HITTING THE MARK
There are many who have never even heard of Mark Cross. And yet, online stockists of the “luxury brand that fashion forgot” report that its distinctive handbags routinely sell out, season a er season.
The 172-year-old company has all the trappings of a riches-to-rags-to-resurrection saga worth rooting for: a checkered history, links with the crème de la crème of the literary world, celebrity clients ranging from princesses to pop stars, coups, closures and comebacks. The company was born in Boston in 1845 when Irish immigrant Henry Cross started a saddlery centre named a er his son, Mark. Little did he know that the brand would change hands and stance so dramatically, going from making saddles to cigar cases, and harnesses to handbags.
Acquired by businessman Patrick Murphy in the early 1880s, Mark Cross has Murphy’s son, Gerald, and heiress daughter-in-law, Sara Sherman Wiborg, to credit for its 1950s heyday and current avatar. The Murphys were known for their vibrant social circle – a best-selling biography, Living Well Is the Best Revenge, tells the tale of the Gatsby-esque parties at their Villa America on the French Riviera, where they hobnobbed with the likes of Picasso, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway and other writers of the Lost Generation. Fitzgerald even modelled around them the characters of Dick and Nicole Diver in his novel Tender Is the Night.
The Great Depression of 1929 may have depleted their resources, but not their resolve, and the Murphys returned to America, where Gerald extended the brand to include wallets, cigar holders and handbags made with the finest Italian leather and o en in collaboration with jeweller Seaman Schepps. Good friend Alfred Hitchcock featured a glossy black Mark Cross women’s travelling case in his 1954 film Rear Window, a design that proved so popular for the next 30 years that it sparked the rage for the brand’s current best-selling range, Grace, named for the film’s much-loved leading lady, Grace Kelly.
The downfall began a er Gerald’s death, when conglomerate Sara Lee, which also owned Coach, took over in the 1990s with the intention of relaunching Mark Cross, but ended up reselling to an investment firm that let it fade into near oblivion. In 2010, one of the investors, Neal Fox, resurrected the Mark Cross name. A first collection displayed at Barneys in 2012 sold out within weeks.
Mark Cross is now almost fully synonymous with the Grace range. The brand’s spring 2017 lookbook features the Grace Mini Box in shades of yellow, lilac, raspberry pink (pictured) and butterscotch; the Grace Small Box in petal green, pale pink and white, as well as with tie-dye prints; and the Grace Large Box in black, nude, denim, cornflower and 18K gold-plated brass. A separate travel collection includes the Grace Trunk in black or so orange; and a Trolley bag in acorn, black and navy blue. Cra ed from exquisite calf, lamb or crocodile leather, the bags are made in the same Italian factory that the Murphys favoured all those decades ago. Prices start from US$2,000 and go up to $25,000 (up to Dh92,000).
With fans such as Suki Waterhouse, Alexa Chung, Taylor Swi and Harley Viera-Newton, Mark Cross bags are steadily becoming the go-to choice of in-theknow street-style icons. Not one to shy away from the joie de vivre of its former owners, designs also include kitschy peace signs, Super Mario mushrooms and planetary positions. Mark Cross bags are available online at Net-a-porter.com and MatchesFashion.com.