The stunning transformation of Ivana Trump

Ivana Trump's transformation from a young athlete to one of the most well-known celebrities of modern times is stunning, to say the least. The former model's path to success has been far from a traditional one, and the icon would not have it any other way. Far from simply being one of the ex-wives of President Donald Trump, Ivana is a businesswoman and a fashion mogul in her own right.

From her early years spent confined inside the borders of a Soviet country to her current status as a jet-setting fashionista, Ivana's resilience has kept her going and has enabled her to live a fascinating life. Ivana has captivated the public for years, but it isn't just her good looks and her high-profile family that have kept society enthralled. Here is how Ivana Trump overcame her humble origins and transformed into one of the most recognized women in the world. 

Her humble childhood

Ivana Trump is an international icon these days, noted for her glamour and elegance, but her origins were far more humble. In 1947, Ivana Zelnickova was born in Gottwaldov, Czechoslovakia (now called Zlin in what is the present-day Czech Republic) to an electrical engineer and a telephone operator. The country was under Soviet control, and life was simple for Ivana and her family. Food was rationed, and families lined up to receive their share. Even something as simple as an orange was only available around Christmas.

Clothes were typically sewn by hand, and there were no fashion magazines, providing little inspiration for the little girl who would become a fashion icon. Citizens of Gottwaldov didn't even have access to TV or radio. "We were in our own world," one resident said, according to Newsweek.

Information was restricted. High school students were indoctrinated against Western capitalism and were required to work for the state for two weeks each year with no pay. Many works from Western writers were banned from libraries, and only films approved by the government were allowed to be shown in theaters.

Escaping Czechoslovakia

Not surprisingly, many people in Czechoslovakia were not content with the Soviet regime. Young people in particular wanted to experience the freedoms of the Western world, and Ivana was one of them. Travel was difficult, as leaving the country was only allowed under special circumstances. Fortunately, Ivana, encouraged by her father, had a prodigious talent for skiing. 

As a competitive athlete, Ivana was one of the few people who were allowed to travel. While her future husband, Donald Trump, would later boast of his wife being an alternate for the Czech Olympic ski team, no official record of this reportedly exists. She was, however, a member of the junior national ski team. "Ivana didn't want to stay here," her mother, Marie Zelnickova, told Newsweek. "She was always ambitious, and her father treated her like a boy."

Still, simply traveling wasn't enough. Ivana wanted to live outside of Czechoslovakia's borders. She eventually entered a short-lived marriage to Austrian skier Alfred Winklmayr in order to obtain an Austrian passport (via CNN). This enabled her to move first to Canada in 1972, and then later to New York.

From model to mogul's wife

While still in Czechoslovakia, Ivana obtained a master's degree in physical education and began to model while completing her studies (via Cosmopolitan). When she arrived in Canada, Ivana worked as a ski instructor and continued to model. In 1976, she met business mogul Donald Trump while in New York City for a fashion show. Ivana was at a restaurant with her friends when Trump approached her.

"[There's] this tall blond guy with blue eyes," Ivana told the New York Post. "He said, 'I'm Donald Trump and I see you're looking for a table. I can help you.' I look at my friends and said, 'The good news is, we're going to get a table real fast. The bad news is, this guy is going to be sitting with us.'"

Trump ended up charming the young model, buying dinner for Ivana and her friends and personally driving them home in his limo afterwards. The two began to date, and were married less than a year later.

Building the Trump empire

Far from being a trophy wife, Ivana helped to build Donald Trump's business. He made Ivana vice president of interior design, and Ivana would later go on to become the president of the Trump's Castle casino resort and later the Plaza hotel. She did all this while raising three of Trump's children: Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric.

Ivana told the New York Post that Trump's faith in her proves how much respect he has for women. "When people ask, I say that behind every successful woman is a man in shock," she said. "And it's true, so I think Donald knew that I could achieve."

She added that she is grateful for the opportunities that marriage to Trump gave her, specifically those to develop her business skills. "He gave me the chance," she explained. "I came [to America] and I was a poor person. I had a sense of style so he put me in charge of interior design of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. I was seven months pregnant and going up the steps, making sure everything was on the schedule."

Divorcing Donald

In 1990, the Trump split up after 13 years of marriage. Outraged by her husband's close association with Marla Maples (who would later become his second wife), Ivana headed to court. As reported by The New York Times, a judge granted the divorce, citing "cruel and inhuman treatment by Mr. Trump." After a bitter battle, she received a multi-million dollar settlement, $650,000 a year in child support, $350,000 a year in alimony, the couple's Connecticut mansion, an apartment in Trump Plaza, and use of Trump's Florida Mar-a-Lago resort one month each year.

Ivana originally demanded half of her husband's estimated $5 billion fortune, apparently unaware that he was near bankruptcy and living almost entirely on bank loans. To supplement her income and cash in on the publicity surrounding their divorce, Ivana wrote a romance novel called For Love Alone, which had enough parallels to her own marriage that Trump threatened legal action over it (via the Los Angeles Times).

Ivana refused to back down. As she said in a cameo in 1996's The First Wives Club, "Ladies, you have to be strong and independent. And remember — don't get mad, get everything!"  

A fashion icon

During her marriage to Trump, Ivana became a beloved public figure. Their divorce only made Ivana's star shine brighter. In 1990, People reported that, after their separation was announced, the Trumps canceled an "unforgettable couple" ad with Revlon, and Vogue immediately booked a solo shoot with just Ivana. And designer Bob Mackie's loyalty to Ivana made him refuse to design a gown for the woman Trump had an affair with, Marla Maples.

"Ivanamania" was so pronounced that women spent thousands of dollars to copy her hairstyle. Trump dismissed the public's devotion to Ivana as mere sympathy. "When a man leaves a woman, especially when it was perceived that he has left for a piece of a** — a good one! — there are 50 percent of the population who will love the woman who was left," he told Vanity Fair in 1990.

Whether she received sympathy or not, Ivana knew that the she held the public in the palm of her hand, and she used that to her advantage during the divorce proceedings and her life post-Trump.

A businesswoman in her own right

By the time of her divorce, Ivana had transformed from a doting wife into a force to be reckoned with. "It's a European tradition. We always look up to the man. But this is old times," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. "Now what I believe is that I'm definitely equal. I'm not going to let man domineer me, and if any man is around like that, I don't stay around. Who needs it?"

In addition to becoming an author (after For Love Alone, Ivana penned another novel, a self-help book, an advice column, and a memoir), Ivana launched a clothing and jewelry line in 1993 on the Home Shopping Network. Later, she turned to real estate development, though she achieved little success

Among her failed real estate ventures was Ivana Las Vegas, announced in 2005. The condominium tower would have been taller than Donald Trump's own condo project in the city, which broke ground that same year. Unfortunately, the project was never completed and the property was put up for sale in 2007 (via the Las Vegas Review-Journal).

Raising her kids as a single mom

Throughout her bitter divorce and her business ventures, Ivana was a single mom raising three children. She and Trump did what they could to shield Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric from the press. "We didn't have newspapers in the house for a significant period of time and the TV wasn't on when they weren't there," Ivanka told People. "So they tried to mitigate the attention that that moment received."

Still, the split had a lasting impact on the entire family, though their kids now enjoy a close relationship with their father and have become celebrities in their own right.

"I believe the credit for raising such great kids belongs to me," Ivana wrote in her memoir, Raising Trump (via Time). "I was in charge of raising our children before our divorce, and I had sole custody of them after the split. I made the decisions about their education, activities, travel, child care, and allowances. When each one finished college, I said to my ex-husband, 'Here is the finished product. Now it's your turn.'"

Asserting her independence

Ivana has worked hard for her independence and she's bent on keeping it. Ivana has a total of four marriages under her belt. She split from her third husband, Riccardo Mazzucchelli, after just 20 months. Her fourth marriage to Rossano Rubicondi was also short lived (via the New York Daily News). With such a rocky love life, it would be understandable if she wanted to avoid romance altogether. While she does date — and has as many as three boyfriends at one time — Ivana has zero plans to head to the altar a fifth time.

"If you are a married woman, you usually follow what the man wants to do. I can do whatever what I want," she told the New York Post. "I'm not getting married again. But I like companions. The most important for me is honesty, good humor — not necessarily a millionaire. I don't need [money]."

Ivana also likes her men younger than she is. "I prefer to be a baby sitter than a nursemaid," she said. "I don't want to worry about bad knees and bad back."

Her ex isn't the only reality TV star

Donald Trump is still remembered for his reality show, The Apprentice, in which contestants vied for the opportunity to gain a job with the mogul. He's not the only Trump to be a reality TV star, though. Ivana Trump has also dabbled in reality TV, competing on Celebrity Big Brother in 2010 and making a guest appearance on the Italian version of Dancing With the Stars in 2018 (via People). 

Ivana also had her own reality TV show special in 2006 called Ivana Young Man. On the show, Ivana played matchmaker, using her expertise and money to help a divorced millionaire mother of two find a younger man. "We love Ivana because she loves men, she knows exactly what she wants and is not bashful about getting it," said President of Programming & Marketing at Oxygen Media, Debby Beece (via EvanGolden.com). "Ivana Young Man puts the women in control of their relationships ... and they have a lot of fun doing it."

She considers herself to be the First Lady

While the relationship between Ivana and Donald Trump has often been strained, the two reportedly enjoy a close relationship these days. She wrote in Raising Trump (via Town & Country) that Donald had considered a presidential run in the 1990s, but was so reviled by the press after his affair with Marla Maples that it made one impossible. Ivana has a vision how things would have turned out if Trump had ended up president while they were married. "I'd have whipped the White House staff into shape in ten days," she wrote.

As it is, Ivana still claims to hold some sway over her ex and to give him advice. "I'm basically first Trump wife," she told ABC News in 2017. "I'm first lady."

That same year, Ivana told CBS that she is also responsible for Trump's Twitter presence. "I said, 'I think you should tweet,'" she said (via The Hollywood Reporter). "It's a new way, a new technology. And if you want to get your words across rightly ... this is how you get your message out."

Living the "perfect life"

Ivana Trump has come a long way from her humble childhood in Czechoslovakia. She has completely transformed her life in ways that she could never have even dreamed about when she was living under Soviet rule, separated from the capitalist society of the Western world. Today, she has all the freedom she wished for as a child and is able to travel wherever she wants, whenever she wants. It's a life that she has worked hard for, and one that Ivana isn't going to give up for anyone.

She told CBS (via The Telegraph) that her famous ex told her if she wants to be the ambassador to the Czech Republic, the position is hers. Ivana, however, turned Donald Trump down.

"OK, why would I go and say bye-bye to Miami in the winter, bye-bye to Saint-Tropez in the summer and bye-bye to spring and fall in New York?" she said. "I have a perfect life."