Paul Zach in Cleveland
The Straits Times
March 6, 2016
The former model had posed in the buff for GQ magazine, and speaks five languages
If the Republican front runner gets the party's nomination for President at its convention in Cleveland in July, the United States would be one step closer to having a First Lady who had done something decidedly unladylike - posing nude for the cover of a men's magazine.
Before becoming the third wife of billionaire businessman and presidential hopeful Donald Trump, Ms Melania Knav - the family name she later tweaked to Knauss - said in a 1999 interview that she would model herself after President John F. Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline, if she ever became First Lady.
A year later, however, the future Mrs Trump stripped for the cover of a "Naked Supermodel Special!", as the British edition of GQ magazine touted its January 2000 edition. Photos spread over six pages showed her in the buff on a fur blanket in the private jet of then boyfriend Mr Trump, handcuffed to a briefcase. They appeared under the headline: "Sex at 30,000 feet. Melania Knauss earns her air miles".
The former Slovenian model first made her mark on the catwalks of Paris and Milan. Now at 45, 24 years younger than her husband, the 1.8m-tall Mrs Trump has been described as a "trophy wife".
Critics snigger that she traded her family's concrete block apartment in what was Yugoslavia when she was born in 1970 for a gold-plated penthouse in Manhattan after marrying Mr Trump in a lavish ceremony at his 118-room mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2005.
Her fans are quick to point out that she studied architecture and design at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, designs watches and jewellery, and speaks five languages - Slovenian, Serbian, German, French and English.
So far, however, she has said little about herself or her husband's political campaign in any language, preferring to remain on the sidelines. One of the few interviews she gave recently was to Fox News in the penthouse that overlooks Central Park. In it, she admitted she fully expects to come under increasing scrutiny - much of it unflattering. "I have a thick skin and know (criticism) will be part of the campaign... I am very strong and it doesn't bother me," she said.
She said she met Mr Trump after she moved to New York in 1996, when he was still married to his second wife, Ms Marla Maples, and she was with a date. She said she found him "very charming" and he "had a great mind, great energy". "We had a connection from the beginning."
In 1999, Mr Trump's marriage to Ms Maples ended. Soon he and the Slovenian model were the talk of the town, even appearing together by phone on Howard Stern's raunchy radio show.
When the "shock jock" asked her one of his typically creepy questions - "What are you wearing?" - she replied: "Not much", according to The Washington Post.
Celebrities including former president Bill Clinton and wife Hillary, the Democrats' probable candidate for President this year, attended the Trump wedding in 2005, and Mrs Trump became a US citizen in 2006.
As the very real possibility increases that Mr Trump will be the Republican Party's presidential candidate, aides are reportedly helping Mrs Trump tone down her dressing style, going for elegant choices that show off much less skin than the GQ fashion shoot.
So far, those magazine photos have not factored in the increasingly lowdown exchanges marring the presidential campaign.
This article was first published on March 6, 2016.
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