By Tish Durkin
“I am not the female Donald Trump,” demurs Lana Marks in the very polite, very firm way that you can tell she does many things.
At this moment, she certainly seems right about that. Perfectly coiffed, polished, and pearl-necked at her desk in the office behind the Palm Beach boutique that bears her name, Trump’s nominee to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to South Africa appears exactly as trim, sunny, and measured as her would-be boss is stout, grouchy, and combustible.
It had seemed a natural question, though. Since her nomination was announced in November, Marks has been slammed for, among other things, belonging to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, lacking any diplomatic experience whatsoever, and engaging in relentless self-promotion to advance her decidedly flashy business … all of which has given her the image of Trump in a skirt suit and heels.
Apparently, that is not how Trump sees her. “It has been articulated to me that he sees me as a sort of Pamela Harriman,” Marks confides, “but with one husband.”
Harriman, the Democratic doyenne who capped off her life as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to France, had three husbands, serial sugar daddies, one passed-around son, and no job. Marks has been married to British-born psychiatrist Neville Marks for 40-odd years; remains close to her two children, Martin, 37, and Tiffany, 35; and uses workaholic as the first word to describe herself.
And what is that work? “I have designed handbags, and I have enjoyed it very much,” she says. But not just any handbags: showpieces that sell for five and six figures, with the extra-special gem-encrusted rarity going for seven. Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Angelina Jolie, Cindy Crawford, and Candice Bergen have all carried Lana, as have legions of royals, aristos, and arrivistes, shopping from London to Beijing to Dubai, with Vegas soon to come. After the 2008 crash, an exorbitant rent hike drove Marks to close her Madison Avenue flagship, she says, though currently she’s “in talks” to open another Manhattan location, as well as to revive her brand’s presence at Bergdorf and Saks. (If confirmed, Marks points out, she must give up any personal business interests within 90 days. “Essentially,” she says, “I’d say that I’m getting ready to sell.”)
To hear Marks tell it, Mar-a-Lago is but lovely backlighting to her life. In addition to being an avid tennis player, she likes to take her grandchildren swimming at the club. Most Saturdays “during the season,” she and Neville, now 79 and still in private practice, have a dinner date on the patio. Once or twice a month, they go for brunch. “I don’t think it has anything to do with Mar-a-Lago whatsoever,” she reckons of her nomination. “That’s purely coincidental and tangential.”
Not if you count “the Wedding.” Marks’s daughter was married at Mar-a-Lago on Valentine’s Day 2010, and people who were there still marvel at the magical perfection of it. They’ll offer details only if you promise to point out that, even though specific aspects may sound over-the-top, the entire effect managed to be breathtaking yet tasteful. Eschewing the services of a wedding planner, the mother of the bride handled everything herself, down to the invitations, which were ordered from Scotland for lack of an American letterpress that could produce wording in a turquoise that sufficiently exactly matched the bridesmaids’ dresses.
Underwhelmed by the initial menu tasting, Marks schooled Trump’s chefs until they could meet her expectations. Desiring particular kinds of lights to twinkle up from the pool, she commanded divers to lay them at the bottom. After the vows, at the precise nanosecond of the ceremony-ending smashing of the glass under the heel of the groom, fireworks burst in the sky.