What to make of Tralala? I confess that when I first discovered the name of this latest release from Penhaligon's, I gave in to a burst of gleeful excitement. Silly, I know - after all, a fragrance's moniker is usually the least reliable indicator of its personality - but the daringly carefree nature of the choice made me wonder if we were to be treated to something fizzing with quirkiness. Then came the news that the scent marked a collaboration with the design duo Meadham Kirchhoff. Their current collection is a wacky 'Marie Antoinette drops acid at Vivienne Westwood's house' affair, so the signs continued to be promising that the perfume would, at the very least, be individualistic and unusual.
But then came the clang of an alarm bell. According to various reports, Meadham Kirchhoff claimed the perfume partly drew inspiration from a character in Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit To Brooklyn: Tralala, it would seem, is the name of a young prostitute who becomes the victim of an especially grisly gang rape. As soon as this news broke, the Penhaligon's PR machine stepped in to try to mitigate the damage (check out this post on Now Smell This), but of course, some cats can't be sealed back inside their bags without leaving a few inconvenient fur balls here and there. It goes without saying that the core of an idea for a fragrance can come from all sorts of unlikely sources, but not all of these need to be made public. And even though the vast majority of people will no doubt smell this scent without having the slightest clue as to its dubious back-story, it is equally undeniable that many of us (fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be) will never be able to shake off the association and will be unable to hear the name in the same whimsical tone as, say, Annie Hall's la-di-da refrain.
And then finally came the juice itself. Fear not: it isn't terrible. In fact, it isn't even bad. If it were, it would be easy to dismiss, forget and relegate to the past. As we'd expect from Duchaufour, Tralala is an expertly put-together piece of work. The trouble is: it is precisely the sort of work we'd expect from Duchaufour, almost to the point of self-parody. In recent years, this most ubiquitous of perfumers has made it abundantly clear that when he's being challenged by a demanding editorial force (see: Aedes De Venustas, Trayee or Ashoka) he's more than capable of finding hitherto hidden corners in his imagination. But on other occasions - what's that American expression? - he just phones the stuff in.
Like some kind of lipstick-smeared melange of Séville À L'Aube, Nuit De Tubereuse and Déliria, Tralala presents orange blossom, ylang ylang, sickly pineapple (shades of Duchaufour's own Aurore Nomade for The Different Company), green tuberose and powdery resins with his trademark incense-infused translucency. So yes, it is quirky - there's so much going on here that it almost couldn't fail to be quirky - but it also feels like an uninspired rehash of old ideas. Nothing about it comes across as particularly novel or surprising; none of its facets stands out in an especially memorable way. Indeed, it's almost as though the scent is a reject from L'Artisan Parfumeur's Explosions D'Emotions project: its kookiness is so forced, that it ultimately fails to make an impact.
For several years, Penhaligon's has struggled to resolve the tension at the core of its identity. On the one hand, it relies on the performance of evergreens such as Ellenisia and Endymion, but on the other, it aims for edginess with creations such as Amaranthine (which, sadly, hasn't been too successful) and Esprit Du Roi. The brand is at its most endearing when it reconciles these seemingly opposing forces, as in the case of Sartorial and Peoneve: they're both modern and yet they're quintessentially Penhaligon's too. Tralala clearly strives for a similar aesthetic, but in its attempt to play fast and loose with eccentricity, it ends up being the embarrassing friend who just will not accept that the neon-green, Lurex jacket really doesn't look good next to the fuchsia leggings and the leopard-print high tops. With its unfocussed, 'everything and the kitchen sink' approach, it is something of a let down. It may be called Tralala... but I'm afraid it ends up being more than a little Meh.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Penhaligon's in 2014.]