Melania Trump is famously quiet, much the opposite of her spotlight-loving husband, President Donald Trump. Even though she’s the first lady of the United States, you probably know very little about Donald Trump’s wife. She made headlines by keeping to herself during her husband’s presidential campaign. And so far, she’s shown few indications that she wants to break out of that pattern as first lady. Like any politician — or reality TV star — Donald Trump has a few skeletons in his closet (and a few little-known facts about his life).
Melania Trump does, too. You probably already know she wasn’t born in the United States. You’ve also likely heard she had a successful career as a model. And it’s common knowledge she’s Donald Trump’s third wife. But what else have you heard about her? Probably not a whole lot. Read on to find out more about Melania Trump.
1. Melania Trump is the 2nd foreign-born first lady
Melania Trump is the second foreign-born first lady of the United States. The first was Louisa Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams. Yet according to The New Yorker, “Louisa Adams doesn’t really count, as her father was an American and from a politically connected family that hopped back and forth between England and its newly liberated colonies.” The New Yorker added that Louisa Adams’ “father named one of her sisters, born in 1776, Carolina Virginia Marylanda. The girls, seven of them, were told that they must marry Americans.”
So in many ways as first lady, Melania Trump was really first to be born and raised in a foreign country. And she’s the first to have been raised in a Communist country. She’s also the only first lady to have been her husband’s third spouse. And she’s the only first lady whose first language isn’t English.
2. Melania met Donald at a Fashion Week party
Want to know how Melania met Donald? The New Yorker reports Melania Trump met Donald Trump in 1998 at a Fashion Week party in New York. Donald Trump reportedly asked for her number. But because he had arrived with another woman, she refused. Donald Trump persisted. So she took his number instead of giving him hers.
Soon enough, they were an item. Although they broke up temporarily in 2000, they soon reunited. Donald Trump proposed to her on the night of the 2004 Costume Institute Gala. Then, at a lavish 2005 wedding, she became Donald Trump’s wife. Many famous people attended the wedding. In fact, the guest list included Billy Joel, Paul Anka, Kelly Ripa, Barbara Walters, Matt Lauer, Shaquille O’Neal, Anna Wintour, Heidi Klum, Sean Combs, and Simon Cowell.
3. Her father is a little bit like Donald Trump
Childhood friends told The New York Times that Melania Trump’s father has a “larger-than-life personality.” In fact, that personality reminds them of Donald Trump. Viktor Knavs belonged to the Communist Party, which the Times characterizes as “an exclusive club whose members sometimes joined because of career ambitions as much as ideology.”
Knavs worked as a traveling car salesman. And according to the Times, childhood friends of Melania Trump said he carries himself “in a self-assured way that now reminded them of Mr. Trump.”
4. Her parents don’t understand Donald Trump’s politics
Another interesting detail unearthed by The New York Times? Even though Melania Trump is now Donald Trump’s wife, her parents don’t necessarily identify with, or even understand, Donald Trump’s particular brand of politics. According to the Times, Melania Trump’s father complained to his longtime friend about Donald Trump’s “whiplash-inducing inconsistency.” Knavs said he didn’t understand his son-in-law’s desire for the presidency.
5. She was born in part of communist Yugoslavia
Melania Trump was born Melanija Knavs in 1970 in Slovenia. NBC reported that her “small industrial hometown,” Sevnica, was part of communist Yugoslavia. The town of 5,000 people bears some similarities to the American Rust Belt communities that helped to elect Donald Trump. Many of Sevnica’s plants have shut down, including the government-owned textile factory where Melania Trump’s mother worked.
During the 1991 collapse of communism, 2 million Slovenian citizens gained independence from Yugoslavia. And as Sevnica emerges from a period of high unemployment, many residents are excited that Melania Trump has become the first lady of the United States.
6. She studied design and architecture
The New York Times learned that Melania Trump left Sevnica in 1985. She went to Ljubljana to attend the Secondary School of Design and Photography. In January 1987, photographer Stane Jerko spotted her and asked whether she wanted to be a model. He sent photos of her to a Slovenian cultural center, which accepted her to a fashion course for models.
After high school, she began and dropped out of architecture school at the University of Ljubljana. She was more focused on modeling, and placed as a runner-up in Jana Magazine’s Slovenian Face of the Year contest in 1992. She began a successful career as a model, primarily in print. Not long after, she Germanized her name to Melania Knauss and launched her career as an international model.
7. She came to the United States to work as a model
Modeling took Melania from Slovenia to Milan to Paris and then to New York. She initially moved to New York as a model for ID Models. She then got her green card in 2001 and became an American citizen five years later. But that story is the subject of considerable controversy.
The Associated Press reported that Melania Trump earned $20,056 for 10 modeling jobs in the U.S. that occurred “in the seven weeks before she had legal permission to work in the country.” She first came to the U.S. on August 27, 1996, on a B1/B2 visitor visa. Then, she obtained an H-1B work visa on October 18, 1996. Yet she was paid for 10 assignments between September 10 and October 15, a period when she wasn’t legally allowed to perform paid work. Vox noted it’s also unclear how she got her green card.
8. She can speak many languages
Melania Trump can speak many languages — by some accounts, as many as six. CNN reported that Donald Trump’s wife can speak Slovenian, French, Serbian, German, Italian, and English. People reported in 2009, when Barron Trump was just 3 years old, that he could already converse in Slovenian, English, and French.
The International Business Times pointed out that Melania Trump joins several other first ladies with foreign-language skills. For instance, Louisa Adams could speak Dutch. Pat Nixon could speak some Spanish. Lou Hoover could speak Mandarin Chinese, as could Herbert Hoover. And reportedly, the Hoovers spoke the language in the White House to keep others from eavesdropping on their conversations.
9. Donald Trump has only visited Slovenia once
Despite Donald Trump’s jet-setting lifestyle, he hasn’t spent much time in Slovenia. In fact, The New Yorker reports that he has visited Melania Trump’s native country only once. That visit took place in July 2002. And it lasted for a grand total of three hours.
During that time, Donald and Melania Trump landed at Ljubljana’s Brnik airport in Trump’s Boeing 727. They dined with Viktor and Amalija Knavs at the Grand Hotel Toplice on Lake Bled. According to The New Yorker, “Trump’s stopover at Lake Bled was the only time he has been to Slovenia.”
Out of 450 guests at Donald and Melania’s wedding, just three guests — Viktor, Amalija, and Melania’s sister, Ines — were Slovenian. And interestingly enough, Donald Trump only speaks English, a language that Melania Trump’s parents reportedly don’t speak.
10. Melania has adopted many of her husband’s habits
The New Yorker reported that Melania Trump “appears to have internalized many aspects of Donald’s culture.” Melania Trump reportedly refrains from drinking (as does Donald Trump). She also doesn’t break ranks with the Trump camp, even when asked about topics she could easily joke about, such as his unpopular hairstyle. Additionally, “she has taken on her husband’s signature pout,” according to The New Yorker. However, Melania Trump made a point of telling CNN, “I don’t agree with everything that he says, but you know, that is normal. I’m my own person; I tell him what I think.”
11. She had her own jewelry and skincare lines
As The New York Times reported in 2010, Melania Trump introduced a “line of jewelry and watches bearing her name and available exclusively through QVC.” Racked.com reported that the Melania Trump jewelry line sold well on QVC but was eventually phased out.
But, as Racked noted, more interesting than the jewelry line was her skincare brand. The “Melania Skincare by Melania Trump” line centered on caviar. The line included products priced from $50 to $150. But few people could actually get their hands on the products. That’s because Melania Trump’s skincare line was caught in the crossfire when the financial and personal lives of the people behind holding company, New Sunshine LLC, were thrown into disarray. The moral of the story? Neither the jewelry line nor her skincare line are still produced.
12. Melania Trump is being first lady on her own terms
Americans have many expectations for a president and the first lady. Both Donald and Melania Trump have done their fair share of defying those expectations. Just take Melania Trump’s decision to stay in New York. Kate Andersen Brower, author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies, told The New York Times that “never since Abigail Adams has a first lady not lived in the White House from Day 1 — if they were alive and well.”
The Times noted that Melania Trump’s silence “has made her a folk hero of the left, which likes to imagine that she is a hostage to her embarrassing husband.” Hence, a #FreeMelania meme took off. Regardless of politics, many people think it’s interesting to see Melania Trump take on the role of first lady on her own terms.