Just when I think I’ve run the risk of overdosing on nostalgia, a deep cut pulls sends me blissfully careening back through time and space. Which is exactly what happened when I discovered Basenote Bitch (@basenote_bitch), a delicious new Instagram account that satirically reviews retro fragrances and pairs them with heavily saturated still life homages to the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s. The account is the brainchild of Elizabeth Renstrom, a photographer and senior photo editor for The New Yorker, whose own potent longing often bleeds into her day job. “A lot of my work tends to incorporate elements of product nostalgia and things that could potentially trigger certain adolescent memories,” she says. “What better to do that than the headache-inducing body mists I wore to cover the stench of my budding puberty?”
Each post is an exercise in character development as much as it is a review, with Renstrom creating narratives for the perfume wearers themselves with the accuracy of an episode of PEN15 and the gusto of a Bat Mitzvah attendee trying her hardest to win a blow-up guitar on the dancefloor. “Some of these fragrances come falling out of my bizarre psyche, for example, the teen who would wear Bath and Body Works ‘Cucumber Melon’ was more into smelling ‘clean’ vs. ‘sexy’ and exploring her sensitive side. Thus, she had to be the kind of person who would bake granola in her Easy Bake Oven while listening to Michelle Branch,” she says.
The pubescent flacon gang’s all there, from CK One to Victoria Secret’s Love Spell to M by Mariah Carey, which Renstrom sources from eBay and the far corners of the Internet. “A lot of the fun is the hunt followed by obsessively reading and watching hot takes on what I’m about to satirize,” she says. The project has been a welcome distraction from the pandemic for Renstrom, who is currently working on a website, where Basenote Bitch can spread her fruity and floral wings. “Any frag head will tell you it’s easy to dive deeper and deeper.”
Here are some of Basenote Bitch’s finest, most unhinged fragrance reviews including Tommy Girl and Fantasy by Britney Spears, which debut exclusively here.
Tommy Girl by Tommy Hilfiger
This was the iconic starter fragrance of the ’90s that was effortless and preppy and oozing new American freshness like most perfumes of this time period. If you wanted to smell like freshly- shampooed hair, this was your juice. Like everything Hilfiger put out in this decade it seemed to made for the archetypal girl-next-door. She’s brunette, she has access to a dock, and she’s not a girl, not yet a woman. She may or may not be Katie Holmes in Dawson’s Creek. Or Selma Blair in Cruel Intentions. Who can say? She’s heritage looking to get a little hedonistic someday but not today. Today she’s going to soak in a tub with some bath beads shaped like dolphins while listening to her favourite one minute segments of Sugar Ray songs on a HitClips boombox. Top notes are black currant, camelia, mandarin orange and apple tree blossom; middle notes are honeysuckle, lily, violet, mint, grapefruit, lemon and rose; base notes are magnolia, leather, sandalwood, jasmine and cedar. In real life you’re going to smell like every extra in the music video for Vitamin C’s “Graduation.” Can Heather find a job that won’t interfere with her tan?
Fantasy by Britney Spears
There is nothing I love more than all of Britney Spears’ iconic perfume commercials over the years. Do yourself a favour and go through her whispery baby voiceover and try not to be shook when she utters the tagline at the end of each one. One of the most notable though, is her quivering delivery of, “Fantasy, everybody has one.” I die ten times over. Most know that Britney is the queen and reigning champion of the celebrity fragrance game. We have the new Ariana Grandes of the world making some notably creamy gourmand delights, and the Kardashian empire pumping out new crystal or body-shaped stinkers—but we don’t yet know if these will stand the test of department to drugstore time. Celeb-endorsed juice isn’t always a sealed deal and that’s part of what makes all of our pop queen’s concoctions unique. They are indeed massive blockbusters to this day. Her own obvious love of perfume goes a long way and is joyous to see as an unhinged fraghead or fangirl. If I was a tween buying ‘Fantasy’ at my local Kohl’s only to then see that same bottle in a Britney Spears music video (it has been featured in several) I’d also then want to slap seven-foot albino Burmese python on my shoulders and gyrate all over my bedroom. The built in Britney-advertising method was and still is effective and historic. So many try, but then again—can anyone produce hits like this bitch? Notes for “Fantasy” include litchi, golden quince, jasmine, white chocolate, orris root, musk and woods. In real life Britney said, “ It smells amazing, and it is in department stores, so I seriously suggest to be sexy and go out and get it. Seriously.”
“Love Spell” by Victoria’s Secret
Ah, to go back to my preteen years where I thought spraying this all over my body and the outside of my panties (sometimes inside, sorry genitals!) would get boys to fingerbang me in middle school. This scent is like the word ‘panty’ incarnate, actually. You know what I’m talking about—it’s none other than Victoria’s Secret’s Love Spell Body mist. Mist is an important distinction in silage. It evokes memories of Bonnie Bell lip gloss, Ugg boots with denim mini skirts, humping body pillows, and rampant tween sexuality. Actual notes include cherry blossom and peach. IRL, you will smell like the spit forming in your mouth when you’re sucking on a green apple Blow Pop. If you’re a tween you will feel like the sexiest person alive. You don’t have to tell him you’re a virgin, because you’re a cool girl.
Country Apple by Bath and Body Works
This is the scent I would wear to see and be seen at the Scholastic Book Fair in my elementary school auditorium circa 1998. The fair was not only my favorite time of year, but prime time for lurking on my crush behind the makeshift cardboard displays chocked full of the latest Animorphs release. “Country Apple” was the epitome of sophistication by my third grade standards which included projecting enough so everyone in a half mile radius of me would imagine a burning Yankee McIntosh Candle. That’s tween sexy, right? As I peeled through the bins of pens and pencils commanding no attention from my crush (my signature look at the time was an orange Old Navy fleece with carpenter pants from the junior’s section at Lord & Taylor) something else caught my eye. I had seen it in the catalogue before, but there it was in front of me for the taking. It was none other than Lovin’ Leo: Your Leonardo DiCaprio Keepsake Scrapbook. I knew I had to get this with a holographic bookmark and take it home immediately to be torn apart and pasted on my walls for worship. Later that night I did just that in between Honourable Mention ribbons from failed athletic competitions past. I prayed and wrote a letter to Leo in Hollywood begging for a meeting. Not only did I s.w.a.k. that letter—I sprayed it in my Country Apple Body splash. I knew it would make him think of me as a mature woman, ready to be taken. Who knows if he ever received it, but one blast of this juice brings all the unrequited feelings back with a headache. Notes include McIntosh Apple, Apple Blossom, Fresh Muguet, Sheer Sunlight, and Orchard Woods. In real life you’re going to smell like a townie gnawing on a candy apple. Eat your heart out, DiCaprio.
Cool by Ralph Lauren
This was the first fragrance I ever purchased for myself at age 16 or 17 with the money I was making bussing tables at a pizzeria in a strip mall called Vito’s. I drove myself to the actual glorious mall in my black 1980 Cadillac Deville, went to the Macy’s beauty counter and made this my signature scent for junior and senior year of high school. I still remember the fleeting moments of this on my skin as it quickly became covered up by the smell of huge rips off a bong in my Jessica McClintock prom dress. This was when all I wanted to smell like was a freshly washed ponytail, heavily conditioned in Herbal Essences (original formula, duh.) I was chasing a dream never to be fulfilled by a fruity floral. This reminds me of a time when a year felt like an eternity of built up wisdom and experience. When a year could be full of firsts that differentiate you from the girl who hadn’t touched a penis to the girl that HAD. You only get a few years that are inundated with firsts that feel life-altering in a My So-Called Life kind of way, and I CANNOT forgive my past self for choosing such a generic sporty fragrance to mark them. However, I will never forget. Notes include nectarine, kiwi, watermelon and cucumber. The honeysuckle, lily-of-the-valley, lemon and lime with vetiver. In real life you will smell like that first tentative sip of Watermelon Smirnoff Ice at your first basement party.
Fetish by Dana
This bottle looks like a prop piece that would be found on any Nickelodeon game show in the mid to late ’90s. I also feel like Alex of The Secret World of Alex Mack, would have worn this post* chemical spill because of the wacky science experiment aesthetic of the bottle. Looks aside, like anything marketed towards teen girls in the 20th century—this beauty product has a dark past. Picture a room full of men desperately trying to come up with catnip for the ‘young consumer’ and finally landing on this design along with the accompanying controversial advertising. In the original magazine print ad an adolescent woman wearing an orange bikini top and heavy, pink eye make-up has a vial of “Fetish” hanging from the center of said top, and text written across her chest that read “Fetish #16: Apply generously to your neck so he can smell the scent as you shake your head ‘no.’” I like when perfumes evoke mystery, but not when the message behind them is to actually ignore what a woman is saying. So not cute. No does not mean yes, and perfume doesn’t change that. Let me remind you Dana also owns and distributes Love’s Baby Soft if you want to refer to another disastrous sexy baby marketing campaign. QUITE CURIOUS. Controversies aside, this was meant to be another fresh and ‘carefree’ reach for the ordinary teenage girl who’s not quite ready for Tommy Girl. The top notes of this scent are grapefruit, lemon leaf, peach, and pineapple, with jasmine, violet, iris, ylang-ylang, rose, lily-of-the-valley, and tuberose blending together as the middle notes. Base notes of sandalwood, musk, and amber. In real life you will smell like Clarissa Explains it All’s training bra.
Love’s Baby Soft by Dana Classic Fragrances
This vibrant pink, tampon-esque bottle has taken the tween fragrance world by storm time and time again. I do not exaggerate when I say it has as many lives as Cher. It’s the scent so many girls sprayed all over themselves along with their Cabbage Patch Kids in bedrooms across the world. As with most products, it was engineered to be a hit despite some serious Lolita-esque advertising when it first came on the scene in 1974. The initial ‘concept’ for the perfume was essentially a fuckable wittle baby girl. The slogan in the original ads (also pictured here) was quite literally “because innocence is sexier than you think,” paired with a Brooke Shields circa Pretty Baby model. Many thanks to the advertising industry—as if the period between girlhood and womanhood wasn’t hard enough. Stop sexualizing tween girls and let them discover sexuality/hump Care Bears in peace. Aside from that initial, disturbing start—Baby Soft was a complete hit. The price point was allowance friendly and it serves as a nostalgia bomb for so many years out because of this. Its composition is described as gentle, powdery and light fragrance. It contains notes of geranium, jasmine, rose, lavender, patchouli, vanilla and musk.
M By Mariah Carey
This scent came at the tail end of the early aughts celebrity fragrance boom, but in her diva way instead of following the fruity floral trend, ‘M by Mariah’ is defined as a sweet oriental. I imagine it sitting amongst the myriad of bottle and lotion gift sets at Kohl’s saying to the other perfumes ‘I don’t know her’ and accidentally shoving ‘Glow’ by J Lo on to the linoleum floor. The drama! The bottle design was obviously inspired by the oppressive butterfly motif of her guest room in her now iconic 2002 MTV cribs tour. I remember thinking I’d be served a lot of Nancy Meyers-esque interiors but then got bizarre Joannes fabric implosions with vacant dinings rooms. I digress. Notes include marshmallow, sea notes, gardenia, incense, patchouli and amber. In real life you will smell like the tears of Nicky Minaj kept in a bottle alongside all the white roses and lamb stuffed animals Mariah requests for her trailer.
Fierce from Abercrombie and Fitch
I barely need to introduce this scent as it was quite literally the smell of every American mall from 2002 onward. It was actually pumped through the air vents of Abercrombie and Fitch to create a not so subtle atmosphere of what everybody’s life could be like if they were effortlessly, wholesomely, all-American-ly, bonafide hotties. Bless those employees’ hearts who are probably now suffering permanent damage from a combination of this scent and their circulation being cut off from low slung jeans. I shed a tear and burn a polo. As I smell this nearly two decades after it was permanently ingrained in my psyche, I have to thank Abercrombie for creating a powerful warning signal for a certain type of guy. This sick fuq definitely wore a puka shell bracelet and had a ‘Kiss’ by Tanya Chalkin poster in their college dorm room. I can already see the flip flops with a nasty hangnail emerging in forty degree weather—my god. Notes include: petitgrain, cardamom, lemon, orange, fir, and seanotes; middle notes are jasmine, rosemary, lily-of-the-valley and sage; base notes are vetiver, musk, oakmoss and sandalwood. In real life you’re going to smell like a multi-level popped collar and unironic Kanye West shutter glasses. Absolutely horrifying—proceed with caution.
Beverly Hills 90210 by Beverly Hills 90210
Have you ever wanted to smell like a teen drama incarnate? Like an inexplicable love triangle dragged out across many seasons and many shades of nude lipstick? Or like wealthy, privileged white teens spinning storylines out of literally nothing? Then this fragrance could be for you. It’s a soapy floral fragrance based on a literal soap opera. We can all recognize that 90210 was at times totally unfathomable and poorly acted—but it gave way to many more iconic and poorly- acted teen shows. Let us reflect on Mischa Barton in The O.C. or James Van Der Beek in Dawson’s Creek. All those and more wouldn’t be possible without the complete fandom of this show. That’s also why I can bring this perfume to you today. Deadstock fragrance can’t come from a show like “The Beautiful Life,” so here’s to teens quite literally wearing their hearts on their sleeves despite bad dialogue. If you want Jason Priestley to enter your Peach Pit then you know what to do. Spray this puppy on. Notes include green apple, white florals and woodsy notes. In real life you will smell like an unfeasibly old twenty-something cast as a teenager. Dirty little liar!
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