Royal figures have inspired many a fashion accessory over the years, from the Battenburg jacket, named after Princess Beatrice of Battenberg, and the Alexandra coat, influenced by the former princess of Denmark, to the Kelly bag by Hermès, which was named for Princess Grace of Monaco.
Few designers, however, can claim to have forged personal friendships with the royals in question. Not so Lana Marks. The American luxury handbag designer was a close friend of Diana, formerly the Princess of Wales. She commissioned Marks to create a handbag in her name, and then ended up ordering 15 of the same, in various colours.
The women kept in touch until Diana’s death in 1997.
Marks’s now-bestselling Princess Diana handbag, in alligator or ostrich, is adorned with a diamond heart, made up of 225 stones weighing 3.22 carats, and set by hand in 18K gold. The top-handle purse, in forest green and fire engine red, as well as a matching pendant, are available at the first-ever Lana Marks boutique in Dubai, which opened at Atlantis, The Palm in December.
“During the 20th anniversary of the passing of Princess Diana [in August], I auctioned her own namesake green alligator bag to raise money for the Red Cross, to aid children who were living in shelters after the Houston flood. Soon after that, the Metropolitan Museum in New York accepted that bag to be put on display. It will be the only thing of Princess Diana’s that’s part of a permanent exhibition in the United States, which I think is terribly important,” says Marks.
The story of how Marks got into designing handbags has its own royal connections. The year was 1984. Marks and her husband, a prominent medical practitioner, had been invited to a birthday celebration for Queen Elizabeth aboard the royal yacht Britannia in South Florida. Marks, who is originally from South Africa, was on the lookout for a red handbag in American alligator, to match her red and purple suit, but her search proved fruitless. That's when she decided to fill the niche for exotic, coloured leather in luxury fashion, and designed a hot pink alligator lunch box under her own label a few years later. "I also did a red one for myself, of course, but pink was a hotter, more unusual colour that season," she says with a laugh.
The Cleopatra bag is another favourite from the Lana Marks stable. A regular on red carpets – it has been carried by Helen Mirren, Oprah Winfrey, Charlize Theron and Jennifer Aniston, among others – the gemstone-encrusted clutch was inspired by the eponymous film starring Elizabeth Taylor. "The Dubai boutique has a very rare Cleopatra, with a flawless pear-shaped vivid blue diamond set amid waves of white diamonds on midnight blue alligator. It comes with a GIA certificate," says Marks. The price? A whopping US$9.5 million (Dh35m).
“Luxury, to me, is something that is rare, made of exclusive materials and hand-crafted. It’s an item you don’t get tired of, whether you wear it tomorrow or in 10 years’ time,” adds Marks, all of whose bags are made by hand in Italy, and start from $2,000 (Dh7,400) for the Petite Chain bag in ostrich.