First lady Melania Trump is an enigma of sorts. Seemingly popping up out of nowhere on the A-list scene after she began dating pre-presidential business mogul Donald Trump, she’s been shrouded in mystery — with public curiosity only growing about the former model.

Placing her in his world of lavish luxury, Donald proposed to Melania in 2004, and as the New York Post reported at the time, he “iced” the deal with an engagement ring worth $2 million. We can’t deny, that’s certainly one way to woo. The wedding itself was also lavish (in true Trump fashion), and cost a whopping $2.5 million. Since then, the Slovenian-born beauty certainly hasn’t had to worry about money.

In more recent years, since becoming FLOTUS, Melania has actually tied with Jackie Kennedy as the wealthiest First Lady in American history. We’re sure she’s counting her lucky stars, too, because as it turns out, the salary of the FLOTUS is $0. As Money pointed out, however, the tradeoff is pretty worthwhile, as the benefits are “free accommodations, global travel, personal security detail,” and “lifelong pension.” Although it’s safe to say Melania is worth a lot of money since getting hitched to the former television personality (reportedly $50 million), we’re curious about her life before “The Donald.” Let’s see how much Melania Trump was worth before her marriage to Donald Trump.

Her family taught her how to seize opportunities
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Born in Sevnica, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia), Melania Trump née Knavs, was raised under Communist rule. As The New York Times notes, her father, Viktor Knavs (above right), was allegedly a part of the party. So, what did that mean for the future FLOTUS? As the outlet explains, “there were clear benefits to being a member of the Communist Party, to which only a tiny percentage of Slovenians belonged.” Per GQ, her father was a “salesman at a state-owned car company,” while her mother, Amalija (above left), “worked developing patterns at a factory” for children’s clothing.

“They’re both hard-working,” Melania explained to GQ. “They’re both very smart and very capable. They grew up in totally different environments, but they have the same values, they have the same tradition.” Even Melania’s husband, Donald Trump, echoed a similar sentiment as his wife. “[Viktor] was pretty successful over there,” he said. “It’s a different kind of success than you have here. But he was successful.”

Teaching their daughter to be hard-working, Melania was bright-eyed and determined to have a prosperous life. As Damijan Kracina, one of her former high school classmates, dished to The New York Times, “She tried to find opportunities, and took them.”

Melania Trump, the star pupil
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Melania Trump has been put through the public ringer since becoming the First Lady, from being accused of “plagiarising” Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, to the mockery of her English-speaking skills.

Although she’s been brushed off as a “vapid-model trophy wife” by the media, it turns out, Melania had bigger aspirations before deciding to pout in front of the camera. Stane Jerko, the photographer who originally spotted Melania, echoed this sentiment to GQ about her early days when she was first asked to model. “She wasn’t interested … School was the most important thing for her.”

Instead of modeling, Melania decided to study architecture at Ljubljana University. As her professor, Blaz Vogelnik, told the Daily Beast, “I can put my hand in the fire to prove that she was a very intelligent student with a high IQ.” However, as we all know, thanks to her questionable White House bio, it turns out, the former model never graduated. Instead, she ditched her exam at the end of the first year to model. Vogelnik mused about her decision, noting, “She must have realized that it would take her six to seven more years of studies before she could start making good money as an architect.” In the end, there’s no denying her decision would pay off — as it ultimately led her to Donald Trump.

Melania Trump made good money as a model
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Although she never made it to the supermodel status of runway regulars like Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss, Melania Trump still had a successful career posing in front of the camera. It’s something the FLOTUS is quick to point out, too. “I traveled around the world and had the great modeling career,” Melania gushed to People, years later.

According to GQ, Ms. Trump left Slovenia and made her way to Milan after her first year in college. Around then, she also “Germanized” her name, Melanija Knavs, to Melania Knauss, in order to be perceived as an “international” model.

Sure enough, she caught the eye of Paolo Zampolli, a wealthy Italian businessman, who then helped her travel across the pond to America, “on a modeling contract and a work visa,” per GQ. Mingling with the elite through events that had both producers and photographers present, Melania finally landed the successful career she was after. As CBS News notes, “Melania worked with a number of hugely famous photographers, including Patrick Demarchelier, Helmut Newton, and Mario Testino.”

America was the land of opportunity for Melania Trump
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When Melania Trump moved to the US in 1996, she immediately started working hard to make a career for herself. She moved in with Matthew Atanian, a photographer in New York, who would later recall to GQ the measures she took to take care of her body — as she knew it got her jobs. “[She walked] with ankle weights, seven pieces of fruit every day, diligently moisturizing her skin. She rarely partied, never brought anyone back to the apartment, and was always home early.”

Truly following the American dream, Melania paved her own success. “I loved my work, and as a young entrepreneur, I wanted to follow my dream to a place where freedom and opportunity were in abundance,” the former model noted in a speech in Pennsylvania in 2016 (via Time), adding, “So of course, I came here.”

Her diligent nature paid off, albeit with some controversy, as the Associated Press later dug up. According to documents obtained by the outlet in 2016, Melania was actually paid “for 10 modeling jobs in the United States worth $20,056 that occurred in the seven weeks before she had legal permission to work in the country.” It’s an ironic find — especially considering her husband’s immigration policies, some of which severely restrict the work opportunities of even legal immigrants who attempt to pursue a career in the United States.

The modeling industry was tough, but Melania Trump … adapted
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Coming to America at 26 years old, Melania Trump had to adapt to younger models competing for work against her. “It was a frustrating age for models, the late 20s,” her former roommate, Matthew Atanian, explained to GQ. “It’s not a friendly industry to models of that age. She aired frustration over the work issue … She was going to castings every day and not succeeding every day. She said things were very different in Europe, that she had been more successful.”

So, what was her solution? The future Ms. Trump decided to start going to auditions that her underage competitors couldn’t be hired for, such as tobacco and alcohol ads. As GQ revealed, she once even “landed a Camel ad, a billboard in Times Square.”

Of course, going solely for tobacco and alcohol ads wouldn’t remove all of Melania’s industry roadblocks. “She went away for a two-week vacation, then came back, and was more…buxom,” dished Atanian to GQ, adding, “She admitted it to me. She just said it needed to be done to get more lingerie jobs.” Melania vehemently denied the allegations to the mag, scoffing, “I didn’t make any changes … It’s all me. I will age gracefully, as my mom does.” We’ll leave this piece of goss as one for you to decide on.

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