I recently made the agonizing decision to walk away from a nine year relationship. Despite the breakups that came before, nothing prepared me for the searing pain, crushing weight of sadness, and disorienting fog of grief that followed. I devoured any advice friends could offer, barely noticing or caring that much of it was contradictory: Stay busy, but rest! Focus on yourself, but get back out there! I went for walks, I journaled, I stopped drinking, I drank a lot. None of this was particularly helpful, but as anyone reckoning with loss can attest, there is no immediate relief.
Weeks later, in my new, empty, much smaller apartment, a package arrived: a big bouquet of flowers and perfume from Dries Van Noten. Friends and colleagues know my allegiance to this iconic designer is devout. There is a singularity in Van Noten’s approach to print, layering, and silhouette—inspirational in its ease, aspirational in its elegance. The Belgian designer famously has a spectacular garden at his Antwerp home, so the flowers, of course, were perfect: wild yet refined, a mix of sugary hues and unexpected shapes. But even more beautiful was the bottle of new perfume inside the box: milky glass dipped half in marigold, half in ballet slipper pink (in my opinion, Dries is the undisputed king of color). The cap had an antique feel, with small scratches and dings, perfectly imperfect. I smiled. With a spray I let the fragrance fall around me: tangy, soft, fresh, warm.
In a time when everything felt hard—making decisions, focusing, socializing, sleeping—the strangest thing happened. Before a meeting, event, or any attempt to engage with the land of the living, I reached for this new beautiful bottle and gently spritzed my neck and wrists. I actively looked forward to it: a quiet pause before the chaos that a day in New York City inevitably brings. I found the quick ritual galvanizing, providing a little decadence when I was feeling so far from myself. I suddenly felt optimistic, full of possibilities on this first page of a new chapter. Who could I be with this new aromatic elegance?
It’s worth noting, that while I am a risk taker in getting dressed (I’ll happily wear trailing Issey Miyake plissé on a Wednesday afternoon! Three clashing prints and a giant corsage! A sequined Gucci swim cap with rainbow polka dotted Christopher John Rogers!) my approach to beauty has always been more cautious. Take care of my skin, a flick of an eyeliner, maybe a red lip. Something as intimate as a bold scent always intimidated me, so I stuck to light, lackluster rosewater.