and abroad, noting the role of education as a tool against gender inequality. In January 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that during a three-month period where she lived in New York in 2017, she took Air Force jet flights between New York City, Florida and Washington at a cost of more than US$675,000 to taxpayers. In comparison, former first lady Michelle Obama's solo travel cost an average of about US$350,000 per year.
On March 13, 2018, Trump scheduled a March 20, 2018 meeting with policy executives from technology companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Snap, and Twitter, to address online harassment and Internet safety, with a particular focus on how those issues affect children. Trump's office has avoided the use of the term "cyberbullying", and Trump has come under criticism for championing Internet civility while her husband's Internet behavior has been noted as uncivil. Trump attended the roundtable event, focusing on how children are affected by modern technology. Trump said: "I am well aware that people are skeptical of me discussing this topic", but "that will not stop me from doing what I know is right".
Melania Trump express her condolences to the family of El Paso shooting victims Jordan and Andre Anchondo on August 7, 2019.
In October 2018, Trump took a four-country, solo tour of Africa, without her husband, focusing on conservation and children and families, visiting Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt. On November 13, 2018, Trump issued an "extraordinary" public statement calling for the firing of Deputy National Security Advisor Mira Ricardel. She had reportedly been privately pushing for Ricardel's ouster for weeks. The next day it was announced that Ricardel would "transition to a new role within the Administration". It was described as unusual for a first lady to be publicly involved in White House personnel decisions.
The Trumps at the announcement of the First Lady's Be Best initiative, May 2018
On June 17, 2018, Melania referred to the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy at the border with Mexico, where children were being separated from their parents. She stated that she "hates to see children separated from their families" and wants there to be "successful immigration reform". On June 21, 2018, she made a hastily planned trip to Texas to one of the locations at which the Trump Administration's family separation policy was being carried out. She attended a roundtable with doctors, medical staff, social workers and other experts at Upbring New Hope Children's Shelter.
During the El Paso shooting in Texas on August 3, 2019, a lone gunman killed 23 people and injured 23 others. Melania and President Trump visited the hospital where eight of the survivors were being cared for. The president and first lady met with the families of survivors, hospital staff and first responders, and posed with a baby who had been orphaned when both of his parents were killed. The White House had asked that the child be brought in and he was accompanied by his uncle.
On May 7, 2018, Trump formally started the Be Best public awareness campaign, which focused on well-being for youth and advocated against cyberbullying and drug use. The campaign was accompanied by a booklet that was promoted as having been written "By First Lady Melania Trump and the Federal Trade Commission [FTC]", but it was nearly identical to a document prepared in 2014 by the FTC. The similarities prompted accusations of plagiarism, to which her office responded by admonishing the press for reporting on the issue. The fact-checking site Snopes found the charge of plagiarism "Mostly False" saying, "Melania Trump did not claim she had written the pamphlet herself, and she contributed an introduction to a slightly revised version of the booklet. The FTC was always credited for the creation of the booklet and supported its inclusion in the first lady's 'Be Best' campaign."
Melania, President Trump and other world leaders attend the D-Day commemorations on June 5, 2019.
When the president and first lady visited Vatican City in May 2017, she identified as Catholic. She is the first Catholic to live in the White House since President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline and is the second Catholic first lady of the United States. When she visited the Vatican, Pope Francis blessed her rosary beads, and she placed flowers at the feet of a statue of Mary at the Vatican's children's hospital.
On May 14, 2018, she underwent an embolization, which is a minimally invasive procedure that deliberately blocks a blood vessel, in order to treat a benign kidney condition. The procedure was reported successful, and there were no reported complications.
^Požar, Bojan (February 18, 2016). Melania Trump - The Inside Story: The Potential First Lady. Zalozba Ombo d.o.o. Ljubljana. pp. 111–113. Melanija Knavs was baptized on 14 June 1970 in Raka (the village where her mother came from). The church was called St. Lawrence, the master of ceremony was pastor Franc Campa. Her sister Ines had also been baptized there, and there had been a church service following the official civil marriage of her parents in 1967 (Požar, p. 94). This was all not in accordance with what was officially allowed to members of the Communist Party, but it was nevertheless quite common to do it secretly.
^Donnelly, Shannon (January 23, 2005). "Donald Trump wedding: Vow wow". Palm Beach Daily News. Archived from the original on November 25, 2016. Retrieved November 25, 2016. The beauty of The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea was unadorned, with only giant bows fashioned from orchids and white roses at the end of each pew and simple but elegant white arrangements on the candlelit altar. The bride walked down the aisle carrying only an ancient rosary not to Lohengrin or Wagner, but to a vocalist singing Ave Maria in an exquisite soprano voice. The Reverend Ralph R. Warren performed the traditional Episcopalian service at the landmark church, which was filled to capacity.