Melania Trump (born Melanija Knavs, Germanized as Melania Knauss, April 26, 1970) is a Slovene-American former model and businesswoman. She was the first lady of the United States from 2017 to 2021, during the presidency of her husband, Donald Trump.
Melanija Knavs was born in Novo Mesto, Slovenia, then part of Yugoslavia, on April 26, 1970. Her father, Viktor Knavs (born March 24, 1944) managed car and motorcycle dealerships for a state-owned vehicle manufacturer. Her mother Amalija (née Ulčnik) (born July 9, 1945) worked as a patternmaker at the children's clothing manufacturer Jutranjka in Sevnica.
She has an older sister, Ines, who is an artist and an older half-brother from her father's previous relationship.
Knavs grew up in a modest apartment in a housing block in Sevnica. She attended the Secondary School of Design and Photography in the city and studied architecture and design at the University of Ljubljana for one year before she dropped out.
Knavs began modeling at five years old. As a child, she and other children of workers at the factory participated in fashion shows that featured children's clothing. She 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 U.S., where he said he would like to represent her.
In 1996, Knauss moved to Manhattan.
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.
In September 1998, Knauss met then-real estate mogul Donald Trump at a party, and the couple began dating while the latter was in the process of divorcing his second wife, Marla Maples.
The divorce was finalized in 1999. Knauss continued her modeling career with her American magazine cover shoots, including In Style Weddings, New York magazine, Avenue, Philadelphia Style, and Vanity Fair Spain.
She also posed nude for the January 2000 UK edition of GQ magazine, appearing on the cover naked except for diamond jewelry, reclining on fur, aboard Trump's custom-fitted Boeing 727.
They appeared together while Trump campaigned for the 2000 Reform Party presidential nomination. When asked by The New York Times what her role would be were he to become president, she replied: "I would be very traditional, like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy".
The two became engaged in 2004.
On January 22, 2005, they married in an Anglican service at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida, followed by a reception in the ballroom at her husband's Mar-a-Lago estate. The marriage was her first and his third.
The event was attended by celebrities such as Heidi Klum, Simon Cowell, Senator Hillary Clinton, and former President Bill Clinton. The bride wore a US$200,000 dress made by John Galliano of the house of Christian Dior, and the ceremony and reception were widely covered by the media, including a Vogue cover which featured her in her wedding gown.
On March 20, 2006, Melania Trump gave birth to their son, Barron William Trump. She chose his middle name, while her husband chose his first name.
In 2010, Melania launched her own line of jewelry, Melania Timepieces and Jewelry, for sale on QVC. She also marketed a Melania Marks Skin Care Collection at 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.
That same year, in an interview with CNN, Melania said her focus as first lady would be to help women and children.
She assumed the role of first lady of the United States on January 20, 2017, the second First Lady (After Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams) to have been born outside the country, the first one to be a naturalized citizen, and the first whose native language is not English.
She was also the second Catholic first lady of the United States since Jacqueline Kennedy. When she visited the Vatican, with her husband in 2017, 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.
Of Trump's inauguration, Vogue compared Melania's wardrobe to that of Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan, writing that Trump closely works with her stylist, designer Hervé Pierre, preferring "strongly tailored pieces" in bold colors and wearing almost exclusively high-end designers.
After the inauguration she continued to live in Manhattan at the Trump Tower with their son, Barron, until the end of his 2016–2017 school year.
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.
Melania Trump and Barron moved into the White House in Washington, D.C. on June 11, 2017. Her Secret Service code name is "Muse" (beginning with the same letter as Trump's code name, "Mogul", per Secret Service tradition).
In January 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that during a three-month period when 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, Melania 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.
Melania took an active role in planning the Trump administration's first state dinner on April 23, 2018, to honor French president Emmanuel Macron.
In October 2018, Melania took a four-nation, solo tour of Africa, without her husband, focusing on conservation and children and families, visiting Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt.
In December 2018, CNN reported that Melania's strongest base of support came from older, white, male Republicans and conservatives, while she had the least approval from women who were young or college-educated.
In March 2019, YouGov reported that Melania, with 51% approval, was polling more popularly among the American public than other members of her family: her husband Donald, step children Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka, and her stepson-in-law Jared Kushner.
In Gallup's annual poll of the most admired women, Trump ranked in the top ten each of her years as first lady, but never topped the list. She joins Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson as the only American first ladies who have never been named the most admired woman in this survey since Gallup began conducting the annual survey in the 1940s.
Melania finished her tenure in 2021 as the least popular first lady ever polled, according to polling by CNN, SRSS, and Gallup. She was the only first lady who finished with a net disapproval rating.