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.
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.
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..."
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.
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."
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.