Thursday, September 13, 2012

Van Cleef & Arpels- First (Vintage Perfume)

I always get a kick out of reminding myself that First, the 1976 perfume from Van Cleef & Arpels, is a Jean-Claude Ellena creation. There's nothing about the classic and ornate floral powerhouse composition that hints towards the sheer and airy direction Ellena took later in his career.

Once again I find myself having to call a perfume bottle that's younger than my little sister "vintage", but what I have on hand is some decidedly older extrait de parfum, so vintage it is. Of course, First is still in production today and the good people of Van Cleef and Arpels have been nice enough to keep offering the parfum ($175, 0.5oz at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman). I've only tried the newer First in EDP or EDT and it's still impressive and even formidable, though obviously thinner. I also have a mini of the EDT from the early 1980s, and I have to admit that I suspect I like it better than the parfum, though I tend to layer them for longevity.

Like many among us who suffer from Fear Of Aldehydes (see March's review on the Posse), it took me years to come around and surrender to First's charm. It's the same story as with other classics of a certain age: I needed to sniff my way around the world and back before I really got  what Ellena did for Van Cleef & Arpels: he sort of reinvented jasmine. You can read more about it in Victoria's review on Bois de Jasmin

There are a couple of words that appear again and again in discussions of First: radiant and sunlight. I can't find better ones myself. Most of us will not get to own and wear a piece of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry in this lifetime (I do have hopes for my next incarnation, though). The beauty of first on its opulent bouquet is as close as we can come. It has something to do with the way the jasmine and narcissus are paired and come alive on skin. It's a little burst of charm and beauty: a bit Old World,  very well-bred, like perfect manners that accompany true kindness and a sunny disposition (yes, I've been watching too much footage of Duchess Kate).

It's worth repeating: the big difference between First and other aldehydic-floral perfumes such as Chanel No.5 or Lanvin Arpege is the way the jasmine note is created and treated. The older classics make it a point not to let any one flower steal the show. They're blended and woven together into the silkiest fabric. If  this Van Cliff & Arpel fragrance were a gemstone it would have been a yellow diamond. A big one.

The dry-down of First is warm and sandalwoody and my old extrait is also a little animalic, or maybe that's just the way the juice has aged. It's more ambery and creamy than No. 5 but maintains the patrician bone structure and never goes all the way into cuddly territory. First is a thing of beauty in every form I've encountered, which makes me wonder if I need to stockpile against future tinkering and sellouts.

Notes: aldehyde complex, peach, raspberry, hyacinth, jasmine, rose, muguet, tuberose, orris, orchid, carnation, vetiver, musk, amber, oakmoss, honey, civet, sandalwood.

Van Cleef & Arpels ads (vintage and new) of the perfume and jewelry via,, and


  1. I read about what I think is the first flanker to this fragrance a couple of days ago (First EdP Intense), so the original one has been on my mind. I can't remember if I actually sniffed this one 'back in the day', but it was released during an era when mainstream perfumes were big, bold and great. I'm so curious about the flanker, released so many years after the original scent. Wouldn't it be swell if they haven't fruitified it?! Will definitely check it out if it comes to the US, I think it's only available in the UK at this time.

  2. This fragrance brings back so many memories. A family member used to wear it. On her it was beautiful. Elegant & sophisticated, just like her. Oh how I wanted it to be as nice on me as it was on her. Unfortunately, it didn't agree with my skin's chemistry. I wore Arpège in those days, in fact, I believe I still have a bottle somewhere. Off to find it!

  3. Hi Gaia!

    I'm in my early 20s and have never worn perfume before. I'm looking for some fragrances (preferably ones that I can try at a local department store) to start me wearing perfume, but I don't know a great deal about it! I can say that I'm not a fan of florally scents, especially lily, gardenia, camellia, and most "mixed florals". I'm also not into very green scents, or very sweet/candy scents (I don't like candy, except for chocolate/mints). I want something graceful and airy, or warm and spicy. I would love and appreciate your advice as I have no idea where to start!

  4. Thank you fo rthe review. I just bought this for my mum.
    She had a sample and she kept the empty vial to ask me for it - if it weren't too expensive. My mom ist really not into perfume... She loved Chanel No 5 which I honestly detest (apart from the extrait) and so I was really surprised now that I read First is from Ellena!
    It happens that I have or I had most of his perfumes (not knowing it always...) and I love his signature (this kind of light and easiness, a very soft beauty). Now I wonder if I should open the packe First bottel :-) I got really curious, since I just bought it without sniffing at it.
    I mean -jasmine and aldehydes are a gap I have to fill in my collection, been looking for sharp aldehydes without sweetness (amber or vanilla).
    This might be it. The scent has been described by my mom as "fresh" ;-) haha!

  5. My mother received a First EDP gift set from her boss for the holidays back in 1985. She was a die-hard Chanel No 5 loyalist, so she gave the gift to me, with the stipulation that I was not to wear it to school until I was older (I was 10 years old at the time). I was a lucky girl! The EDP was a larger bottle and lasted me until my second or third year of college. For some reason, I loved wearing it when I wore my mom's vintage Calvins from the late '70s.

  6. Can anyone tell me if there any difference in edt or edp concentrations of First? I own extrait and I llove it. Thanks


I love comments and appreciate the time you take to connect with me, but please do not insert links to your blog or store. Those will be deleted. The comment feature is not intended to provide an advertising venue for your blog or your commercial site.

Related Posts Widget