In 2002, Our Singles-Issue Cover Model Was the Future First Lady of the United States

Melania is the one on the right. Photo: New York Magazine

New York Magazine has, over the years, published quite a few issues devoted to single life and dating, often around Valentine’s Day. In February 2002 — a few months after the 9/11 attacks, when first responders, especially those of the FDNY, were on everyone’s mind — our editors had the last-minute idea of recreating Alfred Eisenstaedt’s 1945 photograph of the sailor and nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. The photographer Firooz Zahedi, on barely any notice, made the picture you see here. The guy was not a model in costume but a real New York City firefighter (and part-time model) named Daniel T. Keane; the young woman was, similarly, hired from a modeling agency. These days, the image perhaps seems a little corny — even if you set aside the contemporary controversy about Eisenstaedt’s original — although we will note that it accurately reflects the sentiment of the time. That, however, is not what is most interesting about it.

Recently, the journalist Matt Haber learned (via this Flickr post) something that we at New York had forgotten: The female model we’d hired was a pretty young Slovenian named Melania Knauss, who had been dating a New York real-estate developer on and off for several years, and married him a couple of years after that. We did not, at the time, expect to be working with the future First Lady of the United States. But we were.

Photo: New York Magazine

This past week, Haber called up Keane, who is now an FDNY battalion chief and remembers the shoot well. “The person who was doing my hair and makeup, they said, ‘Do you know who that is?’” he recalls. “I don’t know any models, I really wasn’t into the scene. And they said, ‘That’s Melania Knauss… That’s Donald Trump’s girlfriend.’ And I said, ‘Oh, okay.’” As he recalls it, they struck the pose “a couple hundred times” for the camera. Caroline Miller, who was New York’s editor back then, also offered Haber some context: “After 9/11 firefighters were the heroes of New York—they were the rock stars,” she says. “We wanted to show that.” And, she adds, “there was also the twist that she was grabbing him.”

It was not her last time on our cover, by the way: Melania appeared a second time, for a story about the Met Gala, in 2005. She’s under her own name there, and we knew about that one.

You can read more about it here, in the inaugural issue of My Back Pages, Haber’s e-mail newsletter devoted to magazines and their history.

In 2002, Our Singles-Issue Model Was the Future First Lady