Where Is Melania Trump From, and How Did She Come to America?

Barron Trump and Melania Trump attend the 18th annual Bunny Hop in 2009

Melania Trump holding Barron Trump | Astrid Stawiarz/ Getty Images

If you’re like a lot of Americans, you may be wondering where Melania Trump came from, and how she wound up married to the man who is the 45th President of the United States.

Melania Trump’s early years

Born Melanija Knavs on April 26, 1970, the current first lady entered this world in what was then communist Yugoslavia. The country where Melania grew up is now known as Slovenia. At the time of her birth, Melania’s parents earned a modest living in the automotive and textile industries. Specifically, her father was a car salesman, and her mother designed children’s clothing, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

The second foreign-born first lady attended classes at the University of Ljubljana for a couple of semesters before dropping out and becoming a fashion model in her homeland. It wasn’t long before the nascent print model changed her name to Melania Knauss and found work as a magazine model in Paris and Milan.

Newfound fame

Melania Trump as a model

Melania Trump knows how to work the camera | Diane Freed/Getty Images

Melania’s big modeling break happened in 1992 when she entered the “Look of the Year” contest sponsored by Slovenian women’s magazine, Jana. Melania didn’t win first prize, but she was a runner-up, and that was enough to garner the young model the public attention that she desired.

Melania’s immigration to Manhattan

In 1996, Knauss emigrated to New York City at the behest of the Paolo Zampolli modeling agency. During her time with the agency, the young immigrant worked with renowned shutterbugs Helmut Newton and Patrick Demarchelier.

Melania’s image appeared on the cover of the Italian version of Vanity Fair and Bulgarian edition of Harper’s Bazaar. She also posed for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit spread and posed in the buff for GQ magazine in 2000.

Melania and Donald Trump

Melania Trump and Donald Trump

Melania and Donald Trump | Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Donald Trump first encountered Melania Knauss at an upscale party in Manhattan in 1998. At first, the budding fashion model wanted nothing to do with him, because he asked for her number after arriving at the gala Kit Kat Club with cosmetics heiress named Celina Midelfart. For months, Melania refused Donald’s invitations to go on a date. Eventually, she reconsidered and established a relationship with the real estate mogul.

In 2000, around the time that Trump was considering a presidential run on the Reform Party ticket, Donald and Melania briefly parted ways. A year later, Melania received her “green card” that allowed her to stay and work in the US. Of her immigration status, Melania told Harper’s Bazaar:

“I came here for my career, and I did so well, I moved here. It never crossed my mind to stay here without papers. That is just the person you are. You follow the rules. You follow the law. Every few months you need to fly back to Europe and stamp your visa.”

In 2004, Melania accepted Donald’s proposal of marriage at the Costume Institute Gala. They had a lavish ceremony in Palm Beach, Florida. According to Biography, the wedding was attended by many luminaries of the moment, including basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, television personalities Kelly Ripa, Matt Lauer, and Barbara Walters, as well as former US President, Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary.

In 2006, Melania delivered Donald’s fifth child, Barron William Trump. The same year, the former Yugoslavian fashion model became a naturalized United States citizen.

Melania Trump today

Melania Trump speaks several languages, including French, Serbian, German, and Slovene, says Elite Daily magazine. The publication also notes that the first lady is a practicing Catholic, though she was never formally baptized into the faith.