The stunning transformation of Melania Trump

Melania Trump is the statuesque, bronzed, and stunning "better half" to the 45th president of the United States. Unapologetically coiffed to the nines, and often underestimated as shy and unassuming, she is a steady powerhouse: mother, executive, philanthropist, and unwavering partner-in-chief. All the world's eyes upon her, she has been thrust into the political spotlight. Forced to answer for her husband, and herself, while proving to an entire country of vastly differing views that she is worthy of our admiration and capable of forging an aspirational path for women that allows for both traditional values, as well as illuminated progress. No small task for any woman. Even for one who seems to have it all.

An easy target, the media has devoured her personal history, like wolves to prey. But even though her frame may be lean, she has proven unshakeable. She is a willing participant, ready to face the challenges ahead, while maintaining a fierce confidence in herself. She is strong. She is graceful. And with a beauty that originates in her heart, she is a force to be reckoned with.  And on Friday, January 20, 2017, she stepped her Louboutin-clad foot into the White House as First Lady of the United States of America.

Melania Trump was born a Knauss in Yugoslavia

Melania Trump was born Melania Knauss, on April 26, 1970 in the industrial town of Novo Mesto, in the former Yugoslavia. Light years away from the opulent NYC penthouse and the White House she eventually called home, she spent her earliest years kicking around in a stark, Communist-era apartment block, looking out onto factory chimney stacks, according to the AP (via People)

The New York Times reports her father, Viktor, worked as a salesman, and her mother, Amalija, was a children's clothing designer. "I think I can say [Novo Mesto] was too small for her," childhood friend Mirjana Jelancic shared with the AP (via People). "Even as a child, she dreamed of moving," even saying that her favorite subject in school was geography. Jelancic, principal at the elementary school where they both formerly attended, further described Melania to ABC News: "She was a very good student. She was an angel."

Melania Trump developed a passion for fashion at a young age

Melania Trump contented herself with what would emerge as lifelong passions, even as a young child. In an interview with Parenting magazine, she recounted her earliest inspiration: "I always liked beauty and fashion. My mom was in the fashion business. I was 5 years old when I did my first catwalk," she recalled. "My mom loved fashion, we loved to travel and go to Italy and Paris. I was always very tall and skinny. Sometimes I was teased, but I was never embarrassed. I always liked myself. I knew what I wanted to do. I found my passion at such an early age. It helped with my confidence." 

The budding supermodel was afforded a fortunate upbringing compared to many of her peers — thanks to her hardworking parents — participating in after-school gymnastics, and traveling to Italy and Austria to ski during the winter, as reported in Harper's Bazaar. She also cultivated a sure hand as an artist, perhaps learned from her mother, according to GQ. "Melania never wore anything from the store," a friend told the magazine. She sketched out original ideas, and the sewing would be tasked to her mother and sister.

Melania Trump was discovered at 16 years old

In a modeling fairytale as old as time, Melania Trump emerged from humble beginnings, only to be discovered by photographer Stane Jerko at the age of 16 in 1987, according to GQ. Trump was attending the Secondary School of Design and Photography in Ljubljana, the now-Slovenian capital, and was living in an apartment purchased by her father, The New York Times reported. And while Jerko spotted her waiting for a friend after a fashion show, the aspiring model was no easy sell. "School was the most important thing to her," he told GQ

But, true to her passion, she soon had a change of heart. According to GQ, Jerko taught Trump how to pose, and photographed her just a few weeks after their first encounter. Without shoes. "I didn't have shoes for her because she had very big feet. The other models had smaller feet," Jerko remembered, in the GQ interview. But, he assured, "When you live on big feet, you live big."

Newly signed to a modeling agency in Milan, the 18-year old Trump's career forced her to drop out of architecture school, The New York Times reported. Also featured in the same article, a famed second place finish in Jana Magazine's Slovenian Face of the Year contest in 1992. She would find success in Paris and Milan, according to GQ, but the arresting beauty had her steely eyes, and her dreams, fixed on the rock-n-roll sister of all fashion meccas, New York City.

Melania Trump made it to NYC, but things weren't what she expected

It was in 1996 that Melania Trump would finally arrive in The Big Apple, thanks to her agent Paolo Zampolli, but according to a GQ profile, the then-26-year-old model's big plans were fading — almost as quickly as her American modeling contract — and with it, her visa. "[It's] a frustrating age for models, the late 20s. It's not a friendly industry," Trump's former roommate Matthew Atanian mentioned, in the same GQ article. 

"She wasn't working every day, she was going to castings every day and not succeeding… She said things were very different in Europe, that she had been more successful." He continued, explaining: "She aired frustration over the work issue."

Melania Trump did what she had to do to land modeling gigs

But the resourceful Melania Trump didn't throw in the towel. As reported in GQ, "She went on casting calls for alcohol and tobacco ads, which her under-age competitors couldn't be hired for. Once, she landed a Camel ad, a billboard in Times Square." A self-described homebody, she preferred to stay home, and maintained her physique by walking with ankle weights and eating seven pieces of fruit a day — but Trump's former roommate Matthew Atanian told the magazine that she may have resorted to additional means. "She went away for a two-week vacation, then came back, and was more… buxom," he said. "She admitted it to me. She just said it needed to be done to get more lingerie jobs."

Of particular note is her now infamous British GQ spread, in the nude, in 2000. In a 2015 interview with Barbara Walters, Melania gracefully acknowledged her former career, "I think people will always judge. That's part of the job that I was doing; I was [a] very successful model. Nothing more than you see every year in Sports Illustrated."

Melania Trump refused to give Donald Trump her number when they first met

"I was not star-struck," Melania Trump confided to GQ about the first time she met her future husband. She recalled in the magazine that she had been invited to a NYC party at the Kit Kat Club by Zampolli. It was NY Fashion Week in 1998, and 28-year-old model was about to meet another Zampolli invitee, Donald Trump.

But it wasn't love at first sight. "I didn't know much about [him]," she told GQ. And she wasn't about to give her number to a 52-year-old billionaire who, though already separated from his second wife actress Marla Maples, had arrived with a date. Instead, she snagged his digits. She told GQ, "If I give him my number, I'm just one of the women he calls. I wanted to see what his intention [was]. It tells you a lot from the man what kind of number he gives you. He gave me all of his numbers."

Her friend Atanian revealed to GQ, "She had some trust issues with him at the beginning. She kept her apartment to have her own space because of this." But peace would be made, as the two struck up a romance again shortly after. A hometown friend speculated in the same article, "It's about all that power and protection. I think she needed a strong man, a father figure."

Guess how much Donald Trump spent on Melania Trump's engagement ring and their wedding reception?

A sucker for a good deal, Mr. Trump purchased his wife's 12-carat, emerald-cut Laurence Graff diamond ring at a $1.5 million — 50 percent off, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He would later replace her puny pebble, with a 25-carat on their 10th anniversary, Harper's Bazaar reported.

The Hollywood Reporter clocked the wedding gown's train at 13 feet, and the veil at 16 feet, saying the bride "could barely walk" in the nearly 300 feet of ruched satin — it was so spectacular, it landed the cover of Vogue. The same article reported that her sister Ines stood by her side as maid of honor in Vera Wang. New York event designer Preston Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter that he created the bride's "very classic, very creamy and white color palette" event, recalling, "She said, 'I want something that is very elegant but not over-the-top'." And afterward, the newlyweds had a reception tipping the scales at $35 million. No small number for the woman who grew up wearing handmade clothes.

Melania Trump's never hired a nanny for her son, Barron

Melania Trump became mother to son Barron in March of 2006, at the age of 35 — the same year she became a U.S. citizen. While she does have a chef and an assistant, she assumed a traditional mothering role to her son without the help of nannies, telling Parenting, "We know our roles. I didn't want [Donald] to change the diapers or put Barron to bed."

Trump maintains motherhood as her priority. She shared her secret with Parenting: "It is so important to have good listening skills. …I don't push my thoughts or likes or dislikes. I want him to grow to be his own person. I think [it's] important to give a child room to make mistakes in order to learn."

Since the start of her husband's often-volatile presidential campaign, Trump has remained a comforting buffer for her son. "We're dealing with [hateful comments], and I'm teaching [Barron] the right way and giving him morals… and teaching him values at home," she told Us Weekly. She continued, "Of course, we both miss [Donald] because he is on the road a lot, but [Barron] understands and he's doing great."

This is Melania Trump's philosophy on staying happy in her marriage

Melania Trump confidently stated to Parenting, "My life is very normal­­ — for me. Maybe for some people they would not think that. But for me it is. I know my husband. We have a great relationship. We are both very independent. We know what our roles are and we are happy with them." 

She continued, "I don't think you need to be with your husband every minute of every day. Both people should do what their passion is and then get together in the mornings and evenings and share and experience life and have a great time. You know that saying, 'Work hard and play harder?' That's what we do." 

Before stepping into the role of First Lady, Trump always had things going on that were just for herself. She kept active in creating a skin-care line, jewelry collections, and a few appearances as guest host on The View, according to Harper's Bazaar.

Melania Trump choose privacy and parenthood over politics

Melania Trump, the eventual First Lady, kept a low profile during her husband's presidential campaign, only sometimes appearing on social media and giving carefully composed interviews in her penthouse. In one such interview with 20/20 in 2015, Trump justified her absence on the campaign trail, saying, "It's my choice not to be there. I support my husband 100 percent, but we have a 9-year-old son together, Barron, and I'm raising him, and this is the age he needs a parent at home."

Even after 45 was elected, Melania Trump continued to lie low. In order to reportedly keep Barron enrolled in his school for the rest of the 2017 school year, the first lady and her son waited to move into the White House until June 2017. And, even in 2019, she has continued to shield Barron — as well as herself — from the spotlight.

"Typically, the president and the first lady are the family superstars," Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University who studies first ladies, told the Associated Press (via AOL). However, Melania Trump is, as the expert noted, one of the most reclusive first ladies in United States history.

Melania Trump admits that she doesn't always see eye-to-eye with her husband

Melania Trump stands faithfully by her husband's side, even if not literally. When asked in the same interview with Walters whether she thought of her marriage as one of equals, she replied, "I would say yes." It was Mr. Trump who disagreed, saying, "I would say no. I think she's far greater than the 50 percent." 

Melania further explained to Harper's Bazaar that her absence from the public eye was strategic. "I'm choosing not to go political in public because that is my husband's job. I'm very political in private life, and between me and my husband I know everything that is going on. But I chose not to be on the campaign. I have my own mind. I am my own person, and I think my husband likes that about me."

And do they always agree? "I give him my opinions, and sometimes he takes them in, and sometimes he does not. Do I agree with him all the time? No." During the campaign, she had been taken to task for her husband's off-the-cuff insults toward women. In a statement (via Fortune), she rallied, "The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know. …I hope people will accept his apology, as I have."

Melania Trump is America's second-ever foreign-born First Lady

Melania Trump took on the role of First Lady of the United States in January 2017 at age 46. She is America's second foreign-born First Lady (the first, being John Quincy Adams' London-born wife Louisa), according to Harper's Bazaar. And she's had a big job ever since the start of her husband's campaign: responding to critics.

She has unsurprisingly taken heat on her husband's immigration platform — since she is, after all, an immigrant. While under fire for allegedly working in the U.S. illegally on a visitor's visa, according to the Los Angeles Times, she made short work of defending herself in an interview with Harper's Bazaar, where she claimed, "I followed the rules." 

While she may prefer that her husband do the heavy lifting in regards to politics, critics and advocates remain equally curious about what real value America's next First Lady will bring to the White House. She may be fluent in several languages, and already involved in "many different charities involving children, involving many different diseases," according to GQ, but she has her work cut out for her, in order to be a true ambassador for causes such as these.

Is Melania Trump the next Jackie O?

We can't help but obsess over the wardrobe of first ladies, past and present. And no one dresses quite like Melania Trump. Prior to her husband's election, Trump was already subject to scrutiny regarding her wardrobe. "[Trump] wore a streamlined sleeveless black sheath dress, a matching coat and Christian Louboutin heels," wrote The New York Times after Trump met with First Lady Michelle Obama in November 2016. The paper added, "I'd say she looked polished and professional, and as if she wasn't trying to call attention to herself, though that is kind of unavoidable." You could say her early look gave off a Jackie O vibe.

Trump herself admitted to having an admiration of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy in an interview with Harper's Bazaar. "She had a very beautiful, elegant, simple but feminine style," Trump stated. Katherine Jellison, history professor at Ohio University, made the connection between the two first ladies when speaking to NPR in 2016. "She might be sort of a Jackie Kennedy type," she mused, "a well-dressed woman who will be seen as popular in the women's magazines but largely stays quiet and on the sidelines in terms of her public image."

Melania Trump made a literal fashion statement

Although Melania Trump's early wardrobe choices may have been reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy's, that quickly changed. In 2018, when Trump boarded a plane bound for the United States/Mexico border, she was photographed wearing a green Zara jacket with the question "I really don't care, do u?" emblazoned across the back. As CBS News reported, many people thought this was, at best, an ill-timed outfit. After all, Trump was about to meet with migrant children who'd been separated from their parents.

In a statement to CBS News, Trump's spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, said it was nothing more than "a jacket." She added, "There was no hidden message." However, the president took to Twitter and contradicted Grisham's statement, claiming the words on his wife's jacket referred to "the Fake News Media." He continued, writing, "Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!"

Months later, the first lady spoke out about the jacket in an interview with ABC News. "It was for the people and for the left-wing media who are criticizing me," she said, "and I want to show them that I don't care."

Melania Trump's committed to building "a better world"

In May 2019, the first lady celebrated the one-year anniversary of her Be Best initiative. The mission of the program, according to WhiteHouse.gov, is to "focus on some of the major issues facing children today, with the goal of encouraging children to be best in their individual paths, while also teaching them the importance of social, emotional, and physical health." Since its inception, the program has concentrated mostly on "well-being, online safety, and opioid abuse."

In 2018, Melania Trump embarked on her first solo trip to promote her initiative. As part of her trip, she met with children and their families in Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, and Egypt. Trump has also worked to raise awareness about the opioids epidemic and has also visited children's hospitals as well as the Microsoft headquarters in an effort to learn about online safety for children.

Of course, Trump's Be Best campaign was — and is — not immune to criticism. Trump spoke out about such criticism at a conference in Washington, D.C. (via Newsweek) in November 2018, saying, "I remain committed to tackling this topic because it will provide a better world for our children." 

What Melania Trump's handwriting says about her personality

Forget palm readings. According to Emma Bache, the United Kingdom's leading graphologist — aka a handwriting expert — you can tell a lot about a person by something as simple as their signature. After reviewing a handwritten note from the Trumps, Bache revealed to Express that the president's lettering shows that he is a master strategist. She continued, saying, "He [analyzes] and manipulates and keeps his emotions private." But that's not all. "His signature is all angles — he wants others to be in no doubt that he is in charge — the Alpha Male," she claimed. "He is narcissistic but not physically vain. Stubborn not impetuous." 

Bache also noted that the first lady has even starting adopting some of her husband's same signature moves: "She too is no push over." Like her husband's, Melania Trump's handwriting also suggests that she is "stubborn and single minded." Lastly, Bache revealed, "Her married name shows a lot of tension and closely packed angles."

Melania Trump has a love for high heels

Since becoming the 45th first lady, Melania Trump may have politicized her wardrobe and become a bit more outspoken, but one thing has never changed: her shoes. From her meeting with former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2016 to departing the White House to visit families affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and beyond, Trump has been spotted sporting high heels. In fact, former Vogue editor and longtime friend of Mrs. Trump, Andre Leon Talley, told Newsweek in 2017 that the first lady had never — with the exception of the White House Easter egg hunt — been photographed without wearing either Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik heels.

In 2018, Melania Trump famously wore high heels to a tree planting ceremony at the White House. That's right, she gardens in Louboutins. Trump even uses her heels to make symbolic statements. In June 2019, Footwear News reported that Trump appeared to subtly pay homage to France by changing up her shoes for the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery in the Western European country. Instead of rocking her classic Manolo Blahniks or Louboutins, she opted for heels by the French brand Roger Vivier.

Is Melania Trump channeling her inner Michelle Obama?

Melania Trump has received a lot of criticism about her attire, but, by June 2019, she was also starting to receive some praise. During her and her husband's visit across the pond, Trump wore outfits that paid not-so-subtle nods to famous royals like Princess Diana and the Duchess of Sussex. This sartorial approach to diplomacy was key, according to Kate Betts, the author of Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style. "The best choice of outfit, in terms of diplomacy, would be to wear the work of an English designer or a young American designer," the expert further told CNN. "The first family should represent our country with dignity and pride, but it would also be a gracious gesture if they acknowledged the British fashion industry in some way." And, for the most part, that's what Trump did

InStyle noted that Trump also took "more of a Michelle Obama approach" to fashion during this trip abroad. Hmm. Will Melania Trump's wardrobe continue to evolve to be more Obamaesque? We'll have to wait and see.