Bag Lady

If you covet a new $20 000 handbag, face it, you’re not going through the eye of the needle. If, on the other hand, you can seduce others into parting with that kind of cash for fripperies, yours may be a useful talent. That is how I look at Lana Marks’ nomination to be the next US ambassador to SA.

Some see it as an another example Donald Trump’s crass contempt for Africa. More probably, it was his son-in-law Jared Kushner wanting to do something nice for a friend (both of himself and of Israel). Also, I imagine he and Ivanka would like an agreeable billet next time they visit the Cape.

The appointment’s motive, though, is less important than what Marks herself does with it.

Trump has made some ghastly picks.  The bozo he sent to Germany who declared it his mission to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe”.  The poltroon he chose for the Netherlands, a former Republican congressman who denied telling inflammatory lies about Muslims only to have Dutch journalists play them back to him. The Chicago slumlord he dumped on Belgium.

The isiXhosa-speaking Palm Beach bag lady is different. She’s one of Trump’s hated globalists.  She sources her crocodile and ostrich skins in SA, has them tanned in Paris, stitched in Milan and sold in Gucci gulches the world over.  She seems relatively apolitical. Her only recorded campaign contribution was $2 000 to a civilised Republican, Mitt Romney, in 2012, not enough to buy her cheapest purse.

Yes, she frequents Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s gilded Florida pigpen. But think of Willie Sutton.  Asked why he robbed banks, he said: “That’s where the money is.”

Marks is peerless as a networker, marketer and brand builder, turning A-list Hollywood into mannequins for her $400 000 jewel encrusted Cleopatra clutches and Oscar night into her very own Paris fashion week.

Perhaps her greatest coup was parlaying the bag fetish of Britain’s royals into a friendship with Princess Diana who became a priceless avatar of the Lana Marks brand, as valuable in death as in life.  Need a quote about Diana or her children? Put Marks at the head of your to-call list.

She’s the daughter of a South African property developer, Alec Bank, who died in Johannesburg in 1997. By then his three children had emigrated, Lana to the US, Malcolm to Israel and Anne to Australia.

Marks met her husband Neville,  an Oxford-trained psychiatrist from Manchester, in 1974, when he was in Cape Town attending to the minds of Christiaan Barnard’s heart patients. In 1976, he set up a practice on Bermuda. His wife became the island’s top-ranked women’s tennis player. They called their boat “Freudian Slip”.

They had hoped to become Bermudan citizens, according to press accounts at the time, but were accused of bringing their South African nanny onto the island illegally and not paying her. Judges from London found the charges groundless, but the authorities refused to renew their residence permits nonetheless.

Neville, an Orthodox Jew who blew the shofar on local radio at Yom Kippur, told a Jewish newspaper in Philadelphia that anti-semitism was the reason the couple and their two children were being thrown off the island. The authorities accused them of “mercantilism” and harming tourism.

So, in 1983, they moved to Palm Beach where they already had a pied a terre. Then, as Marks tells it, her inability to find a bag to match her dress when she was invited aboard Britannia, the Queen’s yacht, inspired her to create her own line.

“Everything Trump Touches Dies” is the title of a splendid polemic by never-Trump Republican operative Rick Wilson. One hopes Marks emerges from her Senate confirmation with reputation and brand intact, ready to put her connections and dynamism to work for her native land.

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