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White House haute couture

Donald Trump’s wife was the soul of this American election season — and from being a model to laying her hands on the keys to the most sought-after address on Planet Earth, it’s been a fascinating ride

Gulf News

Very soon, a John Galliano-made $200,000 (Dh735,600) wedding gown from the house of Christian Dior will probably adorn one of the many stately wardrobes in the inner precincts of the White House in Washington DC. Of course, come January, that old wedding gown from 2005 will be just one of the numerous other precious personal possessions that will make their way into the first lady’s closet.

Hillary Clinton’s dreams are aborted. Melania Trump’s have just reached conception …

During the 2008 primaries, a video advertisement by Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary had created quite a buzz in the United States. It showed a phone ringing in the Oval Office at 3 in the morning, with the accompanying voice-over asking viewers – who would they prefer to answer that call.

Clinton never made it beyond the primaries in 2008 and America also never got to hear her voice at the other end of the line for any presumed 3am SOS call.

But as luck would have it, after eight years, Clinton found herself making a call at 2.30 in the morning last Wednesday — to concede defeat to Trump.

The glass ceiling, that of a woman never having made it to US presidency, stays intact for at least another four years, with Clinton’s political career now ready to be very discreetly shelved in the archives of the world’s oldest democracy.

Melania, on the other hand, seems to have already broken a glass ceiling of sorts: The wife of US president-elect Donald Trump will be America’s first first-lady in two centuries to have been born outside the United States.

A Slovenian by birth, 46-year-old Melania, whose original name is Melanija Knavs, became a permanent resident of the US in 2001 and took US citizenship in 2006, following her marriage to Trump in 2005.

From meeting the realty tycoon at a Fashion Week party in New York in 1998 to standing alongside her husband during Clinton’s 2.30am phone call after Election Day, Melania’s has been one fascinating trip in self-exploration and she seems to have totally, completely soaked herself up in the many-splendoured passion called life.

From splashing the best in haute couture across Milan and Paris early in her modelling career, to exchanging notes with First-Lady Michelle Obama, as she and her husband called on the US First Couple in White House on Thursday; from refusing to share her phone number with Trump during one of their first meetings in 1998 to standing by him after a hot-mic tape plunged the 70-year-old deeper into an image-crisis just before the election; from being charged by a British tabloid and a blogger of having worked as an escort at a men’s club in Italy in the 1990s, to having to defend herself during the primaries for her scantily-clad cover-photo in a magazine, which was shot years back; from being accused of plagiarising a Michelle Obama speech during her address to the Republican National Convention in Ohio this July, to keeping a straight face at a charity dinner, when her husband made light-hearted banter of her plight … Melania has really been the one saving grace in an otherwise vicious, vituperative, venom-spewing election campaign that saw both the leading White House contenders trade personal slants and profanities with an alarming ease.

The sobering factor

Being wife to a megalomaniac like Trump, who is 24 years her senior, is perhaps a role that puts one’s sensory and motor neurons to round-the-clock stress-tests. Added to that are Trump’s boorish answers to just about any question that comes his way, his half-baked ideas at statesmanship and his endless bragging about his machismo, smacking of an almost juvenile immaturity.

And all the while, Melania was needlessly dragged into the muck because of her husband’s unfailing dalliance with the banal and the pedestrian. With every word that Trump uttered, every move he made, every breath he took, the whole world had one eye on Melania.

As the couple criss-crossed America for one whole year, it was she who came across as the sobering factor, that measured pull of the string in a cello, to counter the discordant clutter of an over-the-top orchestra. Right through the year-long regimen of primaries, convention and campaigning, Melania’s presence was like a slice of sunshine that raises prospects of Centre Court play on an otherwise damp afternoon at Wimbledon. She was the soul of this US election season – without having said much, she conveyed a lot. Her poise and elegance, her ability to maintain a dignified silence even when faced with the most vicious personal attack, her penchant for honesty, even if it required her to say a few harsh words about her husband ... all came across with remarkable poise and elan.

And remember, she is no career politician or business tycoon or a Sunset Boulevard celebrity.

When Trump was caught on the hot-mic saying, “When you’re a star ... you can do anything to women ...” Melania didn’t hold her punches in reacting: “The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me.” Later, brushing the entire episode aside as “boy talk” was perhaps the concession she was forced to make in public to keep her husband from further embarrassment. Afterall, right through this election campaign, she was tasked with a thankless job and she did it as best as she could: Defending the indefensible.

So, as the most sought-after address on Planet Earth gets ready to roll out the red carpet for its new hosts, ten-year-old Barron, son of the first couple-elect, can count on his mother to make sure he doesn’t miss any of the warmth of Trump Tower in the gargantuan corridors of the White House: Home sweet home, all over again. And of course, White House will have its fashion quotient raised like never before.

As for Mr President, well, he’ll be busy anyways, “making America great again”!

You can follow Sanjib Kumar Das on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@moumiayush.