By Matej Klaric in Sevnica.
Sevnica, the Slovene town where Melania Trump grew up, only has a population of about 5000, yet it is first mentioned in history books as early as 1217 AD — 217 years before Christopher Columbus discovered America.
In all its history nothing compares to having launched the new First Lady of the United States.
The town is euphoric. The US flag was raised in Liberty Square, and a local restaurant invented a special desert called Melania. The new First Lady even has an anthem written in her honour, and a street may be renamed after her.
From the time Trump’s candidacy was first announced, the number of tourists in Sevnica has jumped up by a quarter. Even more visitors are expected now he’s President-elect. To congratulate her on becoming the US First Lady, the mayor, Srecko Ocvirk sent Melania a painting of the town castle, a bottle of high-quality local wine and a book about Sevnica.
“The global attention is positive because Sevnica is developing into a tourist destination,” he said.
Locals are overwhelmed by all the press attention. Melania’s childhood friend Diana Kosar says she has given more than 300 interviews and is exhausted from all the phone calls.
While Sevnica is making strenuous efforts to keep a strong connection, Melania moved to the US in the mid-90s, changed her surname from Knavs to Knauss, and has not visited her hometown in at least two decades.
Disappointed with the Slovene media, she broke all contact with them in the 90s, yet has kept a watchful eye on what is being reported about her.
Melania’s parents Viktor and Amalija and her sister Ines, followed her to the US, and are well-remembered locally.
Viktor worked as chauffeur to the then mayor, and later as a car parts salesman. Communist Party membership afforded the family certain privileges, like access to foreign goods. He built a modest white house on the banks of the Sava River in Sevnica, and when the family moved to the capital, Ljubljana, where Melania and Ines went to high school, the house became their weekender.
Amalija worked as a sewing and design professional in a local clothes company Jutranjka, and introduced her daughter to the fashion world while still a child. She would bring home fashion magazines from all around the world, and stories from far-off Milan and Paris.
At 16 and in high school, Melania’s life took a fortuitous turn. A fashion photographer, Stane Jerko, saw her on the staircase at a fashion show.
“I spotted a tall, slim, long-legged girl. I introduced myself and told her I was interested in photographing her. We exchanged phone numbers,” Mr Jerko recalls.
Melania called him a week later and they arranged for a photo shoot in his studio.
"I took various different shots and when the photographs were developed, I was convinced of her potential," he said.
"A month later, we did another shoot in a different set of outfits and those pictures turned out even better.
"I said to myself, 'It looks like we have found another great model'."
He was right, and yet he never imagined how just how successful she would become.
Melania's first career breakthrough came in 1992 at the "Look of the Year" fashion contest in Lublijana.