Let’s journey back in time to the Washington of late July 2018. The West Wing is convulsing over a New York Times front page screaming, MUELLER LOOKING FOR OBSTRUCTION IN TRUMP TWEETS. The State Department is fixated on nuclear-armed Pakistan electing a former cricket star and playboy as prime minister, and the Cabinet is consumed by a burgeoning housing crisis. Meanwhile, the East Wing is engulfed by a seismic shake-up at … the editorial department of Vogue?
“Did you see, they are leaving, two from Vogue?” said Melania at the time, referring to the exit of two of the magazine’s top deputies, Tonne Goodman and Phyllis Posnick. The remarks, released Wednesday, were taped by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff—former East Wing aide/former Vogue staffer/the biggest Iago this town has seen since Linda Tripp. (Trump’s Justice Department this month filed a lawsuit against Winston Wolkoff for violating a non-disclosure agreement.)
“They’re going freelance, you didn’t see it?” continued Melania, with the granularity of a Keith Kelly column. “And Anna gave the September issue of Vogue cover, complete, complete, complete everything to Beyoncé. So she hired Black photographer. And it’s first Black photographer ever doing cover of Vogue. That’s what I read. I read late last night.”
Donald isn’t the only occupant of the White House who stays up late, bingeing on New York media gossip. In fact, the First Lady has a particular fascination with the fashion bible.
“And Anna gave the September issue of Vogue cover, complete, complete, complete everything to Beyoncé.”
Earlier this month, Winston Wolkoff released another audio recording in which Melania is heard fretting again over Vogue coverage. “Go Google and read it,” Melania tells Winston Wolkoff. “Annie Leibovitz shot the porn hooker, and she will be one of the issues, September or October.” The “porn hooker” in question? None other than Stormy Daniels, who did indeed make the October issue in 2018, spilling out of a gown by Zac Posen. (It’s a mercy there is no one in the East Wing this week to record Melania’s views on Anna Wintour’s breakup.)
Perhaps it’s only natural that Melania, a former model, is so attached to Vogue. The two have a history. It’s where, in 2003, she met Winston Wolkoff. In 2005, Melania landed on the cover after André Leon Talley, then an editor at large, flew with her to Paris for the couture shows, helping to choose the Dior wedding dress that took seamstresses 550 hours to embroider and would be featured on the cover. She was photographed by Mario Testino, and the story was written by top Vogue editor Sally Singer.
“That was her life—magazines,” said Mary Jordan, the Washington Post reporter who wrote The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump. “Since she was a little girl, people talked about how she loved magazines. She would see the latest fashions in magazines that her mother brought home to her in Slovenia, where there were very limited choices for what to wear. Her mom would travel across the border to Italy and bring them back.”
Jordan said, “When she was interviewed, even in her 20s, they would ask, “What do you do for fun?,” and she would say, ‘Oh, I read magazines.’”
On the tapes with Winston Wolkoff, Melania sounds wounded and entirely unconvincing while discussing what she describes as an overture from the magazine: “Vogue said, like, ‘Oh we want to do a profile on the First Lady.’ Profile? F-U, profile, I don’t need a profile…. What, I need another profile? ‘It might be a cover.’ I’m like, ‘It might be a cover?’ I don’t give a fuck about Vogue.”
Melania’s mag obsession is as retro as it is Trumpian. As the sun sets on the world of print, the only person more invested in who lands on the cover of a magazine these days is her husband. During the 2016 campaign, stacks of magazines cluttered his desk at Trump Tower. He’s still so obsessed with Time that he couldn’t help but rage-tweet when the fading newsweekly awarded its “Person of the Year” cover to Greta Thunberg in 2019. “So ridiculous,” Trump tweeted.
“What, I need another profile? ‘It might be a cover.’ I’m like, ‘It might be a cover?’ I don’t give a fuck about Vogue.”
You cannot overstate enough how frequently Donald and Melania pop up in all manner of magazines from years past. She appears en déshabillé in everything from lad mags such as FHM to niche society rags. I even ran across the pair recently in an issue of Vibe from 1999, covering the first Biggie Smalls benefit dinner. Caption: “Donald ‘Big Daddy Bucks’ Trump is down with Puffy and the rap game, so we’re never surprised to see him representing, especially with his new lady, Melania Knauss.”
Still, how peculiar that, with so much chaos and global intrigue swirling around her in Washington, the subject that captures the First Lady’s interest is changes to a Condé Nast masthead.
“She would want to tear them down as much as she could, or gossip about them, because she’s not accepted by them,” said Kate Andersen Brower, a Melania-watcher and the author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies. She added, “Anna Wintour has come out pretty strongly against Trump, and not a lot of fashion designers want to dress her because of her husband’s politics, so it’s the idea that she’s an outsider.”
Maybe Melania is just yearning for a taste of the old life. You can take the girl out of New York, but you can never take New York out of the girl. Fortunately for her, she may soon be returning to one of the last neighborhoods in America where newsstands remain: Midtown Manhattan.
Shawn McCreesh is a Washington, D.C.–based writer