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This Clean-Smelling Perfume Is Like a Grown-up Gap Dream

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist

When my childhood friend Bridget and I arrived in Chicago after a trip to central Illinois for our 20-year high-school reunion, we were already saturated with nostalgia. We’d spent the weekend having conversations with people we hadn’t seen since we were 18 and revisiting yearbook photos of our former selves wearing PJs for Spirit Week and one-shoulder dresses for homecoming. Our plan for our last afternoon was to go shopping, in the 1999 sense: mindlessly wander from one store to another, looking for nothing in particular and open to everything, like we used to do at the mall.

Amid Y2K-is-back shimmery lip glosses and frosted eye shadows at the modern clean-beauty store Credo, I gravitated toward the perfumes, lined up next to a beaker of tester strips. As 15-year-olds, we spritzed those pieces of cardboard with such hope and collected bouquets of them, convinced there must be a scent that would help us express — and cement — who we truly were. When I gave Windows Down by Henry Rose a smell at 39, I was right back there: “Oh my God, it’s like grown-up Gap Dream,” I gushed. Bridget agreed.

When Gap introduced Dream in 1995, I was in junior high, washing my hair with Herbal Essences shampoo, smearing the Body Shop’s mango body butter on the legs I’d recently learned to shave, and misting Bath & Body Works’ cucumber-melon body splash over everything. I was practically a fruit salad. At whatever point I deemed it time for a Real Grown-up Fragrance, Dream was waiting for me at the checkout counter at my favorite clothing store, the one that promoted minimalism and personal style before I could have told you those were things I cared about. A bit flowery and a lot upbeat, Dream didn’t feel too fussy or try-hard. It was confident. It just was. My nose has a better memory than my brain at this point, but I’d bet all my babysitting money that it’s the first perfume I bought, possibly while purchasing khaki cutoffs to complete my first-day-of-school look.

In recent years, fancying myself older and wiser has pulled me toward moodier, broodier offerings, like Maison Louis Marie’s No.04 Bois de Balincourt and Boy Smells’ Violet Ends. Though Windows Down isn’t as heady, it isn’t sugary sweet, either. It’s nuanced … but gently so. As one reviewer on the Henry Rose website puts it, “So clean and fresh and a little sultry.” It’s like it lived through a pre-Columbine, pre-9/11 era, landed in 2022 knowing full well that nostalgia can be dangerous, and still can’t help itself. Akin to reading a romance novel in which you know you’re going to get a happily ever after or rewatching an episode of Friends for the seventh time, wearing it is insulating. It makes me feel taken care of, a sensation that I’ve learned with age to seek out when I need it.

I’m not kicking my other go-tos to the curb, but I’ve been turning to Windows Down whenever I need an escape from the present and for the world to seem as full of possibility as it did when I was driving on a three-day-old license, even if just for a few minutes.

Like Dream, Windows Down is a citrusy floral — in this case, grapefruit and bergamot mingling with neroli and Earl Grey. Compounding its appeal, this scent comes to me care of a ’90s icon: Michelle Pfeiffer was disturbed by the lack of transparency around ingredients and their regulation and founded Henry Rose to develop formulations that would pass muster with both the Environmental Working Group and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

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This Clean-Smelling Perfume Is Like a Grown-Up Gap Dream