WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – Melania Trump’s campaign couture and signature squint have become fixtures over the last year, standing demurely behind her husband, Donald Trump, as he claims primary victories and sets electoral wildfires.
Aside from her past profession – modeling – not much is widely known about Mrs. Trump.
It’s somewhat of an anomaly in a year where the two parties’ front-runners, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have near universal name and face recognition.
The world knows everything there is to know about former President Bill Clinton, from his McDonald’s order to sex habits to underwear preference.
On the Republican side, Melania Trump is often as mysterious as Bill Clinton is overexposed.
Melania Trump was born “Melania Knavs” and later changed her named to “Melania Knauss.”
According to her official website, “Born on April 26, 1970 in Slovenia, Melania Knauss began her modeling career at the age of 16. At the age of 18, she signed with a modeling agency in Milan.”
The 46-year-old mother of one stands 5-foot-11 and has appeared on magazine covers from “Vogue” to “Harper’s Bazaar.”
Melania grew up in relative comfort in communist Sevnica, Slovenia, with her sister and two parents. Her father was a salesman and her mother worked in a textiles factory.
In 1996, Melania moved to New York City for her career, thanks to an H-1B visa.
Her route was an indirect one. “GQ” explains, “Paolo Zampolli, a wealthy Italian whose business interests in New York are broad and vague, brought Melania over on a modeling contract and a work visa. Sometimes, in order to promote his models, he would send a few girls to an event and invite photographers, producers and rich playboys.”
It was at one of those parties in 1998 that Melania met Donald Trump. At first, she blew him off on account of his casanova persona, but eventually took him up on an offer to connect romantically.
The two dated and broke up briefly, then ultimately married in 2005. It was a star-studded affair – Melania’s first wedding and Donald’s third – attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton, to whom the billionaire donated heavily before becoming a political foe a decade later.
Questions and contradictions
As her husband took to the 2016 GOP field like Kool-Aid Man to a kitchen wall, reporters began digging into Melania’s past and uncovering apparent inconsistencies.
“The New Yorker” published a less-than-glowing article titled “The Model Citizen,” deconstructing the dream house personal narrative built by an “entirely self-serious” Mrs. Trump over the years.
Citing an unauthorized biography, the article challenged the statement on Melania’s website claiming, “After obtaining a degree in design and architecture at University in Slovenia, Melania was jetting between photo shoots in Paris and Milan.” “The New Yorker” asserts “in fact, she dropped out in her first year.”
Melania spoke with “GQ” for an April 2016 profile piece, but later renounced its author and content as “dishonest.”
The “GQ” writer, Julia Ioffe, earned the potential first lady’s scorn by revealing that she has a secret half-brother who’s never been publicly acknowledged, despite her father paying child support until his 18th birthday.
When Ioffe brought the evidence to Trump, it didn’t go well:
When I asked Melania about this over the phone, she denied that it was true. Later, after I’d sent her documents from the Slovenian court, she wrote to me claiming she hadn’t understood what I’d asked, explaining, “I’ve known about this for years.” She added: “My father is a private individual. Please respect his privacy.”
Melania is now an American citizen, following many years of holding and working on an H-1B visa.
“Through a quirk in immigration law, models, nearly half of them without high-school diplomas, are admitted on H-1B visas, as highly skilled workers, along with scientists and computer programmers, who are required to show proof of a college degree,” explains “The New Yorker.”
Melania now finds herself in the precarious position of answering for her husband’s harsh rhetoric on several immigrant groups, legal and otherwise.
In one GOP debate, Mr. Trump called H-1B visa recipients “temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay.”
“I followed the law,” Mrs. Trump told MSNBC matter-of-factly. “I never thought to stay here without papers. I had visa. I traveled every few months back to the country, to Slovenia, to stamp the visa.”
Future First Lady
Come January 2017, Melania Trump could find herself occupying the second and third floors of the White House residence, and planning state dinners and picking china sets from her East Wing office.
She would be the first foreign-born first lady since Louisa Adams.
When asked who she’d model herself after as first lady, Melania suggested she identifies most with the matriarch of Camelot, Jackie Kennedy, despite their political party differences.
“She had a very beautiful, elegant, simple but feminine style,” Melania told “Harper’s Bazaar” of Jackie O.
Melania isn’t predicted to be seen on the campaign trail often, preferring to be a hands-on parent to her 10-year-old son, Barron, in New York City.
But it’s safe to assume the blinding spotlight shined on the lives of presidential candidates and their families will only increase as we draw closer to Election Day in November.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales