Newsmaker: Melania Trump

To plagiarise a phrase from the late great British comedian Caroline Aherne, what was it that first attracted Slovenian-born fashion model Melania Knauss to the multibillionaire property mogul Donald Trump? If the 20,000 party faithful hanging on the current Mrs Trump’s every word at the Republican National Convention on Monday were hoping for some kind […]

To plagiarise a phrase from the late great British comedian Caroline Aherne, what was it that first attracted Slovenian-born fashion model Melania Knauss to the multibillionaire property mogul Donald Trump?

If the 20,000 party faithful hanging on the current Mrs Trump’s every word at the Republican National Convention on Monday were hoping for some kind of warm, fuzzy insight into the man behind one of the most disturbingly divisive American presidential campaigns in history, they were disappointed.

Wheeling out the spouse has always been a hazardous gambit on such occasions, but Trump was presumably confident that parading his striking other half, the beautiful yin to his yang, would soften his image and guarantee valuable evening-news coverage. How right, and yet how terribly wrong, he was. Instead of something sweetly personal, Melania served up a series of stale, unimaginative platitudes. Worse, they were platitudes that had been cooked up and delivered fresh by the first lady, Michelle Obama, in a speech in 2008.

Instead of repackaging her husband for broader consumption, Melania instead rebranded herself as a laughing stock. The New York Times speculated on Tuesday that her speech had been written weeks ago by two highly regarded masters of the art, but Melania apparently took it upon herself to rewrite it, in the process presumably assuming that no one would recall words uttered by Mrs Obama at a Democratic convention eight years earlier. By Wednesday, a speechwriter for the Trump Organization was taking the fall, saying she was the one who included the offending words, despite the Trump campaign denying earlier that any plagiarism had occurred.

Matt Latimer, a White House speechwriter for George W Bush, told the newspaper: “It just shouldn’t have happened. This was an easy home-run speech: a successful, attractive immigrant talking about her husband.”

Melania Trump, now 46, was born Melanija Knavs in Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia) on April 26, 1970. She would later change her name to the more Germanic-sounding Melania Knauss. The biography on her own website is thin on childhood details, skipping directly from her birth, with no mention of parents or her older sister, Ines, to the beginning of her modelling career at the age of 16. More details, however, can be found in Melania Trump, The Inside Story, a book published this year by two Slovenian journalists with the ominous subtitle From a Slovenian Communist Village to the White House.

It remains to be seen if the United States is ready for a first lady who flogs tawdry baubles to TV shopping addicts, embellishes her CV, and at seven months’ pregnant, posed in a golden bikini and matching high heels on the steps of her husband’s private jet. But that reality came a step closer on Tuesday when, despite his wife’s best efforts, Trump’s presidential candidacy won the formal backing of his party.

Home for Melania was once Sevnica, a small town on the Sava River in central Slovenia, a landlocked state sandwiched between Italy and Hungary to the west and east, and Austria and Croatia to the north and south. The third Mrs Trump’s personal views on the plight of migrants is unknown, but her home country drew attention to itself earlier this year when it closed its borders to tens of thousands of refugees seeking to reach Europe.

According to …The Inside Story‘s co-authors Bojan Pozar and Igor Omerza, Melania comes from “a completely average socialist Slovenian family, born and raised in the former Yugoslavia under the dictator Josip Tito”.

Her father, Viktor, they say, was a member of the Communist Party – something Trump’s people deny – and, while Melania’s parents “weren’t rich … they weren’t poor either”. That would all change thanks to their attractive daughter, whose parents now enjoy a gilded lifestyle in New York.

On her website, Trump (née Knauss, née Knav) claims to have obtained “a degree in design and architecture at university in Slovenia”, but according to Pozar and Omerza, that may not be true. After less than a single year at the University of Ljubljana, they claim, she failed two exams, and in 1989 “became – and remained – a college dropout”.

The authors speculate that she was later presented to the US media as a graduate “in consultation with Trump and his advisors” who were “desperate to give off the impression that the Slovenian model was not just beautiful, but also smart and well-educated”.

She’s street-smart, certainly. According to Slovenian poet and author Mitja Cander, Melania’s story is that “of a woman who is reborn; she changes her name, language, homeland, lifestyle … the only thing that has stayed the same is her ambition, to be someone”.

Melania’s own online biography says her modelling career began at 16, and that by the time she was 18, she had signed with a modelling agency in Italy. After obtaining that contested “degree in design and architecture”, she was to be found “jetting between photo shoots in Paris and Milan, finally settling in New York in 1996”.

It was there, two years later, that she met Trump, then separated from his second wife, actress Marla Maples, at a fashion industry party. There was little doubt about what Trump saw in the then 28-year-old Melania. “I said: ‘Who is that?’,” he told People magazine. “She was a very successful model. She was terrific.”

Later, Melania would say that she had initially rebuffed the multibillionaire’s advances, refusing to give him her number because he had arrived at the party with a date. By way of compromise, however, she did accept his number, which she duly called.

Engaged in 2004, they were married in a Palm Beach church the following year, followed by a suitably lavish reception at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Vogue gave the new bride the cover, breathlessly celebrating “the ring, the dress, the wedding, the jet, the party”.

Critics of Trump’s much-maligned stance on immigrants overlook that he has generously done his bit for at least two – quite apart from his own family’s immigration history. His first wife, Czech model Ivana Zelnícková, whom he married in 1977 and divorced in 1991, became a naturalised American citizen, as did Melania in 2006.

Melania’s online biography is breezily self-serving in the way that only the fabulously wealthy can pull off. At almost 6 feet (1.83 metres) tall, “Melania has a captivating presence in front of the camera” and has “graced the covers” of all the usual magazines.

It reports, in the words of celebrity cobbler Manolo Blahnik, that “she is a true beauty. She has it” and “Melania’s style has been noted to be one of natural elegance”. She has also starred in “numerous” TV commercials, “most recently for [US insurance company] Aflac, in which she stars with one of America’s top icons, the Aflac duck”. We learn also that “the aqua-eyed beauty” has “a penchant and passion for the arts, architecture, design, fashion and beauty”, a passion that “can only be surpassed by her dedication to helping others”.

One example of this generosity of spirit is her cut-rate Melania® Timepieces & Jewelry line, which she launched in 2010 on the QVC shopping channel. This, she suggested, was her gracious gift to the little people, “to design something for women across the country that they could have fun with, something they could afford and easily buy on QVC”.

Melania’s magnificent munificence has continued. In 2013, she “added to her already extensive résumé” a skincare collection, Melania® Caviar Complexe C6, a range of products “enriched with vitamins and caviar, to repair, hydrate and renew the skin”. Melania’s “research laboratory” had “discovered … the secret to anti-ageing” which, apparently, is to be found in “caviar imported from a cultered [sic] sturgeon farm in the south of France”.

If nothing else, Melania’s website is worth visiting for the curious “My Life” section, a collection of photographs in which we see her perfect life unfolding in the opulently tacky gold, marble and crystal-encrusted surroundings of the couple’s multi-floored home in Manhattan’s Trump Tower. Best of all are the humourless but amusing captions, more literally descriptive than informative: “Breakfast with the Trumps”, “Melania with hat on bed”, “Melania working at desk”, “Melania on beach” etc.

Barron William Trump, the couple’s son who was born in March 2006, isn’t spared the spotlight. A Richie Rich for our times, he’s pictured variously sitting on a gigantic toy lion, surrounded by toy stretch limos, and in the studiously posed classics “Melania and son eating” and “Melania and son with ice cream cone”.

During her controversial address to the Republican National Convention, Melania said that from a young age, her parents had impressed upon her the “value” that “you work hard for what you want in life” – clearly the exact same outlook that Michelle Obama’s parents bestowed on her.

“We want our children in this nation,” Melania added, “to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.” Obama also wanted the nation’s children to know that “the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them”.

So what did Melania Knauss see in multibillionaire property mogul Donald Trump? Perhaps, as US stand-up comedian Susie Essman suggested while the pair were engaged in 2004, it was “a billion dollars and high cholesterol”.

If so, more than a decade later, the 70-year-old Trump appears still to be going strong. But a chance to do-over the drapes at the White House would be an unexpected bonus for Melania.

weekend@thenational.ae

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Source: art & life

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