Perfume Directory

First Eau de Parfum (1976)
by Van Cleef & Arpels


First Eau de Parfum information

Year of Launch1976
AvailabilityIn Production
Average Rating
(based on 190 votes)

People and companies

HouseVan Cleef & Arpels
PerfumerJean-Claude Ellena
PackagingJacques Llorente
Parent CompanyInter Parfums
Parent Company at launchElf Aquitaine > Sanofi Beauté

About First Eau de Parfum

First Eau de Parfum is a feminine perfume by Van Cleef & Arpels. The scent was launched in 1976 and the fragrance was created by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. The bottle was designed by Jacques Llorente

Reviews of First Eau de Parfum

Van Cleef & Arpels First (1976) is the aptly-named debut perfume for the house, and second composition released by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena of eventual Cartier and Hermès fame. Ellena stayed within the lines of convention with First, as he hadn't yet devised his hallmark transparent citric style at this early stage, but ended up making a landmark aldehyde floral chypre which put VC&A on the map perfume-wise. There are a lot of similarities between First and classic mature perfumes like Jean Patou Joy (1930) and Lanvin Arpège (1927), but First shows an exercise in blending that is arguably a cut above even some of the biggest "dames" of all time like Chanel No. 5 (1921) or Guerlain Mitsouko (1919) and the reason is in the dry down. Van Cleef & Arpels First does what other aldehyde florals in this category fail to do: Showcase a consistent accord from start to finish. In the modern age people might complain this is being linear since we're used to aromachemicals accomplishing a certain banal sameness from beginning to end, but First still allows progression through layers like any good classic perfume but with a beating heart that continues the entire way.

The opening of Van Cleef & Arpels First features the prerequisite aldehydes and bergamot for the style, but a smooth three-fold raspberry/blackcurrant/peach fruit keeps the aldehydes from being too sharp, a lesson learned from the sunny tomboy drugstore chypre Revlon Charlie (1973), but applied to a higher-budget perfume. The rose and jasmine sit somewhere between Chanel No. 5 and Jean Patou 1000 (1973), but there is a bit of tuberose like that of Jean Patou Joy mixed with a clean white floral bouquet of narcissus, lily of the valley and iris, keeping the indoles in check. The impeccable balance and blending continues into the base with just the right amount of civet stirred into a creamy foundation of musk, sandalwood, tonka, and oakmoss, with dry pangs of vetiver to once again keep the overall accord from being too rich or heavy. The end result is a familiar golden floral glow like other perfumes of the same ilk, but without any seams showing. The voluminous aldehyde push of No. 5 is controlled, the fleshy simplicity of Joy reigned in, the raunchy animalic undertone of Arpège buried in creamy clean. First is a one-stop-shop for the aldehydic floral, and one fans of the time-tested genre will likely wear as a signature in all seasons.

The generalist perfume as we know it in the 21st century didn't exist when Van Cleef & Arpels First emerged on the market, because guys and gals just wore wherever whenever, but if there was ever a generalist in the aldehydic floral genre, I'd nominate Van Cleef & Arpels First to that title. This stuff is just fantastically diffuse, never heavy, but always full, like the transparency of Jean-Claude Ellena's later perfumes but without such apologetic sillage. There is strength and delicacy in Van Cleef & Arpels First that few other florals duplicate without fancy chemical tricks or a loss of complexity. The style is woefully out of fashion especially in a post-IFRA perfume industry that seeks to outlaw all natural ingredients in the name of patented chemicals that firms can use to wrest control away from the houses who hire them, but a person of any gender who appreciates friendly and radiant perfume with a definite old-time "perfumey" air about it will love Van Cleef & Arpels First. This is simply one of the best in the genre I have smelled, and the "First" anyone should sample from the category. Thumbs up!
21st May, 2019
Stardate 20180913:

When I was a newbie, I got a bunch of these from Target to give as gifts. I liked the shape of bottle,its name and it smelled decent though a bit old school.

With time, as I tried more fragrances, I thought this is a knock off of other aldehydic florals. Stopped caring for.

A month or two ago I came across vintage version on eBay for cheap and snapped it up. And I am glad I did cause this version is simply amazing.
You can smell the whole floral symphony with 3D effect. But that is not even the best part. The drydown is where you see its beauty in full. Soft, powdery sanadalwood.

It is hard to describe how good this is. I have Arpege and Joy in vintage formulation and I find First to be superior. Arpege is too indolic, First goes low on indoles and uses civet to add the funk. Arpege blinds with aldehydes while First uses it for a shimmering glow.
Joy is a great white floral but it is simple. Lacks the evolution First has.
I have not tried vintage No 5 but the current No 5 is nowhere near any of these 3 vintage florals.
All I can say is that this is Ellena's best work and he should have stuck to this style.

Vintage Version is 5 stars. Current is 3 stars.
13th September, 2018
I'm wearing vintage First. Ah, memories! I never owned a full-sized bottle of this. I burned through 3 or more miniature-sized bottles, decades ago. I considered this an "old lady" scent back then. For me, this was a term of endearment, not an insult. I liked the similarity to Chanel No. 5. I enjoyed its sophistication.

What stands out for me are the aldehydes, carnation, tuberose, hyacinth, rose, jasmine. Later, a touch of honey, and amber. Lastly musk, civet, and mossy accords.

I don't know how First smells today; if it has changed drastically. If you can get your mitts on a vintage mini or sample, I highly recommend giving this a sniff.

29th January, 2018
Roja Dove tells us that "Van Cleef & Arpels was the first jewelry company to launch a fragrance."

He also tells us that Guerlain's dark rose Chamade was used as a springboard for the creation of First.

Turin called it an "aldehydic animalic" and gave it four stars. He dubs it "a full-figured French floral in the most baroque high style,"…"a dark variation on Joy." "It smells rich and humorless."

Barbara Herman tell us "First just smells expensive…a big, elegant floral in the vein of Arpege."

Top notes: Mandarin, Black Currant, Peach, Raspberry, Hyacinth
Heart notes: Turkish Rose, Narcissus, Jasmine, Muguet, Carnation, Orchid, Tuberose, Orris
Base notes: Amber, Tonka, Oakmoss, Sandalwod, Vetiver, Musk, Honey, Civet, Castoreum, Patchouli

My reaction was simply that it was a sweet, very feminine floral and not at all to my liking - I can't abide Arpege either.

A neutral review because although not bad, it is not good either. For those into overdrive, this anticipated the powerhouse scents of the 1980s.
01st November, 2014
I was sitting behind a woman at an outdoor baseball game years and years ago, and her pretty fragrance wafted back to me. I overcame my shyness to ask her what scent she was wearing. It turned out to be First, and I asked for a bottle for Christmas.

Unfortunately, this scent didn't work for me, as it did for her! The light prettiness disappeared on me and turned into something chemical. I wore it for 6 months or so but ended up giving it away. But I still remember that baseball game as one of my first experiences of an "expensive" fragrance... expensive to me, anyway!
18th October, 2014 (last edited: 26th October, 2014)
Kabloom! First launches right in to a huge aldehydic white flower accord the second you spray it on, then proceeds to fill the room with an unseen cloud of jasmine, green muguet, hyacinth, and rose. It’s the same kind of gargantuan bouquet you get with Joy or even Amouage Gold, though it is crisper in texture and greener in hue than either. That this grand, old-fashioned, and unapologetically “perfumey” scent was composed by Jean-Claude Elléna confirms that he’s composing all those bony, gutless scents for Hermès not because he can’t do otherwise, but rather because he wants to, or because the Hermès art directors demand it of him. At any rate, First makes it clear that Elléna is no less capable of building bold, lush, and substantial accords than is Bertrand Duchaufour (who does so more often) or even Dominique Ropion, whose style First closely approaches. First could easily have been part of the Estée Lauder line, right next to Beautiful, Pleasures, and Private Collection.

First grows subtly sweeter as it develops, with soft vanilla and a generous sweet amber accord deep in its foundation. Potency and sillage remain impressive for hours before First drifts off into its warm ambery drydown. A grand scent if you like this sort of thing.
14th June, 2014

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