Lana Marks Interview
(Lana Marks Handbag Collection)

You could say that Lana Marks is the Handbag Designer to the Stars.

Her handbags are carried by people like Princess Diana, Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Jackson, Danielle Steele, Mrs. Frank Sinatra, and Mrs. Cary Grant to name just a few.

The Lana Marks Handbag Collection encompasses 150 different styles, in 60 vibrant colors. Each handbag is created by as many as ten artisans in Italy and requires as long as four months to meet the strict quality standards imposed by Mrs. Marks. Lana Marks Handbags may be purchased at Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as fine specialty boutiques throughout the United States, England, Europe, and Japan. Retail prices range from $700 to $12,000.

We're extremely proud to present an interview with the founder of the Lana Marks Handbag Collection — Ms. Lana Marks herself.

Q. Ms. Marks, how did you get interested in the handbag business? Did you have to apprentice somewhere?
A. That was after I decided to go into this business. What actually happened is my husband and I were invited to celebrate the Queen's birthday in Bermuda. We went to a function at Government House in Bermuda aboard the royal yacht Britannia. I had a red suit, and I wanted to wear a red alligator bag. I went up and down Worth Ave. in Palm Beach and I couldn’t find one. I'm telling you the whole long story. Basically, having been raised in South Africa where all the ostrich and crocodile farms are, that supply most of the world, domesticated skins, I was very aware of exotic skins. Always. I realized if I couldn't find a red alligator handbag that was high fashion, yet classic, a lot of other ladies probably couldn't. I thought of the High End in Hamburg, very fine high end in exotic leathers, in colors, filled a niche in the marketplace. We were moving at that stage from Bermuda to the United States. We lived in Bermuda for ten years. Once I decided that this was what I was going to do, I spent two years on and off researching all the fine tanneries in Europe and researching all the fine factories. I then learned the production by sitting with the artisans in these factories.

Q. They allowed you to do that?
A. Well, they did. I was pretty persistent. I started ordering from them and learned as I went along, so to speak. But, I was pretty gutsy in a way because I really found out early the top factories in Europe, made appointments with the factory owners, and told them what I intended to do, and that five years down the road they would have incredible business with me. Of course they had to listen to this Anglofied blonde female telling them this and decide whether they were going to do it. But, I was pretty persistent, and they gave me a chance.

Q. What were you doing before all of that career-wise?
A. I played international tennis and I assisted my husband with the business side of his medical practice (Ms. Mark's husband is a psychiatrist), and I was running several private investments, and involved a little bit in property. I come from a Real Estate background.

Q. So business-wise, you knew what you were doing?
A. Oh, I came from a very intense business background. My father, as a developer, took me from the age of 3,1 was the first born child, on the sites he was building, explained to me the architectural drawings, the proportions, etc., etc. they were very handsome in their business. My mom and dad explained to me all the time what you do in business, get everything in writing, go to the top, all the practical aspects of running a top notch business. I think in business I really was well trained by my parents, though this is a completely different field. Also, I did have a very good university training in economics, business administration, industrial psychology, math, English, all those things. But, I think that alone wouldn't have done it.

Q. How expensive was it to launch this business? Did it require a lot of capital?
A. Yes, it did. What I did is I financed it myself entirely. I've had no help from anyone at all. That is a very good question. I had to use the money from several successful real estate deals I made, sold a couple of properties that I had. Then of course as things have increased dramatically in the business, I just constantly re-invested money into the business, not taken any money out. I would probably say I do the work of five people. I run the entire business. I do all the design. I do all my own personal appearances, everything. I really work very, very long and intensive hours. By doing that, first of all you have control and you have an ability to make sure everything goes smoothly, probably saving the salaries of several female executives.

Q. Your offices are where?
A. Our headquarters are in Florida ( Palm Beach). I do have an agent in London.

Q. What does this agent do?
A. I have a lady who sells to some of the stores and boutiques in London. But, she doesn't have an office there specifically.

Q. Before you ventured into this business, did you do any market research to see what kind of handbags women would want?
A. Well, very fortunately, we had a vacation home in Palm Beach. I had a wonderful crowd of extremely elegant ladies in Palm Beach. When I started, the first few handbags I did, I think there were seven pieces in my first collection. I showed it to a group of about fifteen ladies that I would call a very good barometer. They all just snapped them up in one second and said, oh, my goodness, we can't find anything like this around. To me, that told me everything. I used what I call by musiness instinct and my fashion intuition. I don't do formal market research. I don't see anything in a cookie cutter way at all, in anything I do. I do everything very differently. I don't do things by the book, formally, like formal market research


Q. How did you get your handbag seen by Princess Di?
A. Well, initially I was commissioned, about a year and a half ago or two years ago, by the President of ESPRY to do a midnight blue lizard large handbag for her, a sporty handbag, which I did. So, I assume she was aware of the handbags. After that, I was fortunate enough to be a guest of Hearst Magazine and meet her at an Awards Show in New York in January of this year (1995). We have since then struck up an association. I've been very fortunate to have an association with the Princess of Wales, and through this association she has started to like the handbags and this came about. I really can't go into further details about this, because it would be breaching some privilege, between the Princess and myself.

Q. And how did the other celebrities like Oprah Winfrey hear about you?
A. It's very, very interesting, because I'm very friendly with Barbara Grant, who was Cary Grant's last wife. She's a dear friend of mine in Los Angeles and she called me one day. I was in New York, she tracked me down, and she said Elizabeth Taylor wanted to meet me, and see the handbags, would I mind going to her house? Would I mind? (Laughs.) So that's how that came about. With Oprah Winfrey, I had heard several times from my boutique manager at Bergdorf Goodman that she would come into the store specifically to buy my handbags. So, I’d heard about that, and then of course was looking through the magazines one day and saw her wearing my Lunch Box in the magazine. So that's how that came about. Then with Janet Jackson and also with Bergdorf Goodman in New York where she was wanting these big alligator backpacks for her Madison Square Garden concerts and the Peoples Choice Awards and the Academy Awards and had ordered them in several colors and I heard that again from Bergdorf Goodman. Then we were very short of stock and we had to find some extra pieces for her and then of course saw her in the magazine wearing it. With many of the people, that's how I found it. In fact, I just went to Los Angeles to do a personal appearance for the opening of my boutique at the new Saks Fifth Avenue. I was just outside the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel about to go into the hotel and saw several of these Soap stars walking out of the hotel. Two of them were wearing my Baby Lunch Box and it was really neat to see that.

Q. There is a price range of $2,500 to $5,750 for this one particular bag that Princess Di uses. Why is there such a price range?
A. Depending on the fabrication, a $2,500 would be a lizard and the $5,700 would be an American alligator.

Q. I don't know about the ostrich and the lizard, but isn't the alligator on the Endangered Species List?
A. No. there are hundreds of animals on the Endangered Species List, but the American alligator is farmed, according to the Washington Convention, and in great abundance at the moment. And, only farmed. We only use farmed species.

Q. Have you ever encountered any protest or demonstration from the Animal Activist Groups?
A. Nothing, whatsoever, at all. I'm very, very strict. I use very few species because there are hundreds of species around that are endangered. In the skins, I only use three different species. That's all. Otherwise, I just don't do it.

Q. Here in Syracuse, we don't have a Bergdorf Goodman, a Nieman Marcus, or a Saks Fifth Avenue. So, where could someone purchase one of your handbags? We do have Bonwit Teller.
A. I would say they could always special order it through Bonwit Teller. That would be no problem at all.

Q. Do you have a lot of competition?
A. What I'm doing specifically, there isn't, because I'm filling a niche that hasn't been filled before. But, obviously, there are companies at the high end, such as Chanel, or other companies who do very high end handbags. What I'm doing is so different from them that it's filling a market niche that's not there, that hasn't been filled before. We do 150 styles in 60 colors and skins.

Q. Can you handle special orders?
A. We do many special orders. If we have a celebrity who wants a certain style and she wants the body of the bag in pink alligator and the flap in purple and the jewel shoulder strap a mixture in jewels in pink and purple to match, we'll make her a one of a kind piece. We specialize in that. We get an incredible response to that. People love it.

Q. Besides handbags you also design many other accessories. Are you going to expand in those areas?
A. Yes, very much so. We have an extensive range of scarves and next year we're introducing fine jewelry which will be in 18 karat gold. In fact, in a month's time we open our first large flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York as well.

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