Melanija Knavs was born in Novo Mesto in the southeast of Slovenia, which was then part of Yugoslavia, on April 26, 1970. She is a daughter of Amalija (née Ulčnik) and Viktor Knavs, who managed car and motorcycle dealerships for a state-owned vehicle manufacturer. Her father was from the nearby town of Radeče. Her mother came from the village of Raka, and was a patternmaker at the children's clothing manufacturer "Jutranjka" in Sevnica. When later working as a model, she changed the Slovene form of her last name Knavs to the German Knauss.
She grew up in a modest apartment in a housing block in Sevnica, in Slovenia's Lower Sava Valley. She has a sister and an elder half-brother, whom she reportedly has never met, from her father's previous relationship.
When she was a teenager, the family moved to a two-story house in Sevnica, and as a high school student, she lived in a high-rise apartment in Ljubljana. Melanija attended the Secondary School of Design and Photography in Ljubljana, and studied at the University of Ljubljana for one year before dropping out. She declares speaking English, French, Italian, and German, in addition to Serbo-Croatian and her native Slovene.
Knauss began modeling at age 5 and started doing commercials at 16, when she posed for the Slovenian fashion photographer Stane Jerko. At 18, she signed with a modeling agency in Milan, Italy. She was named runner-up in the 1992 Jana Magazine "Look of the Year" contest, held in Ljubljana, which promised its top three contestants an international modeling contract.
Melania and Donald Trump during the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation (MC-LEF) 20th Annual Semper Fidelis Gala at New York City, April 22, 2015
After moving to New York City in 1996, Melania met her future husband, Donald Trump at a Fashion Week party in New York City in September 1998. He and Marla Maples had separated in May 1997 and divorced in June 1999. Their relationship gained attention after a 1999 interview on The Howard Stern Show. In 2000 she appeared with Donald while he campaigned for that year's Reform Party presidential nomination. Their relationship gained additional publicity after the 2004 launch of Donald's business-oriented reality television show, The Apprentice. Donald described their long courtship in 2005: "We literally have never had an argument, forget about the word 'fight' ... We just are very compatible. We get along."
At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
In November 2015, when asked about her husband's presidential campaign, Trump said: "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." Trump played a relatively small role in her husband's campaign—atypical of spouses of presidential running mates.
In July 2016, Trump's 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".
Her Secret Service code name is "Muse" (beginning with the same letter as Trump's code name, "Mogul", per Secret Service tradition).
When asked by The New York Times in 1999 what her role would be if Donald Trump were to become president, Melania replied: "I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy." 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, having quit social media herself due to the "negativity".
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 OK 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".
Melania holding the bible for President Donald Trump during the Inauguration swearing in ceremony.
In February 2017, Trump sued Mail Media, the owner of The Daily Mail, seeking $150 million in damages over an August 2016 article which alleged that she had worked for an escort service during her modeling days. The Mail had already retracted the article and apologized. The lawsuit claimed 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". Commentators said her claim raised ethical questions about potentially wishing to profit from her position as First Lady. On February 18, the lawsuit was amended, omitting the language about her earning potential and focusing instead on emotional distress. In April 2017, the parties settled the lawsuit for $2.9 million.
^Morona, Joey, Melania Trump didn't graduate from college as bio claims, reports say, Cleveland Plain Dealer (July 19, 2016) ("Her bio on her official website states she graduated with a degree in design and architecture from 'University in Slovenia.' It's a claim that's been repeated by the Melania campaign and the RNC itself, in the convention's official program.
^Donnelly, Shannon (January 23, 2005). "Donald Trump wedding: Vow wow". Palm Beach Daily News. 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 Rev. Ralph R. Warren performed the traditional Episcopalian service at the landmark church, which was filled to capacity.