In September 1998, as part of New York City’s Fashion Week festivities, 28-year-old model Melania Knauss attended a party at the Kit Kat Club in Times Square. There she caught the eye of 52-year-old Donald Trump, the brash real-estate mogul and tabloid fixture who was in the midst of divorcing his second wife, Marla Maples.
Trump had arrived with cosmetics heiress Celina Midelfart, but it didn't matter; when his date went to the bathroom, he quickly cozied up to the tall Slovenian beauty.
Melania was charmed but hardly starstruck. When he asked for her number, she requested his, and Trump happily supplied every conceivable number: "The office, Mar-a-Lago, home in New York, everything," she recalled.
Melania finally called after keeping the Donald waiting for a week, and with a first date at the Greenwich Village nightclub Moomba, the flame was lit.
Melania broke up with Donald several times
As the romance blossomed, Melania developed an understanding of what it meant to be dating a public figure with a seemingly insatiable craving for the spotlight. Once he called shock-jock DJ Howard Stern while she was allegedly in bed next to him. Another time, while participating in a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania, he sought her out by bellowing, "Where's my supermodel?"
These experiences may have given the normally retiring Melania cold feet; they broke up multiple times within the first year-plus of meeting one another, and when Trump first flirted with the idea of running for president, as a Reform Party candidate in 2000, he did so without Melania by his side.
But the lovebirds patched things up soon enough, and in 2001, their future together looking rosy, Melania obtained her Green Card and moved into her boyfriend's penthouse in Trump Tower.
The pair married after five years together
In April 2004, two weeks after the finale of Season 1 of his hit show The Apprentice, Donald proposed to Melania with a $1.5 million diamond ring. He praised her willingness to sign a prenup and acknowledged her personal support amid his successful revival as a TV personality.
"We're together five years, and these five years for whatever reasons have been my most successful," he told tabloid columnist Cindy Adams. "I have to imagine she had something to do with that."
Their January 22, 2005, wedding in Palm Beach featured the bride in a $100,000 Christian Dior dress affixed with some 1,500 crystals. The party then adjourned to the nearby Trump vacation home of Mar-a-Lago, where Billy Joel serenaded a star-studded guest list that included Barbara Walters, Regis Philbin, Matt Lauer and future Trump nemeses Bill and Hillary Clinton.
She calls herself a 'friend,' not 'mother,' to Donald's other children
In 2006, Melania became an American citizen and a mother with the birth of their son, Barron. With the new addition, Trump, now pushing 60, didn't seem to alter his lifestyle of pursuing deals, starring on TV and calling his radio show buddies – on at least one occasion he gloated to an audience that he never had to change diapers. The arrangement worked out just fine for Melania, who viewed herself as a traditional caregiver and doted on her boy.
She reportedly also fit in just fine with the other, grown Trump children, though she was only about eight years older than Donald Jr. and 11 1/2 years older than Ivanka. "I don't see myself as their mother," she later told Harper's Bazaar. "I am their friend, and I'm here when they need me."
Melania's called Donald's womanizing behavior 'unacceptable and offensive'
Despite her lukewarm support of her husband's political ambitions, Melania joined the rest of the Trump clan in June 2015 for the announcement that he was seeking the Republican nomination for president.
The shock-and-awe campaign brought a new level of scrutiny for the would-be first lady, though she managed to retain an air of mystery by limiting campaign appearances and remaining opaque in interviews. "I chose not to go into politics and policy," she told GQ, adding that "nobody knows and nobody will ever know" the nature of the advice offered to her husband.
But there was no avoiding the limelight altogether: Speaking on her husband's behalf at the 2016 Republican National Convention, she came under fire for passages that matched those from an earlier speech by Michelle Obama. A bigger scandal arrived in October when old footage of Trump bragging to TV host Billy Bush about how he could kiss and grab women with impunity went viral a month before Election Day.
Melania released a statement which condemned her husband's words as "unacceptable and offensive," while also imploring people to "accept his apology, as I have." She defended him on CNN a few days later, her input helping to quell a furor that could have torpedoed his candidacy.
The pair remain united while at the White House
The Trumps continued to find their every move together dissected as they transitioned to life in the White House. There were the inauguration snafus: He leaving her behind at the car as he marched over to greet Barack and Michelle Obama, she smiling and then frowning after he turned away during the prayer ceremony.
Then there was the first lady breaking tradition to remain in New York at the start of the Trump presidency to see out the completion of the school year for Barron.
Things got worse by the start of 2018 when reports of Trump's alleged affair with Stormy Daniels hit the headlines. Melania subsequently canceled her planned trip with her husband to Switzerland and arrived separately to his State of the Union address.
Still, those hoping for some sort of dramatic split have been disappointed: The first couple has seemingly recovered from the allegations, with Melania appearing on ABC News in October 2018 to dismiss rumors of their unhappiness. That account was affirmed in a January 2019 book by a former White House aide Cliff Sims, who reported that their relationship was stronger than the "public perception."