Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Penhaligon's Tralala review - the dressing up box, bottled

Source: fragrantica
This isn't going to be another medical post (promise!), but it is relevant to mention that the health issues I have at the moment - with their common theme of 'lowness' (low iron, low blood sugar, low thyroid function) - are also associated with symptoms variously described as fuzzy thinking, poor concentration, confusion and my personal favourite, 'mental fog'. And based on a set of blood results from a few years back, which have only just caught the doctor's eye, I can in fact legitimately claim to have been suffering from mental fog for some considerable time now. A retrospective excuse might come in handy too, I sense.

In parallel, I am starting to wonder if I may also be afflicted with nasal fog, for my nose is not as sensitive as it used to be, and goodness knows it has never been great.  I struggle to pick out more than one or two notes in perfumes these days, or completely misinterpret the basic composition of a scent. Case in point - I just bagged a bargain part bottle of Aftelier Perfumes Haute Claire from Freddie of Smellythoughts, who is selling off a fair chunk of his collection.  That's a perfume I thought was based around the scent of narcissus, Le Temps d'une Fete-style, but its main notes turn out to be galbanum, ylang-ylang and orange. At least galbanum conveys greenness of some kind! Interestingly, another scent of which Haute Claire reminds me is DelRae Debut, which also smells of narcissus to me, and which contains lime, linden blossom, green leaves and ylang-ylang - so maybe I register ylang-ylang + miscellaneous greenness as narcissus.

Source: youtube.com

But what of Tralala, I hear you say?  This quirky new release is a collaborative venture between fashion label Meadham Kirchhoff and Penhaligon's.  Meadham Kirchhoff was founded by Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchoff in 2006, and the relationship between the two brands goes back some time. Meadham Kirchhoff have been using Penhaligon's perfumes to scent their fashion shows, notably with Hammam Bouquet, which both designers cite as their all-time favourite scent. And now they have their own edp, created by Bertrand Duchaufour.

Well, obviously I had to google this pair,to get a feel for their aesthetic, and very flamboyant and outlandish it is too.  And colourful and a lot of fun: its latest collection features tweedy boxy suits accessorised with glittery and feathery bits, and clumpy platforms reminiscent of geisha shoes or something Dave Hill might have sported in the heyday of glam rock. In past catwalk shows, the models' pallid complexions were daubed with bright splashes of lipstick - not always on the mouth, I might add - evoking a geisha vibe. There are echoes of that - and also of marionettes and circus side shows - in the clownish doll's head on the bottle, which to me looks like a slightly creepier version of a Harajuku Lover doll, though The Black Narcissus finds it cute enough.  He references Punch & Judy in his review, and the grotesque element in carnival entertainment. There is also a teasing tension between the extrovert outfits and make up and the inscrutable expressions on the models' faces.   I had a look at a video of the Tralala launch and thought: 'Golly, those girls all look very young', only to realise it was a collection for Top Shop.

Source: stylenoir.co.uk

Watching that video, the overriding impression of the clothes being modelled was that it looked as though the young teens had raided their mum's - or grandmother's - dressing up box and make up stash. I had a real throwback to my own childhood, when I would top off some oversized, overly grown up outfit featuring tulle and fur and kitten heeled slingbacks with the ludicrous application of emerald green eye shadow - in matt pressed powder form - along with powdered rouge in a little round cardboard pot, powder being a significant theme here to which I will return.

And while researching the Meadham Kirchhoff label, I chanced upon this piece in Vogue, whose author had had the exact same take on this Autumn/Winter 2014 collection:

"Shapes were exaggerated, and things took on a dressing up box feel. It looked like they had each been sourced after a raid from a wealthy great aunt's wardrobe or a vintage shop in Knightsbridge or some other nice neighbourhood..."

Source: londonfashionweek.co.uk

And so to the scent itself, which has proved a particularly keen challenge to my blunted schnozz.  The first time I tried Tralala all I got was a whoosh of aldehydes and an ambience of FM Lipstick Rose - something powdery and retro - quite literally the smell and texture of the vintage make up I was using in my dressing up games. At the same time, it was what I can best describe as self-consciously artificial rather than synthetic in a cheap drugstore perfume sense. The next couple of times I tried Tralala I didn't really get much more, which was the catalyst for this whole notion of my 'nasal fog'.  Then at the weekend I detected a third accord, hot on the clumpy enormous heels of the Lipstick Rose impression - a sort of darker, liqueur-y whiff, mixed into the cosmetics scent.  And as the scent wore on, it dried down to a powdery, faintly boozy and softly suede-y whisper.  And finally comes what Tara so aptly described as the 'comfy jogging bottoms' phase, with a sweetish vanilla and incense accord uppermost to my nose, and not a lot else.  Slight shades of Eau Duelle at this point, which is probably why I like it a lot. If Tralala was a woman, she would be a heavily made up blonde swathed in a cloud of Chanel No 5 propping up the bar in a speakeasy, knocking back shots. Someone looking like Marilyn Monroe springs to mind - because of the No 5 connection, I mean - though I gather her preferred tipple was champagne, if she even frequented bars that is.

Source: Wikiipedia

And that is all I have to say on the matter of the scent's development, but I do think it is a great fit with the fashion aesthetic of Meadham Kirchhoff which, on the face of it, is fairground fantasy meets geisha house meets granny's wardrobe and Slade stage wear c1971.

Here are the notes, which are impressively odd.  I salute Penhaligon's for having come up with a surprisingly wearable fragrance, notwithstanding its eclectic kitchen sink note list and retro vibe.  But 'vintage' is having more than a moment at the moment, and old may be the new new...

Notes: aldehydes, saffron, whisky, ambrette seed butter, galbanum, violet leaf absolute, carnation, leather, tuberose, ylang ylang, orris, incense, myrrh, resinoid, opoponax absolute, patchouli, vetiver, cedarwood, heliotrope, musk, vanilla

Dave Hill of Slade ~ Source: everyrecordtellsastory.com

And no assessment of this perfume would be complete without some discussion of the name. 'Tralala' is first and foremost a happy-go-lucky refrain denoting general merriment, yet the name caused a bit of a PR incident earlier this year, because of reported darker associations in the minds of Meadham Kirchhoff with the prostitute called Tralala in the book/film Last Exit to Brooklyn. Suffice to say the Tralala in question met an extremely nasty end.  The relevant quote was in a now excised article in Cosmopolitan, and the controversy is explored in Robin's post on Tralala (and the ensuing comments) on Now Smell This. Matthew Huband of Penhaligon's also chimed in to nudge the brand back towards its official - and entirely wholesome - positioning:

"We'd just like to clarify that the name Tralala is simply an innocent and musical expression which reflects the fragrance. The perfume is rich, whimsical and nostalgic in Penhaligon's best tradition, as you'd expect."

And here is a video of Bertrand Duchaufour talking about the development of Tralala, in which he homes in on the myrrh and leather in the base of the composition, harnessed to conjure up old photos, artefacts and textiles from the early 20th century.

Hmm, I feel uncomfortable now about my image of the trolleyed blonde at the bar, though that is what popped into my head when I was contemplating the aldehydes-make up-whisky axis. I was even starting to wonder whether the lopsided bow was not merely a kooky touch, but suggestive of clothing in a state of disarray? Even the expression on the doll's face looks almost supplicatory - or not particularly happy at least. Though hold on, my mind may be running away with me....

Plus I have not finished with the meanings of Tralala yet, not at all.

In French, 'en grand tralala' means 'dress up' (we are back to my charades image), while 'tralala' on its own in French can mean pomp and ceremony, a lot of extravagance and publicity designed to impress - or it may mean complexity, fuss and general hoohah, every nuance of which sounds to me like an excellent description of the Meadham Kirchhoff brand.  So those connotations would have resonated with Bertrand Duchaufour once the name had been chosen, which was admittedly some time into the development process.  Though it doesn't quite explain the whisky note.

And then there is this excerpt from an interview with Duchaufour on Fragrantica in January, which sheds more light on the perfumer's interpretation of the Tralala brief - I could imagine that there might well be a decanter of whisky on the grandparents' sideboard, for every other facet in the composition now falls into place:

"And I came to work on purpose on an old-fashioned accord reminding of L'Heure Bleue de Guerlain, L'Aimant de Coty, things like that. They wanted something powdery, deep, even dark, leathery, with animalic connotations, evoking nostalgia of childhood (linked with the grandparents' moods), old stuff, old lace and lacework, old images, icons under broken glass, as sepia-toned pictures and relics under glass bells."

Source: propstudios.co.uk

Meanwhile, over on Colognoisseur, Mark Behnke remains conflicted by the composition:

"Except I've smelled the fragrance and 'rich, whimsical, and nostalgic' doesn't accurately describe it. The adjectives I would use are 'dangerous, edgy and retro'. Which is where the disconnect happens: this fragrance clearly is going for danger as whisky, leather and patchouli are not the ingredients of nostalgic whimsy. They are exactly as was stated the milieu of Tralala, the fictional character."

I have since found an interview Penhaligon's conducted with Meadham Kirchhoff in April, several months after the pre-launch kerfuffle.  In it the duo explain that the name is just a bit of lighthearted tomfoolery.

Edward: "I woke up the morning after our show and I just knew that we should call it 'Tralala' and could envisage exactly how it should look. I loved Tralala because it had no pretensions, no specific connotations, it just sounds sort of humorous and nonchalant but looks really good written. It has a nice rhythm to it."

Source: Wikimedia Commons via Wilhelm Joys Andersen

Oh, and who knew that 'tralala' is also a euphemism for a male body part?, as featured in the 'Ding Dong Song', a chart hit for Swedish pop singer Guenther.  It was originally released as 'Tralala' by the Dutch band Phil & Company in 1984, so whether such musical precedents will kibosh sales in those countries, I couldn't begin to speculate.

Then of course 'tralala' is also what you say when you have your fingers in your ears - metaphorically or otherwise - and are tuning out to someone who is saying things that you don't wish to hear.

As for me, I shall tune out to any controversy surrounding Tralala's backstory and enjoy the perfume on its own merits.  I think Tralala is a very original and striking scent - sinister head, wonky bow and all.  I do really like the box, mind, which was modelled on an old-fashioned musical jewellery box.

Oh, and I have just received a sample of a perfume called 'Junky', which takes its inspiration from the novel of that name by William Burroughs.  Now Burroughs wasn't the most savoury individual to put it mildly, but a spliff-themed whiff is surely worth a sniff.


  1. Dear V, it is surprisingly wearable given the notes list. After the first hour, I found it very girly and easy-going.

    Loved hearing about all the different French meanings for Tralala, all very apt too. Too funny about the Swedish one.

    I agree, Grandpa definitely had some whiskey on his sideboard. Is your mental fog the reason you let slip the "backstory" word or did I imagine your aversion to it?!

    Thanks for the mention!

    1. Hi Tara,

      I really like all the phases of Tralala, and it is interesting that BD mentions L'Heure Bleue, because it was on the tip of my tongue that Tralala reminded me of something, and now I realise that was it.

      I really love your image of 'comfy jogging bottoms' for the drydown because it carries on the notion of dressing up and down.

      And I absolutely do blame the mental fog for the 'backstory' gaffe, yes! Why, I will be forgetting my asterisks in 'perfume j****** at this rate...

    2. The way I just forgot the closing inverted comma. ;)

  2. Vanessa, I SO wanted to add the extemely silly and OTT 'Ding dong song' as a quote in my post about Tralala- ( perhaps I did very loosely...'you *do* touch me tralala') - but when I looked up that old Phil and co song, it seemed to me like no-one would actually be acquainted with it, so I'm really happy that you give it a bit of spot light here :-D
    I really liked it, the perfume, but I take it it didn't touch your tralala, hehe.

    1. Hi Asali,

      Oh, that is funny about the Ding Dong Song! I'll be honest, the reference in your post was over my head at the time, and when I chanced upon the pop hit while rummaging in Urban Dictionary today I didn't instantly make the connection back to your own review - but to answer my rhetorical question 'Who knew...?' that would be you for one! ;)

      I most certainly did like Tralala, hehe - having reread yours and a couple of other reviews now, I see comparisons to both L'Heure Bleue and Traversee du Bosphore. I should really try the latter again, as I don't think I liked it when I first smelt it (admittedly on a very hot day), and it might be all change now.

  3. Posted on behalf of Anna from Edinburgh, who was having technical difficulties doing so directly:

    Hi V,

    "Tralala"? More like "You're my besht mate!"

    I tried Tralala a month or two ago at the local Penhaligon's shop, where the lovely lads sprayed it on a handkerchief for testing. I reeled from the staggering booziness of this scent!

    Why was this released so early in the year when it'll feel more season appropriate in Winter? I can't imagine trying it in Summer at all, so I'll be saving my sample for the bleak midwinter.

    The dry down on the handkerchief was soft and sweet and cuddly over the subsequent days but that alcoholic indulgence overdose at the start was too OTT and not at all carefree and weightless as the name "tralala!" suggests.

    I hope that your health concerns get sorted out pronto.

    1. Hi Anna,

      How interesting that the boozy note was so pronounced on you. I definitely detect it now - I think it does account for the darker vibe to the perfume, along with the leather perhaps - but it is more blended into the retro-cosmetic-y vibe on me.

      I agree that Tralala isn't by any means an obvious choice for summer, and I am sure I will enjoy it even more in winter, though I do still like it even in the heat.

      Thanks for the good wishes on the health front. Black pudding is now my friend!

    2. Hi V,

      Just to clarify, I only tested "Tralala" on the handkerchief as supplied at Penhaligon's and didn't dare try it on skin. Seriously boozy stuff.

      cheerio, Anna out of Edinburgh for now!

    3. Hi Anna,

      Oh my, that did read as boozy on you then if you got that much on card. Enjoy your travels - Celtic fringe still, I assume. ; )

  4. Which of course reminds me of My Ding a Ling - which I now cannot get out of my head. "Those of you who will not sing, you must be playing with your own ding a ling." Oh dear. CQ

    1. Hi Val,

      Oh golly, that takes me back! ;)

  5. Mental fog sounds a bit scary but judging from your post yours isn't all that dense, more a slight mist..)
    I like Tralala but on me it also was incredibly boozy/woozy and I muchprefered it in the dry down stage, which is lovely. In German the name can be used to discribe eccentricity. My father used to say:"Everyone has a right to be tralala."

    1. Hi Sabine,

      Kind of you to downrate my fog to mist! The fog does still roll in periodically, I can tell you. Like the time the other day when I drove around Stoke for ages, hopelessly lost, unaware that I had in fact packed my satnav in the boot.

      And so you had a similar strongly boozy impression like Anna. Tralala does seem to play differently on different skins. Tara found it relatively innocuous and girly after the opening, where it was more of a 'mature broad' to me, to resort to Raymond Chandler speak for a minute. And I must stress that I wasn't having a pop at women with blonde hair - that was just the sort of 50s pin up image that came to mind.

      So 'tralala' means eccentricity in German? Between the French and the German nuances, this bodes well for sales in those two markets, as it will help reinforce the wacky nature of the Meadham Kirchhoff brand.

  6. Hi Vanessa,
    I must make an effort to take a sniff very soon. Despite being a whopping Penhaligon's fan I've become a bit non-plussed by the insane price hike with every new release. It seems wrong as they were traditionally a relatively affordable brand.
    My other 'barrier to engagement' is that the bottle scares me. It has the 'peg doll' quality which I've always found a tad spooky and voo-doo-esque. I did make many a peg doll as a child but they were probably way to scruffy to carry any harmful incantations.
    I'll try and get over my fear. Maybe if someone could spray the bottle for me so I don't have to touch it/her?!

    1. Hi Odiferess,

      You are a fan, aren't you, how remiss? ;) Actually, I thought of you when I read that as well as both Meadham and Kirchhoff loving Hammam Bouquet, one of them (I forget which), is very partial to Cornubia.

      I hadn't actually clocked the price hike to be honest, and in my mind the bottles still cost about £60 a pop. I take it I am out of date there?

      Yep, not feeling that doll's head - the spiky eyelashes are a little unsettling, don't you think? What do you make of the Marni doll, if you know it? I had to google pictures but it is along similar lines.

  7. Oh my! I just googled the Marni doll, I see what you mean. Jeanette Winterson wrote a novel called The Daylight Gate (her interpretation of the Pendle Witch trials) in which she describes the dangers of a corn doll and a decapitated bewitched head. That's just brought it back to me.

    Yes, price hikes. Tralala costs £150, my beloved slutty Cornubia is currently on sale for £35, and Douro, my other favourite costs a standard £85. Hmmnn... What's going on?

    1. Hi Odiferess,

      I like Jeanette Winterson - and bring back Sindy, I say. Unequivocally wholesome, even though my mother did accidentally melt several of their heads as it happens, while drying their hair under the grill for me.

      Tralala is £150 for 100ml, so that is £75 for 50ml, but you may not want 100ml of course. The 50ml seems to have gone up much the same way PGs and OJs have done, from £60-£65 to £85-90 approx. Though they are all still a bargain compared with the Roja Dove line...;)

  8. Your description of nasal "fog" sounds rather like something that afflicts me, only in my case nasal irritation rather than nasal imprecision is the problem of said shnozz. In other words, one can smell but one can also get headaches.

    Tra la la reminds me of the brief-lived Artisan perfume Framboise Tra la la. which I liked because I like everything raspberry, but I gather the Penhaligon is much more of an... aldehydic floral? Well anyway, those are rare. Hope your nasal and mental fogs lift!

    1. Hi Blacknall,

      I am sorry that you are troubled by nasal problems - a propensity to headaches is wretched luck for a perfumista - I must say I do suffer from them myself, though not for nose-related reasons.

      Wow, I missed the perfume called Framboise Tra la la! Sounds perfect for raspberry lovers. ;) Penhaligon is very aldehydic, yes, and the comparison with L'Heure Bleue is also an apt one.

  9. I am hoping those test results mean the docs are on the way to solving whatever is causing the fogs of both the mental and nasal variety. As soon as you mentioned the galbanum in Haute Claire, I thought "well, that'll cut through the fog!" (I used that apostrophe 'll just because I know how you love those constructions.)

    1. Hi Natalie,

      They are on the way, though it may be a long haul till they figure out the various strands of what is up - but iron deficiency is the biggie, I bet. They are tackling that first and then will take it from there.

      Yes, I agree that Haute Claire is the perfect decongestant, and as you correctly surmised, I did enjoy your apostrophe construction. ;)

  10. Long after this post I just happened to stumble upon an Etsy offering for a perfume from the '20s, also called Tra La La... https://www.etsy.com/listing/277770920/harmelle-tra-la-la-25-ml-or-087-oz-pure?ref=shop_home_active_20
    Made by a company called Harmelle. How weird is that? cheers, Wendy

    1. Well I never, Wendy, that was news to me all right!

      Thanks for the link, and for bringing this historic scent to our attention. :)