In September 1998, a group of reporters flew from Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, all expenses paid to Paris and stayed at the luxurious Hotel Lutetia. At the hotel, after a long wait, a beautiful model finally appeared. She asked that no photographs be taken. Nobody knew who she was. The reporters were told her name and they we wrote it down.
The meeting with the journalists was a curious foretelling of the peculiar traits of a future First Lady of the United States of America: conundrum, cipher, charade and contradiction.
At the Paris event with the journalists, the model told the reporters she was “one of the Top 50 Models in the World”. Stane Jerko, one of the best-known photographers in Slovenia, knew that was an exaggeration; he had shot pictures of her a decade earlier, and he knew she was still largely unknown even in her own country. Jerko:
“It’s not real. She had been working as a model only a short time and couldn’t be in the Top 50.”
The journalists in Paris were given a cover of an August 1997 Spanish edition of Harper’s Bazaar Magazine where the model appears in black chiffon, revealing one of her breasts underneath.
The cover shoot was done by photographer Manfred Gestrich in Mexico, yet the market was U.S. Hispanics. In the magazine, there was no interview or story with the cover girl, only a very brief sentence that referred to her only by her first name: “At the height of summer, Melania, photographed by….”
The cover of the English edition featured a different model.
The model was dating a NYC real estate developer at the time. There was no mention of him during the meeting, but the entire event had his fingerprints all over it: Private jet, luxury hotel, a guided evening tour of Paris for the reporters.
The situation was bizarre. An unknown model who claimed to be famous but wanted no photos taken, and a group of journalists who knew nothing about her besides the cover of a magazine in a foreign language.
The model was not quite 17-years-old when Jerko asked her to model for him in 1987. Jerko:
“My eye of a professional photographer always looking for girls to photograph, for fashion, for ads, so I quickly noticed this tall girl, slender with a good figure, long legs…”
The next year, she took a modeling classes and landed her first jobs.
Jerko thought she might make a good model, but after two photo sessions, he lost his enthusiasm:
“Her exterior was very good to be an excellent model, but she lacked energy, a certain charm that if you have, you transmit it through your eyes, through your personality. If you have something that, shall we say, comes from the heart, it shows in the photo.”
The model never asked for one of his photographs, which he took free of charge:
“She never contacted me and thanked me because I discovered her and offered her the chance to become a model, and that somehow her modeling work, with her body, would take her as far.”
I wonder what ever became of that model.