Melania and Stephanie and Me

Ever since the dawn of the television age, the woman in the role of first lady has softened our understanding of the president, presenting him as a family man as well as a politician, and creating her own unassailably good and noncontroversial initiatives, things that call her to travel around the country, spreading goodwill and serving as kind of PR woman for the administration. George W. Bush bombed Iraq, but Laura Bush was a reader, and she seemed nice. You get to know the first lady in a hundred ways: wearing couture in Vogue and blue jeans in People; sitting on the couch of a morning show or next to the host of a late-night talk show, who treats her gently and laughs as she gamely makes a few scripted jokes. But here we are, possibly at the end of this administration, and Melania is as mysterious now as she was the day her husband bounded up the White House stairs to shake hands with the Obamas, leaving her to get out of the limo and trail behind him with her unwanted gift, the Tiffany-blue box matching the color of her outfit and nobody very glad to see her.

“I was there at the beginning,” Wolkoff tells us, as though she had witnessed the separation of the Earth from the firmament, not bumped into a model in the Vogue offices. The two women—both 32—were there because Melania Knauss had a meeting about a modeling job and Stephanie Winston worked in the events department. The friendship took off like gangbusters. They were Ethel and Lucy, Wolkoff says, Snookie and JWoww. “Philosophically speaking,” she writes, taking the matter more seriously, “Melania seemed to follow Plato, the Greek philosopher who believed in the control and mastery of emotion.” For her part, Wolkoff preferred “the philosophy of Plato’s best student, Aristotle.” Perfectly fine, but which one of them was JWoww? Wolkoff attended the Trumps’ wedding and Melania’s baby shower, and the two embarked upon what Wolkoff describes as a “lunch based” friendship, meeting regularly at one formal restaurant or another, Wolkoff the rushed working mother with too much on her mind, Melania the unhurried woman of leisure, immaculately dressed and groomed to “glam room” perfection—sometimes not even carrying a purse, bringing only her green American Express card.

Wolkoff goes to some lengths to suggest that she was a vaguely apolitical person when Trump entered politics, that she’d never even voted for president until 2016. But she also lets slip that she has known Michael Cohen “for years,” that Steve Mnuchin is a “family friend,” and that Mnuchin’s second wife, Heather, is one of her best friends. At Mnuchin’s third wedding, in Palm Beach, Wolkoff and her husband sat at a table with the Trumps. So she emanates from Trump’s world.

She describes Melania as sure of herself, unflappable, exceedingly strong, and deeply private. Despite JWoww, Lucy, and Plato, she can’t quite decide what kind of friend Melania was to her. At times she seems a good but somewhat distant friend, always remembering Wolkoff’s birthday with an arrangement of white flowers and always eager to listen to Wolkoff’s stories of work and family, but rarely offering any such stories in return. At other times, she describes a deep and singular friendship: “To the many, Melania is glacial and impenetrable,” she writes, “but to the few she was warm and sweet and I was her girl.”

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