One of my favorite aspects of beauty is fragrance. I love discovering the art and science behind what creates the newest, best scent. That said, writing about them can be kind of a drag. A simple list of top, heart, and base notes are always expected, but every time I sample one, I always think, “Who is the woman who would wear this fragrance?” I always craft short stories in my head about who she is and what’s happening in her life.
Today is the first time I’m sharing one of these stories with you. The story, “Untying the Knot,” was inspired by Bottega Veneta’s The Knot. The fragrance itself is a sparkling citrus with opulent wood, a gorgeous combination of notes like mandarin, rose, and cedarwood. The scent, to me at least, smells like a refined woman with a wild heart; someone who can endure challenge with polish, but a smoldering passion burns underneath.
With that in mind, here is the first Perfume Diary. Meet Abby, a woman who is about to untie a very serious “knot:”
10:02 AM. Wednesday. Bright sunshine, no clouds expected today. A high of 80 degrees with light winds from the north.
The pleasant forecast from that morning’s news played in Abby’s head as she peered out the window. The view of New York’s famed Fifth Avenue played out across her immediate gaze; cabs hustling by and streams of people flowed by each other, carving pathways to support their individual freedoms. She felt herself smile.
Freedom. That has a nice ring to it.
The restaurant atop the legendary Saks Fifth Avenue was quiet that morning. An older French couple appeared to be bickering over the menu. A teen was in the throes of an argument with her well-composed mother as to why she deserved the slew of shopping bags sitting at her feet. She was almost an adult, she argued. Why couldn’t she just live her life?
Insolence and ill-advised purchases aside, Abby could understand her argument completely.
She smoothed her crisp linen top nervously over her abdomen and swore she could feel the knot in her stomach. Her Park Avenue Swan of a mother-in-law was late again. Formidable, wealthy, and completely isolated from the needs of others, Constance Abernathy Albright was a force of nature that swept in like a gale force wind around everyone in her path, leaving polite destruction everywhere. Her marriage to Constance’s son, Tucker, had been filled with tales of hurricane-like personal destruction: numerous vacations destroyed because Constance insisted they spend time with the family, evening upended from demands that Tucker come up to the penthouse on 84th and Park Avenue immediately for some protracted family drama. The family matriarch planned every detail of their lives, and every moment must be executed with a cheery smile or the repercussions could be severe.
Constance didn’t really understand the word, “No.”
Fifteen minutes past their appointed time, Abby sipped her coffee, recalling the details that had led her to this point. A young girl from North Carolina, she had driven to New York City ten years ago to seek her fame and fortune on the Broadway stage. She had driven her beat-up Honda Accord all the way by herself, and her parents had been terrified. She’s packed the car with all her clothes, including a favorite pair of cowboy boots from her grandmother that rode shotgun on the passenger seat. She’d said the same thing before she drove away that she would say every night calling from near-starving conditions in her tiny Chinatown apartment for the next two years:
“Y’all don’t worry about me. I’m gonna be fine.”
That second year, Abby was almost at the end of her rope, working as a catering waitress during the day and pounding auditions every afternoon. She’d find a part here and there, but life was rough. By the time she met Tucker Albright, she had almost thrown in the towel and packed up the Honda Accord to try another city (maybe Chicago?)
Their whirlwind romance lasted a few months and felt like a fairytale to Abby: laving dinners, romantic vacations, endless presents from luxury stores she’d never even heard of before. Despite nasty flashes of temper here and there, Tucker seemed like a golden prince who’d been sent to rescue Abby. He wanted to take Abby away from her tiny shoebox of an apartment where she lived on ramen noodles and peanut butter into a glamorous life where money seemed to flow like water. Their love was passionate, unlike anything either of them had ever known. They wanted to spend their lives together.
Come to think of it, he did talk to his mother a lot.
The courtship culminated with Abby meeting Tucker’s socialite mother over lunch at her house in the Hamptons. Constance seemed incredibly sweet, almost too nice. They got along swimmingly until Tucker excused himself to take a phone call. The two women continued to talk until Constance delivered what would be the first of many demands wrapped in verbal silk and barbed wire:
“Darling, I know my son intends to marry you, but you know that this –,” she said sweetly, gesturing her diamond bracelet-covered arm in a wide circle around Abby’s personage. “This simply will not do.”
Constance went on to explain that Tucker was raised in the greatest schools in the world, that his wife needed to be up to snuff. Could she understand that she would need to maybe polish up a bit to higher social standards? If she loved him, she would do anything for him, right?
Oh, and there would also be a prenup.
Abby, young and completely caught off guard, agreed. And so it began. Voice and diction lessons all but erased the Carolinian accent from her throat. Her blonde hair became a fiery ginger at the hands of Constance’s personal hairdresser. The dancing had to cease immediately in trade for barre classes at the most expensive studio in the city. Her wedding was planned down to the dress without a single one of her requests being accepted. Constance even made a surprise appearance on their Amalfi Coast honeymoon, playing with Tucker’s hair and going on and on about what a wonderful life they would all have together amid the lush landscape, the sweet sea air, the intimate romance that was supposed to belong to Abby and Tucker.
Abby’s horror would only grow over the next few years. As Constance’s influence continued to press into their lives, Tucker would disappear for drinks with his friends. Over the first year of their marriage, some of the benders would go on for days with Tucker claiming he had “an emergency business trip.” When it was discovered that Abby couldn’t have children despite the best medical help possible, Tucker’s presence in her life dwindled to an occasional appearance. She found herself atop an ivory castle in the most exciting city in the world a prisoner of her own glamorous life. All the right parties and she could never speak her mind. All the right clothes, but she could never get comfortable. She had the right husband, but she was sharing him with too many women.
The memories were broken as Constance swept into the restaurant, air kissing the staff as she made her way to the breakfast table. The two women did their polite half hug and took their seats. Light pleasantries were exchanged as Constance’s diamond-clad hands arranged things on the table to her satisfaction, including a lock of Abby’s hair that had fallen into her face. Abby flinched. Constance started.
The two women sat in a moment of silence, their personal dislike for each other polarizing like powerful magnets.
Breakfast was short. Quiet. Neither of them really spoke about anything but the weather. Bright sunshine. No clouds expected today. 80’s degrees with light winds from the north.
And it was then Abby began to speak. Short, sweet, to the point. She was leaving all of this: Constance, Tucker, the whole thing. She placed a manila envelope on the table, the divorce papers her attorneys would be serving Tucker. She was leaving everything behind. She asked for nothing. She wanted nothing.
Constance seemed annoyed but relieved, mentioning something about the prenup preventing her from getting anything anyway. Abby smiled as she paid the check from her new separate bank account she had just opened. She’d managed to save quite a bit here and there over the course of the marriage, more than enough to secure safe passage elsewhere.
As the two women rose to say goodbye, Abby thought of all the things she could say to Constance, all the pithy barbs she wished she could express. But she thought better of it. The reporter from The New York Times had taken her entire story as part of a larger expose on the Albright family. Seemed not all of that money was entirely legal after all. Abby had given all the details she had dared never say.
Abby was sure the forthcoming Times article would be enough of a final word.
They nodded politely as Abby made her way to the elevators and out to the street, where she hailed a yellow cab to a parking garage in lower Manhattan. There, already packed with her belongings, was the old Honda Accord. Abby ran her hand down the side and patted the driver’s side door.
“Whatcha say there, Old Blue?” she asked, a hint of her North Carolina accent lilting in the back of her throat. “Ready to go home.”
She climbed into the driver’s seat and called her mother, who had been waiting anxiously by the old phone. “I did it, Mama,” Abby choked back through her tears.
Her mother’s soothing voice came through the other end. “Oh, honey. I’m so glad to hear that. You okay? That evil woman didn’t do anything to you, did she?”
Abby turned the phone’s speaker on as she started the car. “Nope. I’m good. She’ll see the article soon.”
“Good. Now, you be careful now. It’s a long drive down here.”
Abby pulled onto the street and realized that she had done it. All those years of that magical dream going sour, and she had decided her happiness was more important. She had done it. She had untied the knot.
As she turned on the radio, she found her voice once again.
“Y’all don’t worry about me. I’m gonna be fine.”
Bottega Veneta The Knot, $125-$165, via Saks.com and fine retailers everywhere
Shot by Kristin Booker at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship on Fifth Avenue, June 2015