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Melania: The unauthorized biography


July 17, 1996, Novo Mesto, Slovenia

Melanija Knavs, as she was then known, was a pretty 26-year old girl working the streets of her native town. She’d been a “paid escort” for the past three years, determined to save up money so she could escape her drab, confining life in the provincial part of a poor country that Austrians, to the north, called “the Poland of Southeast Europe” and that Italians called “the Serbia of Eastern Europe.”

She still lived at home with her parents. Her father, Klaus, an auto mechanic, barely made enough money to keep the family alive. Her mother, Tanjia, spent most of her time drinking schnapps and resenting Klaus for not providing the first-class marriage she felt she deserved. Melanija, an only child, had spent most of her life daydreaming: she was a fairy princess in a golden coach, or a regal queen with a jeweled crown, or—her favorite fantasy—a famous runway fashionista, with her photograph of the cover of the world’s couture magazines.

But she needed money to get out of Novo Mesto and make it to the Big City: Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, headquarters of the LSN television network, the leading fashion magazine Balkan Style, and the discos and clubs where all the Beautiful People of Slovenia gathered. And, oh yes, Ljubljana also was where the rich industrialists looked for girls.

She had no doubt she’d get there, but first, there was a job to do! And so everyday, Melanija would put on her prettiest dress—the low-cut red silk one that showed off her cleavage, whose hem ended just above her hips. She’d wear her thigh-high faux-leather red lace-up boots with their five-inch heels, and rouge her cheeks and attach the false eyelashes to her lids, and then parade up and down the Glavni Trg, the fashionable avenue where the Central Hotel hosted many international businessmen looking for fun. Melanija had perfected “the walk,” the provocative sashay of street workers, a cross between her idol, Paulina Porizkova’s, sexy strut and Jessica Rabbit’s voluptuous wiggle.

Melanija’s first pimp was a young thug named Hercule, a two-bit hustler from Novo Mesto’s seamy east side, who made his tolars from petty thievery, blackmail and drug dealing, in addition to running women. Hercule was cute, with a lopsided grin and a headful of curly black hair. Melanija liked him: he’d convinced her to be an escort with promises of money and a Champagne lifestyle.

But after a few years, the promises wore thin. Melanija grew tired with entertaining fat foreign businessmen with bad breath and dirty underwear. She longed for something more. And she wasn’t getting any younger. Already, there were lines around her lips, and bags under her eyes from the late nights and drinking. Keeping her weight under control was a constant struggle.

One day she was reading Balkan Style, envying all the beautiful models on its pages and wondering what they had that she didn’t, when she came across an advertisement for something called Trump Model Management. It was a modeling agency in New York City, run by a businessman she’d never heard of, Donald Trump. The ad said that the agency was seeking Eastern European models. Melanija had a little portfolio consisting of posed photos and a short bio. She borrowed 13 tolars from Hercule for postage and sent the package to New York.

Imagine Melanija’s surprise when, a month later, she received a reply from Trump Model Management. Mr. Trump himself was interested; was there any possibility she could meet him at the agency’s headquarters on Eighth Avenue?

Melanija was thrilled, but she soon realized that she’d never be able to afford the money to fly to New York. It would cost at least 1,000 tolars, and in addition to that, she’d need a new wardrobe. She knew she couldn’t ask Hercule for the money: he’d beat her if he thought she was trying to get away. So Melanija swallowed her pride and went to her father, Klaus.

Klaus was dubious. “You want to go to New York to become a model?” he asked. “What makes you think you can succeed?”

“I know I can, Papa. I’m beautiful, and I have the body, but most of all, I have the ambition.”

Klaus gave her the money, despite his misgivings. And so, on Feb. 16, 1997, in a driving snowstorm, Melanija Knevs boarded a Slovenian Airlines flight for John F. Kennedy Airport, in New York City, for her appointment at Trump Model Management. She knew not what lay ahead, but she was sure of one thing: “I will do whatever it takes to succeed.”

Tomorrow: Melanija meets the head of Trump Model Management

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