Talking fragrance, fashion and cocktails with Penhaligon’s

Talking fragrance, fashion and cocktails with Penhaligon’s

By Deborah Fulsang

With perfumers whipping together fragrances spiked with cocktail notes these days, we reached out to niche perfume brand Penhaligon’s to discuss its latest Tralala scent, an olfactory tipple created in collaboration with fashion designers Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff of London label Meadham Kirchoff. And the spirit of choice in that Tralala treat? That would be a shot of whiskey, says Penhaligon’s fragrance ambassador Nicholas Gilbert.

QUESTION: Was Tralala wafting on the runway of Meadham Kirchhoff’s spring 2015 show?
NICHOLAS GILBERT: Both the Spring-Summer 2015 show and the Autumn/Winter 2014 one were scented with Tralala. [FYI: Meadham Kirchhoff’s runway shows have been scented with Penhaligon’s perfumes for the past nine seasons.]

The set and garments [for the fall/winter collection] were inspired by the fragrance, and the venue was incredible: the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. It was awe-inspiring. The impression that we gave with the fragrance was retrospective glamour: The garments were very much a modernized take on fashions throughout the 20th century, and the fragrance complemented them perfectly.

For the SS15 show Tralala was used again to ensure the show was a multisensory experience.

QUESTION: You describe Tralala as “an opulent, hedonistic blend”. What moment in time and place is the scent intended to evoke?
GILBERT: The fragrance itself is inspired by the classic fragrances that [designers] Ben and Ed love: They have a collection of vintage fragrance bottles, and are enamoured with perfumery from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — [which were times] of excess and glamour. They’re long term wearers of [Penhaligon’s] Hammam Bouquet and Bluebell, scents that have a traditional feeling, but are also somewhat subversive when worn today.

QUESTION: How does the whiskey note in Tralala help achieve this retro perfume moment?
GILBERT: The whiskey note is a nod to cocktails of the period, such as the Old Fashioned. Cocktails were a huge part of the Bright Young Things scene: We’ve also recreated this in our Juniper Sling.

QUESTION: What type of whiskey note is in this fragrance concoction and why that particular one?
GILBERT: The Whiskey note has an almost peat-y, earthy character: Ben and Ed’s taste in fragrance tells us that they enjoy animalic and earthy notes.

QUESTION: The combination of notes smells quite powerfully oriental. How does this spicy oriental differ from the orientals of the past to be modern?
GILBERT: The oriental amber accord in the fragrance is a blend of incense, opoponax and vanilla, instead of the traditional labdanum-benzoin-vanilla. Juxtaposing this against the saffron and violet leaf in the top note, and the heliotrope running through the entire scent, brings incredible golden brightness and sweet modernity. These effects in the perfume wouldn’t have been achievable in the 20s and 30s, due to the materials available to perfumers at the time.

QUESTION: What pop cultural influences do you believe are sparking our collective hedonistic desires?
GILBERT: In my mind, the constant bad news we are bombarded with causes people to spend more on themselves and take to hedonistic activities! Also people are becoming more aware of their senses and how to enjoy them and technology is allowing us all to share that: Food, scent, clothing, and art are all much more accessible and sharable thanks to social media.

For more on the trend to delicious, boozy-noted fragrances, see Deborah Fulsang’s “Cocktail-inspired Holiday Fragrances That We Love” article at

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Deborah Fulsang has spent the last two decades as a journalist covering news and trends in the worlds of style—in fashion and beauty, design and décor, food and entertaining. Her long-held love of fragrance led her to launch The Whale & The Rose, a destination for all things perfume-related. Now, when she indulges in a crazy-expensive bottle of fragrance, she can do so guilt-free. Well almost. It’s all in the name of research after all.