Melania Trump’s Life Before She Became First Lady

Melania Trump is a unique First Lady. She is the first First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) to be a naturalized citizen and only the second foreign-born woman to hold the title. Fortunately, she was used to the spotlight before her husband Donald Trump made his presidential bid. But who knew that a girl from a small town in Slovenia would one day take on one of America’s most high-profile roles? Check out what Melania’s life was like before she became FLOTUS and how the role shaped her future.

Melania’s Grew Up Interested In Modeling And The Arts

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Melania Trump was born Melanija Knavs in Novo Mesto, Slovenia, on April 26, 1970. Her father was a car and motorcycle dealership manager, and her mother made patterns at a children’s clothing company. Melania grew up with an older sister, Ines. Her father has a son from a previous relationship, but Melania has reportedly never met her half-brother.

One of her first modeling jobs was joining other factory workers’ children in fashion shows for the business. Melania was interested in the arts as a teenager and attended the Secondary School of Design and Photography in Ljubljan. She also studied architecture and design at the University of Ljubljana.

She Studied Hard In Order To Leave Her Hometown

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Melania had big aspirations as a young woman. She didn’t want to spend her life in her hometown but instead wanted to expand her horizons. “I think I can say [the town of] Sevnica was too small for her,” childhood friend Mirjana Jelancic told the Associated Press in 2016. “Even as a child, she dreamed of moving.”

Jelancic added that Melania worked hard and was a good student who wanted an international fashion career. “We would never hear her swear of say anything bad to anyone,” Jelancic said of her friend, adding that Melania was “an excellent student, very organized, disciplined, with very decent manners.”

A Photographer Discovered Her At Age 16 And It Changed Her Life

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Melania moved to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, to attend high school. A photographer named Stane Jerko discovered her on the street. “I still remember how tall she was and how beautiful her figure and hair were,” Jerko told the Associated Press. “There was no smile on her face because she was shy and scared, but I encouraged her to come to the studio.”

Melania launched her modeling career when she was just 16 years old. Her dream was finally coming to be a reality. She traveled around Europe and became very cultured.

Her Modeling Career Took Her To NYC, Where She Met Donald Trump

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Melania moved to New York City in 1996. She got an agent, Paolo Zampolli, the co-owner of Metropolitan Model. She had a successful modeling career, appearing in 2000’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Melania met Donald Trump, who was 24 years her senior, at one of Paolo’s parties.

Her childhood friend Mirjana Jelancic later recalled that she was a bit surprised that Melania was connected to such an older man. However, she believed Donald was a little bit like Melania’s father. “They are both hardworking men,” Jelancic told the Associated Press. “There must have been some kind of chemistry.”

She Posed Without Clothing For British GQ

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At the start of her modeling career, Melania was named the runner-up in the Jana Magazine “Look of the Year” contest, which was held in Ljubljana. In addition to Sports Illustrated, Melania has appeared in numerous magazines, including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and GQ. She traveled for work all over the world and met with photographers from Milan, Paris, and New York.

After she moved to the Big Apple, she took 10 modeling jobs before she was officially allowed to work in the United States. She also posed nude at least once for a 2000 photo spread for British GQ.

Her Extravagant Wedding To Trump Had Tons Of Celebrity Guests

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Melania was initially reluctant to date Donald because he hit on her while on a date with another woman. But she ended up taking his number anyway, and they started dating. The pair had a brief break up in 2000 but got back together. He proposed to her in 2004 at the Costume Institute Gala.

Donald and Melania couple wed in 2005 and had a slew of celebrity guests, including Billy Joel, Kelly Ripa, Barbara Walters, Shaquille O’Neal, Anna Wintour, Heidi Klum, Sean Combs, and Simon Cowell. Trump’s future presidential rival Hilary Clinton and Bill Clinton also attended and got a glimpse of Melania’s wedding gown, which reportedly cost $200,000.

She Appeared In Zoolander

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Melania and Donald Trump both appeared in the 2001 comedy Zoolander alongside Ben Stiller. The pair played themselves on the big-screen adventure. Their screen time was very short — it only lasted a few seconds. “Look, without Derek Zoolander, male modeling wouldn’t be what it is today,” Donald Trump joked with E! News at the time.

The pair were unmarried at the time of their cameo (they didn’t tie the knot until a few years later). Melania did not have a speaking role, but she looked glamorous next to her future husband (and future president). She wore a spaghetti strap top and sparkly necklace featuring a cross.

Other Acting Credits Include An Aflac Commercial

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Not long after she married Trump, Melania appeared in a commercial for the insurance company Aflac. The 2005 black and white video, which can easily be found on YouTube, shows Melania as part of a scientific experiment. She and the Aflac duck are lying on operating tables when their brains are swapped.

At the end of the clip, the duck speaks with Melania’s voice, and Melania lets out the signature quack, “Aflac!” as she looks at her webbed feet. Trump appeared to be proud of her work. He later commented to reporters about her “big commercial,” noting that he thought “it was a successful commercial, too.”

She Got Her Citizenship A Decade After Moving To The United States

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Even though Melania moved to the United States in 1996, she didn’t get her green card until 2001. The particular visa she got is known as the Einstein Visa, which is generally extended to those who exhibit an “extraordinary ability.” Melania was one of just five people from Slovenia to get the coveted Einstein visa, according to media reports.

Melania received the visa due to her modeling work, and after her husband was elected President there were some questions about her eligibility for the visa. She finally became an American citizen in 2006, a year after she married Trump.

Melania Stayed Busy After Marriage

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When Melania married Donald in 2005, she wasn’t content to be a simple housewife. That same year she was named Honorary Chairwoman of the Martha Graham Dance Company as well as Goodwill Ambassador by the American Red Cross (a position she held for four years).

In 2006, she gave birth to her first and only child, Barron. In that year she was also named Honorary Chairwoman for the Boys’ Club of New York and Woman of the Year in 2006 by the Police Athletic League. While raising an infant she chaired several organizations, making her a working mom married to a millionaire.

She Launched A Jewelry Line On QVC But Was Later Criticized For Promoting It

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Melania launched a jewelry collection, “Melania Timepieces & Jewelry,” on QVC in 2010. The brand was mentioned in her official First Lady biography after her husband was elected President, and she was criticized for its inclusion. Many believed it was not appropriate for FLOTUS to be plugging her product line in such a manner.

The mention of her jewelry line was subsequently removed from her official biography. The business later folded, and it made little to no profit in 2017. That doesn’t mean her accessories have disappeared. Several pieces, including necklaces, rings, and bracelets, are currently available for purchase on eBay and other websites.

Her Caviar Skincare Line Was Killed Off Before It Even Launched

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Melania achieved some success with her jewelry launch on QVC in 2010, so she decided to expand her line to include luxurious caviar skincare products, which included lotions, exfoliators, and cleansers. The caviar was imported from Southern France, and a skincare expert from Palm Beach helped her develop the line.

Unfortunately, Melania partnered with two friends who owned New Sunshine, LLC, for its launch, which never took place. The company crumbled after a $200 million investment deal went wrong. Melania was sued for purportedly signing a contract with just one of the men. She later told a judge, “They were blaming me. I had nothing to do with it.”

She Made A Guest Appearance On The Apprentice

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Melania’s skincare line didn’t go very far but it wasn’t due to lack of trying. She appeared on her husband’s reality show, Celebrity Apprentice, to promote the products in 2013. The episode featured two teams led by Penn Jillette and Dennis Rodman, who were tasked with developing a marketing plan for her skincare line.

Rodman, a former NBA star, made a huge faux pas. He was in charge of his team’s promotional poster, but he accidentally spelled Melania’s name wrong. The mistake led Trump to fire Rodman, eliminating him from the show. It’s unclear whether Melania was paid for her appearance.

Who Is The First Lady’s Best Friend?

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Since Melania is known to be a private person, you might have wondered who she does confide in. Apparently, her best friend is her sister, Ines Knauss (pictured above)! How sweet. This photo was taken at Mar-A-Lago estate in 2005, as the women attended a Valentino Fashion Luncheon to benefit the Boy’s Club of New York.

Knauss lives on the Upper East Side of New York, in a Trump-owned apartment, just a few blocks from where Melania lived before becoming First Lady and moving to the White House.

Ines is an artist and, as we’ll soon see, likes to post photos of her famous little sister to social media.

She Sued A British Tabloid For Labeling Her An Escort

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In 2016, Melania sued the Daily Mail for libel. The British publication claimed in an article that when she was a model Melania made extra money on the side as an escort, specifically providing “services beyond simply modeling.” The lawsuit was dismissed in 2017, but Melania refiled the case and sought $150 million in damages.

The article appeared during her husband’s presidential run and featured the headline “Racy photos and troubling questions about his wife’s past that could derail Trump.” In the end, the Daily Mail gave Melania $2.9 million compensation, according to CBS News. The publication also apologized for its actions.

Her Son Barron Has Always Been Her Top Priority

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Melania’s number-one priority has always been her son. She told People magazine in 2015: “My husband is traveling all the time. Barron needs somebody as a parent, so I am with him all the time.” Barron was 10 years old at the time, and Melania made sure she provided everything he needed.

Melania has always been a very hands-on mom, helping Barron with homework, taking him to after-school activities, and encouraging him to follow his dreams. “He wants to be a golfer, a businessman, a pilot. It’s that age when you introduce him to stuff,” she added in the 2015 interview.

She Is ‘Friends’ With Her Stepchildren

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When Melania married Trump in 2005, her husband had already had four children with his two ex-wives: Donald, Ivanka, Eric, and Tiffany. The three eldest were in their 20s, and Melania did not try to act as a surrogate mother. “They are grown-up,” she revealed in a 2016 interview with Harper’s Bazaar. “I don’t see myself as their mother. I am their friend, and I’m here when they need me.”

There have been rumors that Melania and Ivanka don’t get along, but Ivanka praised her stepmother following the Republican National Convention. “Melania is very smart, she’s very warm, she’s got an incredible heart,” she told People in 2016.

She Was Accused Of Plagiarism At The Republican National Convention

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During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Melania Trump delivered a speech that seemed eerily familiar to many. It later emerged that part of it was lifted from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech during the Democratic National Convention. One paragraph, in particular, was nearly a direct copy.

Melania claimed earlier in the day she had written it “with as little help as possible,” but it’s likely that at least one other person was involved in writing the speech. Two years later, Melania was criticized again for allegedly copying information from the FTC (which had been published several years earlier) for her booklet on children’s online safety.

She Doesn’t Want People To Feel Sorry For Her

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After a videotape surfaced of Trump discussing grabbing a woman’s genitals and other allegations of sexual misconduct emerged in 2016, Melania defended her husband’s actions as “boy talk.” In addition to standing by her man, she also made it clear that she stood on her own two feet and didn’t want sympathy from anyone.

“I’m very strong. And people — they don’t really know me,” she explained during an interview with CNN. “People think and talk about me like, ‘Oh, Melania, oh poor Melania.’ Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t feel sorry for me. I can handle everything.”

She Continues To Earn Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars From Getty Images

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Donald Trump’s financial disclosure form for 2018 revealed that Melania earned between $100,000 and $1,000,000 in royalties from Getty Images in 2017. Getty owns the rights to photos that their photographers take of celebrities and other people. Melania has a “rights-managed” license with Getty, according to Business Insider.

Anyone who is interested in using one of Melania’s images in this licensing agreement must contact Getty, which in turn must reach out to one of Melania’s representatives to determine a fee. There are numerous photos of Melania and the President on Getty, including photos of them at various events, their properties, and their homes.

Look, It’s Baby Melania!

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This is a sight not many of us have gotten a chance to see before. As mentioned, Melania’s proud big sister Ines enjoys sharing pictures of the now-FLOTUS with the world. In this one, we see Melania as a toddler in front of a cake lit with just one birthday candle.

Ines has captioned this adorable snapshot with a low-key message: “Happy b day M.” The resemblance between Melania and her son Barron was already evident, but even more so when compared to her baby photos.

Is This Photo A Sign Of The Future?

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In this 1999 photo, Melania and Donald (with his back to the camera) ride in a limousine with Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler-turned governor of Minnesota. The celebrity’s third-party win in the race shocked the nation. Was the excursion pictured above a sign of the reality television star’s run for president years later?

When the Donald announced his candidacy, Ventura said that he supported the move and would even be glad to run as Trump’s vice president. And Ventura’s former campaign manager said of Trump, “It’s almost like he’s reading our playbook. Ventura had very, very high negatives. Nobody took him seriously. What he had going for him was his personality, and his ability to connect with people.”

“I Will Always Love You…”

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Being the First Lady certainly comes with special privileges, but so does dating one of the wealthiest men in the world. Melania has gotten to spend time, and become friends with, some elite celebrities. In 1999 she and Trump attended the Cipriani Concert And Dinner Series, which included a performance by none other than the legendary singer Whitney Houston.

Appropriately, Donald and Melania sat with Houston’s The Bodyguard co-star Kevin Costner. A Rolling Stone review of the event said that as celebrities were seated at the $1,500 a plate dinner, “an army of penguin-suited men and women delivered course after course of lobster salads, asparagus wrapped in tiny leaves, potatoes baked to a crisp perfection, baby artichokes, filet mignons and chocolate mousse cake.” Sounds pretty lavish!

At Madison Square Garden For A Boxing Match

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Melania and Donald attended the historic 1999 boxing match between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. The fight, held at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, ended in a draw — highly unusual for the sport — and required a rematch.

Donald Trump is no stranger to boxing. During the 1980s he hosted several Mike Tyson fights at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. He and Tyson became friends, with Trump supporting the fighter after he was convicted of sexual assault in 1992. He called the verdict a “travesty.”

Adorable In Pigtails

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In this photo shared to social media, we get to see Melania Knauss as a child in Slovenia. She’s the pigtailed girl who’s standing second from the right among a group of classmates and other children from the town. Her family lived in an apartment building in the industrial town known for manufacturing furniture and lingerie.

Melania’s surroundings in Slovenia were a far cry from the lavish lifestyle she was destined for, but by all accounts, she was a happy child who did well in school and had many friends. Despite this, as we’ve seen, Melania had big aspirations beyond her hometown.

In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

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Melania must be a big Star Wars fan, judging by the happy look on her face as she attended the premiere of Stars Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace with Trump in 1999. The film was shown at New York City’s Loew’s Astor Plaza.

Trump is apparently NOT a fan of the sci-fi series, as he once blasted Barack Obama for attending Star Wars: The Force Awakens while he was in office. Hopefully he gave Melania a bit more slack for enjoying Star Wars, since she was not yet FLOTUS.

She Attended Fred Trump’s Funeral

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Melania and Donald began dating toward the end of 1998. On June 25, 1999, Trump’s father died at the age of 93. Frederick Christ Trump Sr. had also been a New York real estate developer. He once said, “I gave Donald free rein. He has great vision, and everything he touches seems to turn to gold.” About Fred, Donald said “My father was my inspiration.”

More than 650 people, with many celebrities included, attended the funeral which was held at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. Melania looks appropriately somber in this photo which was snapped at the service.

Modeling In 1992

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Some might call it oversharing, but we’re sure glad that Melania’s big sister loves to post #FBF photos. In 2016 she shared this one to Facebook, captioned “M in Milano Italy #FBF 1992.” In the early 1990s, the two sisters moved to Milan together.

While there, Melania pursued a modeling career and Ines worked to get into fashion design. Ale de Basseville, one of the photographers who snapped Melania said this of Ines during their time in Milan: “She really wanted to be in fashion but didn’t know how to break in,” he continued. “Ines wasn’t like the other girls you would meet there, who behave like queens. She was really polite and very mellow.”

Baby Barron, Out On The Town Early

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As we’ve discussed, Melania’s number one priority is her son Barron. At one Mother’s Day event, she said, “It takes an incredible amount of strength, a lot of time, a generous amount of patience, and all of our love. As moms, we are so incredibly privileged to be able to bring children into this world and be a part of helping them grow into adults.”

This photo shows Donald, Melania, and wee baby Barron as they attended a match at the 2006 US Open. Barron apparently got a head start on becoming a sports fan like his father!

With Miss USA 1999

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A girlfriend must feel pretty secure in her relationship to date someone who rubs elbows with lots of beauty queens as part of his job! From 1996 to 2015 Donald Trump owned the Miss USA pageant, and he took Melania along to some related events.

Here, the couple poses with Miss USA 1999, Kimberly Ann Pressler, at a fundraiser for breast cancer. Pressler was once voted one of Stuff Magazine’s “101 Sexiest Women in the World.” She’s now a businesswoman and ESPN reporter who covers the Professional Bowlers Association.

Melania Once Broke Up With Trump

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All relationships have their ups and downs, with some even going through several “break ups and make ups” over the years. Melania and Donald Trump’s relationship was no different before they were married.

According to US Weekly, Melania was set to travel to Mar-a-Lago with Trump in 1998. But as she went to meet up with him at his apartment, “out walked Kara Young, the model, who had been dating Donald previously for almost 2 years. And Melania broke up with him on the spot.” But we know how this story ended: it’s Melania, not Kara, who’s the current FLOTUS!

She Speaks Six Languages

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While Melania was modeling in Europe during the 1990s she learned several languages: English, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, German, and French. In addition to her native tongue, Slovene, that’s six languages, making her an official “polyglot.”

Not only does she speak all these languages, she raised son Barron in a bilingual household. He can speak English and Slovene fluently and might be learning additional languages at school, the elite Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in Washington, D.C. Above, Melania is pictured in New York City in 1999.

Beaming At The Ball

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We often see pictures of Melania where she looks serious or even uncomfortable with how public her life is as the First Lady. But here’s a photo where she’s beaming, and Trump looks just as happy!

They were at the 51st Red Cross Ball in Monaco, which was in 1999. Melania stuns in a pale pink strapless gown, while Trump smiles in a tuxedo. There appear to be several wine glasses on the table — a sure sign of a fun night (and for a good cause, too).

Melania With A Sleek Hairstyle

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In yet another modeling photo shared by big sister Ines, Melania shows off a dark bob hairdo as she peers intensely into the camera. This one was taken in 1991, during the time Melania and Ines were in Milan together.

Stane Jerko, the photographer who first discovered Melania, had this to say about her to TODAY. “On the stairs of the Festival Hall, I saw a girl that immediately caught my eye. There stood a tall, slender and attractive long-haired girl with distinct eyes.” Those distinct eyes are on full display here.

His Two Ladies

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Wife Melania and daughter Ivanka are two of the most important people in Donald Trump’s life. Here he is with both of them, in a photo taken at the NYC 2000 Fashion Show. Both women share a love of fashion and are only 11 years apart in age.

Melania’s current communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told Vanity Fair that “Ivanka and Mrs. Trump have always shared a close relationship, and that continues today.” And Ivanka once told People that Melania is “an unbelievable mother…she is an unbelievably consistent, loving and reliable figure in Barron’s life.”

Melania’s Fashion Style Has Evolved

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Although many look up to Melania as a style icon and fashion inspiration, it took her some time to get her signature look just right. And here’s photographic evidence of that. In a picture from their days of dating, Melania poses next to Trump in an outfit that’s much more casual than we’re used to seeing these days.

She’s wearing sandals, jeans (gasp!) and a rather bohemian furry coat over a ruched satin corset-style top. Even her hair is less polished than it looks now that she’s First Lady. But she’s not the only one who has a different look here — check out how dark Trump’s hair is!

More On Motherhood

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Melania’s focus on motherhood can’t be overstated. Here’s an early shot of Barron, shortly after he was born, with his mom and dad (all three of them beaming). Melania’s always made time to be present to raise her son.

In an interview with Parenting magazine she said, “I am a full-time mom; that is my first job… I cook [Barron] breakfast. Bring him to school. Pick him up. Prepare his lunch. I spend the afternoon with him. Sometimes I have obligations, but I also think children need to see a parent do what her passion is. It is a good example for a child.”

You Never Know Who You’ll Run Into At Mar-A-Lago

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Mar-A-Lago has hosted some of the most famous names in the world, from every industry you can think of. As Donald Trump’s girlfriend and wife, Melania has gotten to meet many of these celebrities and dignitaries. This photo, snapped in 1999, shows Melania with Donald and television host Jay Leno.

Interestingly, Leno slammed Trump in a monologue on The Tonight Show after Jimmy Fallon took over the hosting gig. Leno quipped, “Trump said he won’t throw out the first pitch [at the Opening Day of baseball]. He’s skipping the correspondents’ dinner. Is he that thin-skinned? And where are all these jobs? Where are all these jobs Trump promised?” He’s a fair-weather friend, perhaps.

Her Famous Shot With An Orca

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During her 2000 photo shoot for Sports Illustrated, Melania played around on the beach with an inflatable orca. Recently, Adweek had this to say about the shoot: “no one could have guessed that this woman, part of the 37th annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, would one day be on the arm of the 45th president of the United States.”

The following year, Melania was featured in the 2001 SI Swimsuit Calendar. It all goes to show that the little Slovenian girl with big dreams was determined to become the greatest person she could be.

Sports Illustrated Played A Big Role In Melania’s Pre-FLOTUS Life

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On December 2, 1999, Donald and Melania attended the Sports Illustrated 20th Century Sports Awards, an event that SI billed as “a night for the ages.” Besides the Trump and Knauss, there were many other celebrities in attendance.

Sports legends such as Michael Jordan, Richard Petty, Peggy Fleming, Billie Jean King, and Magic Johnson were there along with presenters Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and Al Pacino. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was named the Sportsman of the Century at the event, which was held at Madison Square Garden.