What Might Have Been
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Below are excerpts from Chapters One and Two.
What Might Have Been
As the 1970s women’s movement paves the way, an underestimated young woman leaves a broken marriage to reinvent retail – and herself – at New York’s most glamorous department store
As a fashion buyer, Dana McGarry is a tastemaker, her keen instinct for fashion trends and innovative ideas coupled with a razor sharp business sense. But like the elegant and conservative store that employs her, Dana is caught between two eras—between being liked and standing her ground, between playing by the rules and being a maverick. Dana is sensitive and beautiful, but what you see is not what you get. Behind the cool and attractive facade, Dana is both driven by her need to control yet impeded by her expectation of perfectionism. As she competes to replace women at the top of their game, she is challenged by jealous colleagues. And when a wealthy love interest wants to open doors and support her ambition, she embraces Coco Chanel’s mantra of “never wanting to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” As the 1970s women’s movement paves the way, the newly divorced Dana finds a path to the career she wants at the expense of happiness that will have to wait.
What Might Have Been Excerpt
Dana McGarry, on vacation for the first time as a single woman, arrived at the Lansdowne Club at 9 Fitzmaurice Place, just steps from Berkeley Square, in London’s fashionable Mayfair on the morning of April 8, 1975. Her lawyer had filed papers for a legal separation from her husband Brett in January, and after four months of being under the watchful eyes of well-meaning family and friends, Dana was savoring every moment of her solo trip across the pond. She and Brett had always stayed at the nearby Chesterfield Hotel, but her beloved Colony Club in New York City enjoyed reciprocity with the Lansdowne Club, where she’d previously attended lunches and lectures while her husband met with clients for his Wall Street law firm. Undeterred by the steady English rain and dark clouds hanging over the slick gray streets, she stepped from one of London’s fabled black taxis with renewed spirit, excited to think that the distinguished house in Berkeley Square would be her home for the next five days. After Dana checked in, the hall porter asked her if she would like tea brought to her room and then discreetly disappeared with her luggage, a small, welcoming gesture that stood in contrast to an impersonal hotel. Rather than immediately taking the lift to her room on the fifth floor, Dana stepped into the entrance hall and surveyed the club’s interior, intending to explore Scottish architect Robert Adam’s stately masterpiece commissioned in 1761 for King George III’s prime minister, the Earl of Bute. Previously, she had limited herself to the dining room, never taking time to appreciate the club’s historic beauty. Although rich with finely-crafted embellishments and Neoclassical splendor, the house was clearly showing signs of fatigue, and its understated elegance made the environment that much more comfortable. Dana knew she’d made the right choice. The club was an oasis of tradition and tranquility affording her the peace and privacy she needed.
When Dana arrived in her junior suite, she noticed a bouquet of flowers sitting on a table in the sitting area. Thinking they were compliments of the club, Dana opened the attached note and laughed out loud. The flowers had been sent by her childhood friend, Johnny Cirone. The message read, “Take Phoebe shopping and buy up the town. Whatever you do, enjoy yourself. Love, Johnny.”
Dr. Phoebe Cirone, who was in London attending a cardiology convention, was Johnny’s sister. Their father, John Cirone, known affectionately to Dana and her brother Matthew as Uncle John, was the head of the House of Cirone, a manufacturer of ladies eveningwear. Having a passion for medicine from an early age, Phoebe had never expressed interest in clothes or haute couture, leaving Johnny to reluctantly carry on family tradition by working for his father. Dana’s parents, Phil and Virginia Martignetti, had been friends with the Cirones since before her birth.
Dana, pleased to see a porcelain tea service had already arrived, took her cup to the window and sipped the Darjeeling as she observed the new plantings in the courtyard garden. The peace she’d felt a few minutes ago was gone, however. Something about Johnny’s note, as thoughtful as it was, unnerved her. Johnny and her mother called daily to see how she was doing. Dana sensed their concern, although she felt it was unwarranted. What did they think—that she was going to kill herself because the divorce would soon be final? They obviously didn’t recognize her personal strength and resolve. Dana worked at New York City’s B. Altman, and the previous December she’d formed the department store’s first Teen Advisory Board. She had also succeeded in getting Ira Neimark, the store’s executive vice president, to sign off on installing a teen makeup counter on the main selling floor over the objections of Helen Kavanagh, junior buyer, who thought youth-oriented strategies like those at London’s Biba, were a waste of time and money. Despite these personal triumphs, she’d taken aggressive steps to further advance her career, leaving her comfortable job in the marketing department for the position of junior accessories buyer. She had requested time off for this visit to London immediately after settling into the new assignment, and that alone was proof that she knew how to take care of herself.
Dana had been equally aggressive in terminating her marriage to Brett. Papers for a legal separation had been filed in January by Dana’s lawyer when she discovered that Brett was having an affair with fellow litigator Janice Conlon, a saucy and impertinent young woman from California. Negotiations for a final settlement were proceeding smoothly, with no protests originating from either Brett or his lawyer lest the firm be apprised of his misconduct with the audacious Conlon. In the four months since their separation, Dana had realized that Brett’s dalliance with the abrasive Conlon had merely been a catalyst for the end of their relationship since there had been something far deeper and more troubling in their marriage: Brett’s growing neglect of Dana as he vigorously pursued partnership with the firm. His work always served as a convenient excuse to pick and choose his time with Dana and in the long run, that grim reality had proven intolerable. Within days of learning of Brett’s infidelity, Dana contacted an attorney and moved from her Murray Hill apartment to a carriage house a few blocks away in Sniffen Court.
Given the decisive actions in her personal and professional life, Dana therefore felt smothered at times by the daily concerns of others. As for her traveling abroad alone, she felt more than competent to take care of herself. When Brett had been with her in London, they were rarely together. He usually spent days working, and evenings meeting with clients, joining Dana for late dinners, if at all. He was up and out by 7:00 a.m. She’d always hoped that the next trip would be better, but this was never the case. Traveling alone? It was all she knew.
Yes, it had all happened just four months ago, illustrating how the course of a life can change so radically and quickly. But was she ecstatically happy now that a new phase of her life and career had begun, with Brett being almost surgically excised from the picture? No, she wasn’t jubilant about anything at present, but she was content, at peace with the decisions she had made to take care of herself and her future. In the words of her father, she had discovered that she had “a very good life” despite longstanding marital woes and formidable professional challenges. Many of her friends had urged her to re-enter the dating scene since she was almost thirty and the clock was ticking, but Dana didn’t miss married life in the least and had no interest whatsoever in dating, especially guys described as the perfect match: upwardly mobile professionals, or “Brett clones,” the apt description provided by Andrew Ricci, Dana’s good friend and display director at the store. Besides, marriage was not the only path to a fulfilled life. In Dana’s estimation, happiness also resulted from pursuing a creative dream, enjoying good friendships and the myriad interests that gave her immense pleasure, such as art, literature, museums, and lectures on a wide variety of topics. Being suddenly single was not a condition to be cured but rather an opportunity to be savored.
After a good night’s sleep, Dana arrived at Fortnum & Mason, located at 181 Piccadilly, at eight o’clock in the morning. An hourly tribute to the founders begun in 1951, the four-foot models of William Fortnum and Hugh Mason emerged from the turquoise and gold clock and bowed to each other with punctual civility as the carillon bells sounded eight times. Dana was seated in the Buttery, an intimate dining room on the mezzanine level. She ordered coffee and a croissant and began reading the Times when her thoughts drifted to the shifting tide of events at B. Altman since January. While she had experienced great success with the teen makeup section and the Teen Advisory Board, new challenges had presented themselves almost immediately, and she’d found herself at odds—not for the first time—with Helen Kavanagh, the former junior buyer.
Struggles were unavoidable in everyone’s career, but Dana felt like progress was achieved at a pace of two steps forward and one step back. In January, Helen’s junior department had been broken up, and she became the divisional manager, overseeing women’s sportswear and dresses as well as juniors. In turn, Dana had stepped up to the position of junior accessories buyer. For Helen, however, her new job, while a promotion, no longer had power or status thanks to the arrival of Dawn Mello two years earlier. Mello filled the newly-created position of vice president and fashion director and had been hand-picked for the task by Ira Neimark, who was hired to make B. Altman more competitive in mainstream retailing, thus updating its stodgy image. Dawn was solely responsible for charting the store’s fashion direction, approving new lines and making buying decisions that were influenced by her extensive European travels to scout for new trends. With twenty-five years of buying experience, Helen resented reporting to Dawn and was now angry that she had no control of her staff’s merchandise choices, leaving her with boring budgets and operational issues.
In the months following Helen’s promotion, Dana enjoyed a good working relationship with Dawn, who wholeheartedly approved of Dana’s suggestion to build a small free-standing accessories “store” in the junior department. Dawn had challenged the buyers to think of creative ways to compete with boutique-mania thriving all over the city, from Madison to Third Avenue, and she especially liked Dana’s idea to market the proposed accessory section, called “Nantucket,” with merchandise popular on Nantucket Island: handmade lightship bags decorated with scrimshaw pieces, colorful ribbon belts, and canvas duffle bags from Marblehead Handprints. Dawn not only gave Dana the green light but approved an expensive build-out to replicate cedar shingle houses on the island, custom-designed by Mark Senger, president of Senger Display Company, B. Altman’s vendor for holiday windows and major store renovations. Helen went directly to Dawn, asking her to halt the project or defer the cost to the store, but she was overruled. Dawn thought the Nantucket concept had potential for growth and believed that Helen should be responsible for the expense because her department would ultimately benefit from the new brand. Dana had found herself in the middle of a power play between two formidable women, and she was an easy target for Helen’s misery. Her exciting new job had once again become nothing more than a game of politics.
The Best Five Star Amazon Review!! Thank you Alex, we’re on the same page! Thank you for seeing a TV series for Dana!
By Alex on July 10, 2015
I’d like to say, if you are hesitant to read this book, just look at the author’s website. This is not just one in a series of books; it is an entire fascinating world. Much like a great TV series, the first novel in the Dana McGarry book series, A Very Good Life, introduces the characters, the settings and the time. At the end, you are left with a cliffhanger and so in love with Dana, so in hate with Janice and Brett, and so intrigued by the multitude of characters surrounding Dana that you devour What Might Have Been which moves at a faster pace while developing characters and subplots, adding intrigue, interweaving relationships and introducing two new characters at the end whom I can’t wait to know more about in the remainder of the series. The authors website has motivated me to do my own research and I now not only look up Diana Vreeland’s quotes, I share them with people who have never heard of her (can you imagine) and think she’s both inspirational and hilarious.
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