The editor of British GQ says Donald Trump was "very keen" to see photos of his then-girlfriend in the magazine back in 2000.
"We were bombarded by requests to shoot Melania," recalls Dylan Jones, editor of the publication since 1999, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter. "And so, given that she was obviously so keen to be featured in GQ, we came up with a rather kitsch and camp story for her to feature in."
One of the photos in question — in which Melania Knauss (she married Trump in 2005) lies naked on a fur rug and handcuffed to a briefcase in a private jet — resurfaced earlier this week, sparking a particularly ugly war of words between the Republican GOP candidate and rival Ted Cruz.
Found by a pro-Cruz super PAC, the image featured prominently on an ad that invited viewers to "Meet Melania Trump, Your Next First Lady," part of an attempt to dissuade potential Trump voters in the Mormon community.
Trump hit back, but directly at "Lyin' Ted Cruz," warning that he would "spill the beans" on his rival's wife, Heidi. In response, Cruz called the property mogul a "sniveling coward" and said that he should "leave Heidi the hell alone."
The super PAC Make America Awesome could well have used any of the other photos that featured in the published shoot, entitled "Sex at 30,000 Feet" and taken by New York-based fashion photographer Antoine Verglas.
Alongside the nude image, others include Melania perched on a wing of the 727 in red underwear while holding a silver revolver, lounging inside the plane wearing a very revealing top and opening a briefcase full of jewelry (and holding that revolver again), and straddling the pilot seats in the cockpit wearing a near-transparent dress and a curious futuristic headpiece.
“It was in Trump’s own plane, which was parked at LaGuardia airport,” Verglas tells THR, adding that the shoot idea was for a “James Bond girl” story. “He was kind enough to let us use it. I guess he was trying to help her modeling career."
Verglas, who went on to photograph Melania in Mexico for Sports Illustrated and elsewhere for various other publications, says that the GQ shoot was one of the “more racy” ones (although the Sports Illustrated one was “also pretty sexy”).
Naturally, Trump himself was very interested in the shoot. Although he wasn’t present on the day, he requested that photographs be delivered to his office.
“We framed the cover and a selection of prints and sent them as soon as we could,” says Jones.
Trump's presidential ambitions weren't exactly secret back in 2000, and as part of the accompanying interview Melania discusses the possibility of her becoming first lady, saying "why not?" and that she thought "every woman would like to be."
Should Trump be elected, Melania will be in the unique position of being the only U.S. president's wife to have stripped for a magazine. But despite the potential for raised eyebrows among the more conservative Republicans, Verglas — who also shot naked photos of former French first lady Carla Bruni in her modeling days — believes she is equipped for the job.
"She’s a very educated person, she speaks seven languages and has as much beauty as Carla Bruni had," he says. "I think she definitely has the potential to be a beautiful and smart and caring first lady."
Alongside the increasingly playground-like tussle between Trump and Cruz, the re-emergence of the nude photo has actually angered Verglas.
"I never gave any approval for this image to be used anywhere else but GQ in the U.K. It puts me in a very weird situation as I have to protect my intellectual property and the privacy of Melania Trump," the photographer says, adding that he's already talking to his attorney. "I don't want those pictures to be used in certain ways which are inappropriate."
As for British GQ, the magazine has seen record traffic to its website, which had the most readers in a single day since launching when the spat over its images erupted.
But would it feature another similar shoot with Melania Trump given the opportunity?
"In all seriousness, I think we'd rather photograph Donald Trump in the nude," says Jones. "Donald, if you agreed to this we would guarantee to put you on the cover of GQ. Come on, how can you say no to such a great offer?"