This story first appeared in the April 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Hollywood has not exactly embraced Donald Trump’s campaign for president (so far, his big endorsements are from Hulk Hogan and Scott Baio). But a bit more than a decade ago, on Jan. 22, 2005, it was a different story. Trump married model Melania Knauss in a million-dollar wedding covered by every major media outlet, a boldface affair at his Palm Beach, Fla., estate Mar-a-Lago. More than 350 guests attended, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Russell Simmons, Mort Zuckerman, Heidi Klum and Barbara Walters, who inexplicably arrived in a white Volvo station wagon.
Today, it would be easier to get Paramount to greenlight another Zoolander sequel (Trump appeared in the 2001 original) than to get a celebrity to admit they attended the nuptials. THR made 89 calls seeking comment from those who witnessed The Donald’s third time in the marital ring, to no avail. But they were there, to witness that rarest of occasions — a Trump event that showed self-restraint. (It was the influence of Melania, who shut down her Apprentice-host fiance’s idea of having NBC telecast the wedding live.) Cellphones and cameras were confiscated (Katie Couric managed to hide her camera, surreptitiously taking photos throughout the evening). Reporters and paparazzi tried to bribe the bandleader into sneaking them in as orchestra members. One gesture of promotion did slip past the publicity police: Outside of the baronial Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, a small plane passed overhead toting a fluttering banner that read, “Melania, You’re Hired.” Interviews with the wedding’s floral designer, cakemaker and others reveal details of the event that still ranks on top 10 lists of the world’s splashiest weddings.
Always one to make a statement — and never one to pass up a good deal — Trump reportedly procured the 12-carat, emerald-cut Graff ring for $1.5 million, half its retail price (or, depending on who’s being asked, for free, in exchange for a promotion on The Apprentice) because the London jeweler figured publicity would make up the difference. If 12 carats seem paltry (Beyonce’s diamond clocked in at 18), consider Melania’s 10th anniversary rock registered at 25.
Melania’s 12-carat ring.
After many fittings documented in a 14-page Vogue cover story, Melania chose a sleeveless hand-beaded duchesse-satin Dior gown accentuated by an oceanic veil. The dress boasted almost 300 feet of white satin and 550 hours worth of embroidery — but the bride could barely walk in it. So for the poolside afterparty, Melania changed into a body-hugging Vera Wang hand-ruched silk tulle Grecian dress slit up to the knee. Melania carried no bouquet, but rather a set of family heirloom rosaries. There was only a maid of honor (Melania’s sister, Ines, who also wore Wang), though the bride did commission a page’s outfit from Dior for 7-year-old Cameron Burnett, the son of Apprentice producer Mark Burnett. Trump had two best men: sons Donald Jr. and Eric.
The $100,000 Dior dress sported a 13-foot train and 16-foot veil.
THE GUEST LIST
Before daughter Ivanka Trump read from the Bible and Metropolitan Opera soprano Camellia Johnson sang “Nessun Dorma,” the pastor asked if the guests would support the new union. Getting a tepid response, he thundered, “One more time!” The crowd replied throatily, “We will!” Attendees represented the worlds of politics (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, Chris Christie); music (P. Diddy, Usher); business (Steve Wynn); sports (Derek Jeter, Don King); fashion (Anna Wintour, Heidi Klum); and, of course, television (Matt Lauer, Kathie Lee Gifford, Simon Cowell, Leslie Moonves, Jeff Zucker). Paul Anka complained about being seated behind a pillar during the ceremony; Hillary Clinton and Kelly Ripa talked about their kids; Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t get his massive feet to fit under his table; Billy Joel hung out with the orchestra and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. “Let me tell you something,” says Sandra Rose, the wife of the wedding’s bandleader. “If someone had dropped a bomb on that place, it would have wiped out an entire generation of famous Americans.”
A wedding invitation.
After a spirited competition for the gig, Melania selected New York event designer Preston Bailey to create, in his words, her “very classic, very white” wedding. “She said, ‘I want something that is very elegant but not over-the-top,’ ” he recalls. The new Mrs. Trump wanted a “very creamy and white color palette,” says Bailey, and she requested “very romantic, traditional flowers: roses, hydrangeas, vernaculars, some orchids.”
The reception, held in the just completed Versailles-like ballroom at Mar-a-Lago (price tag: $35 million), featured tables swathed with white satin cutwork lace laid over white brocade damask, with linen napkins wrapped in white dendrobium orchids. But the piece de resistance were Bailey’s imposing 5-feet-tall centerpiece candelabras (“to give the room height”), submerged in hydrangeas, tea roses, orchids, ranunculuses and gardenias. The flowers were such a hit that Bailey ended up doing Ivanka’s and Eric’s weddings as well.
The groom, Bailey remembers, “was really, really excited. He really enjoyed his wedding.” Were there any glitches? “Whenever you do a Trump wedding,” he says with a laugh, “glitches are not allowed.”
Despite what a recent spate of stories about Trump’s butler might imply, the billionaire is rarely at home in Mar-a-Lago (which includes a private social club that he built in response to being reportedly denied membership to the Everglades Club). Lesley Abravanel of the Miami Herald says the city of Palm Beach made it difficult to launch the club, with members characterized as “WASPy upper crusty types, con artists, socialites, scammers and wannabes.”
Melania was as focused on the soundtrack to her nuptials as every other detail: She wanted a full-string orchestra (46 strings), augmented with saxophone, piano, bass and drums. Music was provided by the august Michael Rose Orchestra of Palm Beach, its members dressed in all-white tuxedos, which played a steady stream of Gershwin, Kern, Porter and other staples of The Great American Songbook (“Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “But Not for Me” and, of course, “I’ll Take Manhattan”). The afterparty, complete with a DJ, raged on until the wee hours, but it was during the formal reception that Joel, Anka, Tony Bennett and Elton John each serenaded the happy couple. “It was really something out of a movie, like Sabrina,” remembers Rose. “Only this was, as Donald would say, ‘Yuuuuge.’ ”
The dinner, prepared by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, featured an appetizer of steamed shrimp salad with champagne vinaigrette and a main course of beef tenderloin; as a favor, each guest received an individual chocolate truffle cake to take with them. (Walters showed hers off live on The View the following week.)
But the star of the culinary offerings was the wedding cake, a seven-tier chef-d’oeuvre that measured 70 inches in diameter and weighed more than 200 pounds. Melania’s original idea was a blue and gold cake, but “she didn’t like the sample,” Cedric Barberet, the former pastry chef at Mar-a-Lago who baked the final opus, tells THR.
In the end, they settled on a gold-and-white, classic yellow sponge cake flavored with orange zest, filled with buttercream and soaked in Grand Marnier. It featured 2,000 individually constructed flowers spun from sugar. “I don’t think anyone has done anything like this before,” Barberet recalls telling the bride.
It took his team two months to construct the platform and wiring infrastructure for the cake, “which looked like a big bouquet,” he says. But with all the wires, none of the guests could eat any of it, so Barberet and his team baked 5-inch-tall mini “backup cakes.” As for the original, “we served it to the staff after the wedding,” Barberet recalls. “We had some very hungry employees.”
The 200-pound cake took two months to design.