van cleeef arpels first 2002 perfume ad.jpg


My mother’s perfume,  and in my opinion a late modern masterpiece.


Released in 1976, Jean Claude Ellena’s uncharacteristically neo-classical ‘First’ took on the classic aldehydic floral, but maximised, reordered, and fresh-orchestered it with a gorgeously lush, green jasminesque bouquet centered principally on roses and jasmine – not just one, but three varietals – taking all the best cues from les grandes aldehydés  but just adding more of everything (orchid, muguet, carnation, hyacinth, and tuberose in dazzling profusion). A quite brilliant creation was the result, irrepressible and magnetic, with extra lift and vitality in the top notes given in the the top notes of blackcurrant bud cassis, (the first perfume to use this note, hence the name); peach, mandarin, and a sharp, green-leafed kick of raspberry.


In pristine form, this is a very beautiful scent –  vivacious and extrovert, yet with gentler strokes of introversion that lie within the soul of the perfume like the silk lining of a beautifully tailored coat: a feminine duality that makes the perfume so fully rounded. Quietly lingering, the perfume dies down later  to an understated, yet sensuous, accord of vetiver, honey and musk.



For me, always an essential part of the pantheon.




van cleeef arpels first 1999 perfume ad.jpg



Ps. Happy Birthday x


Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers

15 responses to “FIRST by VAN CLEEF AND ARPELS (1976)

  1. It was great stuff, Neil. A friend wore it and on her it was divine. Is it still great — I mean, the current formulation?

  2. Lilybelle

    I have First. I used to wear it years ago (different bottle), but today I don’t often reach for it. I have a recent edt and a vintage edp mini. I adore the sparkle but sometimes I get bored with its lasting power. Lol! There is no pleasing some people. 🙂 It is the civetty animalic musky part that just doesn’t stop that sort of tires me. I wish I could have a never ending beginning. Still, I love it enough to have bought another bottle after having given away my first one. Your mother and I have quite a few fragrance loves in common. We have mentioned it before. What is she wearing lately? Me: Bal à Versailles, Joy, Chantilly (Houbigant not Dana); and EL White Linen and No 5 Eau Prémière when I want to project a certain “nice” image. A few others, all older.

    • Ma would never go with Bal (that would be me): actually, she is branching out at the moment, wearing things she finds at charity shops, even pleasing Aqua Allegorias like Lys Soleil and Gentiana. Otherwise she favours Chanel Gardenia, Jardins de Bagatelle, and is a total sucker now for No 22

      • Lilybelle

        I adore No 22! BàV wouldn’t seem to be me, but I have some glorious bottles of various vintage formulations – edc, edt, pdt, extrait – and they are so organic and amazing that I became an addict. I have a partial bottle of vintage My Sin extrait and it’s the same for me, those vintage *real* ingredients are addictive. It’s not for going out, though; just for home indulgence, especially to skeep in. There are perfumes I enjoy because they are pretty and clean and functional (and “functional” doesn’t mean they aren’t lovely). And there are others that people who know me would be surprised to know I wear. I lead a double life. 🙂 No 22 is beautiful. I would wear it out or at home.

      • I love the idea of a double life. Are you wearing Clinique Happy on the sly?

  3. Laurels

    When I tried it, all I got was strong soap. Sam at I Scent You a Day says to try it on a cold day. If we ever actually get a cold day again in Southern California, I will be sure to give it another go.

    • I mean it most definitely has it limitations, in a conservative kind of way that could definitely limit one’s soul quite severely if you weren’t in quite the right mood. And particularly if not the right vintage. It can be a BIT too prim and proper on the wrong person (who is already a touch uptight, perhaps) but quite wild on someone who is the opposite. It is not perfect, exactly, but then it kind of is. I wouldn’t change anything about it.

  4. Great review, as always. First is the nearest thing I have to a signature scent. Despite my collection of bottles and samples, this is the one I reach for more than any other. You have really captured what I love about it. I love how it unfurls and changes throughout the day. it never lets me down.

    • Aside my mum wearing it, birthday today, I have had a couple of encounters: when I was a mere stripling (you and I are exactly the same age) at university, in the first year, a girl came out of nowhere and I swear I was having synaesthetic fireworks, as though I couldn’t think straight. It was UTTERLY gorgeous on her, miles away from the straight laced lace of how it can be on other people. As you say, I do really find it multifaceted. I love that this is your signature. x

  5. Lilybelle

    No Clinique Happy on the sly. (I couldn’t post this under yours). I was buying a Clinique lipstick recently and took a spritz of Happy Heart, but I just can’t. 😉

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