SA-born businesswoman may bag US ambassadorial position

  • LanaMarks
Jewish South African-born Lana Marks, a bespoke handbag designer to the world’s rich and famous, has been pinpointed in world media as the future United States ambassador to South Africa.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Oct 11, 2018

However, the US Embassy in South Africa says it has not been informed about her, despite international media reports saying that this East London-born businesswoman was handpicked for the job by US President Donald Trump.

This week Robert Mearkler, US Embassy spokesperson, told the SA Jewish Report that “the White House has not announced a nominee”.

Marks, born Lana Bank, left the sleepy town of East London about 40 years ago with her British psychiatrist husband, Neville Marks, and has lived a life less than ordinary ever since. She is the owner and Chief Executive of Lana Marks Collections, and has built an internationally-recognised fashion accessory empire. She has up-market stores in Palm Beach, New York, and Beverly Hills. Most recently, she opened an exclusive store at one of Sol Kerzner’s spectacular hotels, Atlantis The Palm in Dubai.

Her coveted leather handbags are, according to her website, made from alligator, crocodile, ostrich, and lizard.

Marks, 65, who lives in Palm Beach, has come a long way from East London, known as “slum town” and its residents as “slummies”. Having attended Stirling Primary School and Clarendon High School, she counts the late Diana, Princess of Wales, as one of her dearest friends, and even named a bag after her. She has designed exotic leather bags for Hollywood’s A-list stars attending the Academy Awards. The late Elizabeth Taylor, Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, Dame Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, and Jennifer Aniston, are just some of her clients.

Many of them adore Marks’ most expensive red-carpet classic, the well-known, diamond encrusted Cleopatra Clutch, which goes for up to R1 million. Other bags will set you back anything from $10 000 ( R147 818) to $400 000 (R5.9 million).

Mearkler puts the media reports down to “chatter on Twitter”, and insists that while he is aware of the recent media reports about Marks, no announcement has been forthcoming from Washington.

“We have no update on a nominee for US Ambassador to South Africa. It is our White House, and not the Department of State, that begins the process, and it will be the White House that will make an announcement if/when a nominee has been selected,” he said.

Despite this, the dwindling, yet close-knit East London Jewish community is abuzz that one of its own might be considered for the high-ranking position – a post that has been vacant since Patrick Gaspard resigned in 2016.

Lifetime resident and former friend of the Bank family, Louis Robinson, told the SA Jewish Report that the Banks were very well known and involved in the local Jewish community. He described them as socialites, saying that the family loved the movies, which might explain Lana’s taste for Hollywood and the lifestyles of the super-rich and mega famous.

The family lived on a large property with all the lavish suburban trappings, including a tennis court, swimming pool, and bar. The home even boasted a movie theatre, which in those days was “quite something”, said Robinson. Lana played tennis, he recalled. He did not know how far she went with it, but remembered her being “quite good”.

Marks has said she played international tennis, gracing the courts at the South African Open, Wimbledon, and Roland Garros. However, according to an article in Business Day in 2006, the details of her tennis playing days are sketchy.

Her childhood also included ballet. Both extra murals, she has claimed, instilled in her a strong work ethic and discipline, which helped her career.

Although his memory is hazy, Robinson said the late Alec Bank was a property developer and builder who owned many blocks of flats in the town. He was a member of the Hebrew Order of David, and the former president of the Chaim Katz Lodge No 25.

Said Robinson, “On Sundays, Alec Bank liked to show movies in his specially built home cinema with a reel projector. He could seat up to 40 guests.”

It is believed that the family owned the drive-in at Beacon Bay, and that Lana’s mom, Blanche, had a movie rental business and hired movies and projectors.

Robinson’s mother, Zahava, 91, told the SA Jewish Report that she played bridge with Lana’s mother Blanche for many years, and that “Blanche was very good at flower arranging”.

Marks often recounts the story of where it all began. In numerous interviews, including a recent Hello Magazine spread, she tells how she became a handbag designer after she was invited to a birthday celebration for Queen Elizabeth II aboard the royal yacht Britannia.

After searching in vain for a red alligator handbag to match her suit, she concluded that “a niche existed in the market place for luxury, exotic leather, fashion handbags in fabulous colours”.

If President Trump has made his choice, it will still have to be approved by the Senate. It is common practice that before the nomination of an ambassador is announced, the host country, in this case South Africa, is informally consulted. The SABC has reported that President Cyril Ramaphosa is said to be “considering the nomination”.


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