Fit for a Princess
DESIGNER LANA MARKS PAYS TRIBUTE TO DIANA WITH CHARITY AUCTION OF HANDBAG DESIGNED FOR THE PRINCESS
By Christina Wood
Firstborn children have high standards. They strive to be the best at everything they do. Some call them perfectionists, hardworking and meticulous.
The description most certainly fits Lana J. Marks, designer and CEO of the Lana Marks luxury brand specializing in exotic leather accessories. Growing up in South Africa, she studied ballet until she perfected her pirouettes. Three years after picking up a tennis racket, she was competing in major junior championships. In school, she skipped two grades. “If I do something,” Marks says, “I do it the best I can.” And that is as true today as it was back then on the tennis courts.
When Marks and her husband, now living in the United States, were invited to a birthday celebration for Queen Elizabeth II aboard the royal yacht Britannia, Marks wanted to find a red alligator handbag to go with the delicious red-and-purple suit she planned to wear for the occasion. Her search, which led her through every collection on famed Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Fla., proved fruitless.
Where others might have felt disappointment, Marks saw opportunity.
That quest for a red alligator bag in the late 1980s led to the creation of Marks’ eponymous line of high-end handbags. Her first Lana Marks handbag was a high-spirited hot pink alligator lunch box. Her signature use of hand-stitched exotic leathers in vivacious colors filled what she saw as an underserved niche in the market.
In those early years, Marks sold her attention-grabbing bags through trunk shows and personal appearances at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. In 1996, she opened her flagship store in New York, and there have been Lana Marks stores in Beverly Hills and Palm Beach, with a boutique at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Other locations include Shanghai, London and Singapore. Her handbags are routinely carried by Hollywood’s biggest stars.
“Her bags have always blurred the line between fashion and art, creating a truly elite category,” says Diane D’Amato, a recognized expert in fine and collectible luxury handbags and director of luxury accessories for Heritage Auctions. “In the age of fashion, exquisite design and materials more than ever stand out – and stand the test of time.”
GETTING IT DONE
Marks doesn’t credit her success to anything as random as birth order. She believes it was her background that gave her an edge up. From a young age, her father exposed her to the finer points of architectural design and proportion by taking her along on his visits to family building sites. Her mother, a businesswoman and artist, instilled in her an appreciation for true quality and craftsmanship.
If you believe you can do it, her parents told her, then you should just do it. So she did. “I had an extraordinary upbringing,” she says. “I was very blessed with my parents. They pushed me in tennis, pushed me in creativity, pushed me academically and pushed me to get it done.”
Lana Marks handbags are now available in 100 colors and 150 styles. Handmade in Italy by the finest artisans and crafted from alligator, crocodile, ostrich and lizard, each handbag reflects the lessons in proportion, design and quality Marks picked up from her parents – as well as Marks’ love of color.
“Remarkable women do remarkable things,” D’Amato says. “Carried on the red carpet by virtually every A-list actor from Helen Mirren to Drew Barrymore, a Lana Marks handbag attracts the attention of generations of handbag collectors and connoisseurs who have access to the best pieces in the world.”
Early in her designing career, Marks challenged herself to create a clutch worthy of the red carpet. Inspired by Elizabeth Taylor, Marks’ classic Cleopatra Clutch is now a favorite of both Academy Award nominees and thoughtful collectors. Photos of Jennifer Aniston, Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron and other style icons on the red carpet with their one-of-a-kind Lana Marks handbags adorn the walls of the designer’s Palm Beach office and boutique.
Each bag created for the Oscars is a personalized homage designed by Marks. “I do a terrific amount of research before I come up with a concept,” she explains. An actor’s personality, their style, heritage and, of course, the role that earned them the nomination are all taken into account.
Every Cleopatra Clutch seen at the Oscars is special, but, in 2007, when Mirren’s star turn in The Queen was rewarded with an Oscar nomination, Marks was moved to go above and beyond. “For the frame,” she says, “I researched many of the royal tiaras in Europe.” The one that captured her imagination was richly adorned with scrolls and garlands. The intricate design it inspired featured 776 diamonds. Not satisfied, Marks added a small British coronation crown. “A tiny little one for luck,” she says. “She was the queen.”
Mirren certainly seemed to appreciate the effort. “She called me the next day and said, ‘Did you notice I took it on the stage to get my Oscar?’” Ten years on, the memory still makes Marks smile. “Did I notice? Did I notice?” she says. “I was so honored.”
Like Cinderella at the ball, however, the clock runs out on those who proudly display the bejeweled bags on the red carpet – and, in Mirren’s case, on the stage. The day after the big event, the bags must be returned. Marks, however, makes five replicas of each celebrity’s Oscar bag for sale to clients – but only five.
After being carried on the red carpet, the Oscar originals – including a $400,000 bag created for Chinese actress Li Bingbing – go back into Marks’ personal collection, a collection that also includes a treasure trove of stories as colorful and finely detailed as the distinctive handbags the Palm Beach resident creates.
There is the story of the bespoke bag created for a special customer in China that took two years to produce. Marks smiles as she talks about the collector in Beverly Hills who created a special room in her 45,000-square-foot home where her Lana Marks bags could be displayed. The most cherished of all the stories in Mark’s collection, however, are those related to her friendship with the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
No one fit the profile of the woman for whom Marks designs her bags more beautifully than Princess Diana. In her mind’s eye, Marks sees her handbags in the hands of a high-achiever; someone with a busy social schedule, who travels extensively or, perhaps, owns several residences. “It’s definitely a sophisticated woman on the go,” she says.
Marks was introduced to Princess Diana by a mutual friend, even lunching with her at Kensington Palace. Their relationship really began when Marks was commissioned to create a bag for the princess. It was a daunting task – one that demanded Marks’ best and one that she relished. Not surprisingly, the Princess Diana handbag has become one of the most coveted of all her designs. The original, made in royal indigo alligator, was also a hit. Princess Diana delighted in saying that the handbag was like her: tall and slim.
A PRICELESS TRIBUTE
With the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death approaching, Marks felt moved to honor her friend’s memory. What could be more appropriate, she thought, than creating a Princess Diana handbag and selling it at auction to raise money for a cause dear to Diana’s heart?
“This particular handbag has excited me immensely,” she says of the luminous, forest-green crocodile handbag created exclusively for the upcoming Heritage auction. In addition to 18k gold trim, the bag features a limited-edition diamond heart introduced this year in Diana’s honor. The Italian artisans outdid themselves, producing the three-millimeter, contoured piping that Marks insisted upon. “It’s a beautiful design feature – delicate, feminine and distinctive,” she says. “I would say that you would not see that in another handbag anywhere, which makes it unique and distinctive for Princess Diana.”
All proceeds from the sale of the bag will go to the American Red Cross to benefit children who have been relocated to shelters after major disasters.
“With Diana doing so much with the Red Cross, I just feel that that would be appropriate,” Marks says. “I’m thrilled to be doing such an iconic piece exclusively with Heritage Auctions. I think what they’re doing is the future of handbags and retail – and they do it so well.”
CHRISTINA WOOD is a Florida writer whose work has appeared in art&culture magazine and South Florida Adventures. She collects brooches and autographed books.