Perfume Directory

First (1976)
by Van Cleef & Arpels


First information

Year of Launch1976
AvailabilityIn Production
Average Rating
(based on 180 votes)

People and companies

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

About First

First 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

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
it opens up with that characteristic aldehydic hair-spray kind of smell, it ruins it completely for me :) smells terribly synthetic...BUT....

in the drydwon it turns into lovely honeyed fruity floral bouquet, where i do recognize the seeds for Dia , Amouage.

Still i somehow like this one better, becasue it doesnt smell so clean, so fresh, jasmine is warming it up!...its very gentle, longlasting, and feminine scent!

Its very old school type of scent by complexity (reminds me a bit of Chamade too), suitable for the theater.
01st April, 2013
Like No. 5, Arpege, and Miss Dior, this is a perfume that one might show to an alien creature who wanted to know what an unspecified "perfume" in a novel or song might be referring to; First is an archetype of itself, a Platonic ideal of perfumeness and so aptly named.

First has serious presence but isn't quite loud. High volume beauties like Poison are hair metal frontwomen with deep but resonant alto voices while First is more of a mezzo-soprano torch singer with some darker honeyed notes--still very audible but with range, color, and (First's most interesting feature) separation to the notes while still forming a very solid wall-of-noise. Usually scents go for one or the other: well-blended or given to stages of development, but First has it both ways unto perfection. I am well-aware that I'm in the presence of an unpretentious masterpiece when wearing vintage First edp. The more recent edt is more chypre than floral and much less complex and interesting.

The aldehydes here are less soapy than those in Ivoire, Arpege, or No. 5 but still unremitting--a constant buzz buzz of an airy bee wavering over that raw honey base that bleeds through from the start. Some peach and other rich, ripe, but sugarless fruit bobs around the top and middle but fades fast. A heart of compellingly oldschool bright bouquets, powdery orris, then a stunning white floral melange is rich, earthy: a little waxy. The jasmine is pleasantly evil and taunting. Ylang-ylang and narcissus (daffodil) dominate overall (to my nose) and are almost softly cakey and vaguely gourmand when vanilla and tonka arrive, then the flower cake is buoyed and joined in a twinned-dominance by warm but not cuddly animalics.

I see many are surprised that perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena of super-understated Hermes fame composed this scent. Yet I can read his signature hyper-naturalness and quiet gloom here that suggests nature's indifference to human concerns. I get hints of Ellena's Angéliques Sous La Pluie even though it and First share no notes; their blending and development are similarly panoramic; olfactory landscape photography. It seems as if all of Ellena's later works are separations and distillations compared to First, which has enough to go around for three or four later Ellena-style perfumes.

In the drydown, a woodsy musk murkiness prompts visions of tree nymphs but without the mysticism or crunchiness usually associated with that term. These are the slightly deco Sleeping Beauty Briar Roses of artist Eyvind Earle (he did the backdrop and scenery paintings for the painstakingly-animated classic Disney movie).

Even in 1976, First must have been a conscious throwback to grand perfumes of old. The end of the 1970s was one of the first major retro-nostalgia mad post-modern times that was to precede the constant mania for vintage since, and First is almost a first of its kind in that way--a classic perfume that references all classic perfume before it (and maybe even since...).
15th September, 2012

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