Reviews of First Eau de Parfum by Van Cleef & Arpels

First isn't so much a pyramid as a Nile delta of notes, fanning out as it does from mandarin and peach to a multi layered masterpiece.
It starts with a quote from Roudnitska's Femme, but any sense that it's an homage to Ellena's teacher is soon put aside. The pupil doesn't follow the master but begins his own journey - which heads away from the chypre, and towards a milky-soft floral. Sumptuously done, you may not want to wear this, but any perfume lover should try it at least once
(in vintage of course.)
23rd January 2022
An absolute masterpiece. First is such a cushion of elegance and beauty, a buffer against a world filled with tattoos, Wal-Folk and fast food. A romantic & sensual scent. Imagine Olivia de Havilland mixture with Ava Gardner! A strong feminine white floral without the sharp aldehydes. First on healthy, blood-nourished, unbathed skin, becomes an alluring creamy floral perfume. It's black merino-wool turtleneck jumper perfect for holding a mug of coffe at a chic cafe.

It's very floral but not too heady. Once you get over the intoxicating peachy aldehydes in the beginning, it develops into a floral and feminine scent. Ylang ylang is kind of the princess above them all. I get hynocenth here as welltwirl into some darker activities with the dissolutes: powdery musk, sandalwood and vanilla makes a soft powdery, but secure scent that embodies it's wearer with dignity and femininity in a way that many fragrances fail to de currently.

The aldehydes are sparkling, and could be a perfect example to noses in training as an ultimate example of possibly the most successful use of such ingredients. If you're someone who's put off by big aldehydes (Chanel No.5) then First is a great starter into the aldehydic olfactory group. This is definitely no modern fly-by-night fragrance, this girl has got the confidence to go the distance. Old lipstick with high heels and elegant trench coat maybe sexy black dress and perfect winger eyeliner. In colder weather though, especially on an evening out, this makes you believe you are a classy seductive parisian woman in 1976.
10th January 2021

What a gorgeous scent! I have been collecting samples this week, and so far this is the one that has made me sit up and pay attention - I really must get an FB when my sample is finished. Other reviewers have commented on the way this scent reminds them of wealth and power, and is not aimed at a younger market but for "an older woman with a Pekinese" (as one review said). Well, I don't have a dog at all, I'm mad about cats and am definitely in the older category, but I remember falling in love with First for the first time when it was released, in the late 1970s, while I was still young. What most impressed me then, and still does, is that it is a supremely romantic fragrance. I don't get the allusion to money or bossiness that others have noted. Instead, I get the feeling of intense, romantic longing - that feeling that you get when you ache for someone or something, the emotion that, in fragrance, corresponds with, say, "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" in music. Romantic, passionate, longing, intensity - that is what First is to me. I absolutely love it.
17th July 2020
I knew a woman who worked in Wall Street some years ago. She was intelligent, smart, beautiful, and determined. This was her perfume!

No need to rehash what Jean Claude Ellena has done with Frederic Malle and Hermes, in his signature "aquarelle" style, ghostly wisps of odor floating on air, beautiful but fleeting and devoid of "form."

This one has big-boned "form." Everything here is over-the-top. This is perfumery in the grand manner. There is an excess of aldehydes, flowers, woods, and a menacingly animalic dry-down caused by civet.

This is a perfume for intimidation. More dense than Chanel No. 5, and less joyful than Joy, with the bite of "1000."

It is a masterpiece!

14th May 2020
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.
1st 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
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.
1st 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
This is a very classy fragrance. The first few seconds of this is not really that impressive, but the drydown is nice. Its just not very memorable in my book. It to me smells like a 1950s fragrance. This is not girl potion, this one is for women. Nice, but it just didn't work for me.
9th September 2012
I saw the bottle and subscribed to a memory of owning it when first released.
Obviously my chemistry has changed or reformulation is not for me. So, what to do with it? I took it to my Mother's. I noticed she powered through it, to the exclusion of my other cast offs. Happy.
15th May 2012
This has been around for a long time and now I know why. This is a full bodied, glamorous fragrance for the big girls. I don't usually ascribe to scents for day or night, but this makes me think of a big night out. Opens with orange to my nose then moves on to a HUGE floral bouquet of jasmine, rose, iris?. Lots of civet. Animalic drydown that never loses the floral bouquet. Is it just me or is this almost identical to Amouage Dia woman, another JCE creation. This is just unbelievably good, but you have to enjoy this type of full blown, aldehyde laden, technicolor beauty. I do and am thankful I've tried it. If it's been reformulated, it doesn't smell like anything that's been stripped down and modernized. Just beautiful. I also don't usually worry about application and suggest people who don't like it get out of my way, but this one is old school. One spritz is all it takes, it radiates for miles and hours. Think I have to get another bottle to hoard. This is of the EdP.
20th January 2012
In the middle of the way between the  talky-floral Chanel N.5 (which is more radiant, fruity, frosty and clean- in the sense of more sunny and white but less velvety with its patchouli initial rootness- in my opinion), the laundry and bathroom kind YSL Rive Gauche, the brown-animalic and romantic 24 Faubourg Hermes and the soapy and leathery Caleche (which is slightly less floral and animalic but equally leathery), this aldehydic, romantic and conceptually old-fashioned  chypre is another pillar of the feminine perfumery and in the years gave the signature to thousands of temperamental women all around the world. First masterfully combines a faintly mild bouquet of flowers as the detectable muguet, rose, jasmine, narcissus (the bunch is indolent, potpourri, botanic and royal on the side of decadent hesperides and a touch of shadowing blackcurrant), the radiance and expansive power of aldehydes and hedione, the laundry touch of soapy synthetic elements, vanilla, honey and tonka, the animalism of civet, labdanum, musk, amber and leather, the stableness of woods, the boise feel of vetiver and moss. The final outcome is a luxurious and silky floral-leathery-chypre that ends down soapy, mossy and animalic, with a moderate powder, a remote undertone of tobacco, the right dosage of honeyed smothness and with the botanic pungency of flowers. This issue is opaque, velvety, aristocratic, decadent, very autoritative and balanced with an aldehydic kind of radiance and hints of dissonant animalism. A classy timeless.
16th October 2011
This is a new type of scent for me. Big, and thick, and rich. "The composition is floral and built of aldehydes and essences of galbanum in top notes, Egyptian jasmine absolute and Bulgarian rose in a heart, with base notes of vetiver and cotton essences." I think the best way to experience this might be to try it right after a round of Chanel No.5 and/or Estee Lauder White Linen or your favorite aldehyde bomb. That is the company that First belongs in, and might help you pick out some subtle differences. If you are a lover those, you will probably lilke this. A glorious, timeless, evening gown of a fragrance, and wonderfully economical these days.
15th August 2011
First by Van Cleef & Arpels, is in my opinion very classy and timeless. It is perhaps a little too old for me, but in regards to the future and much older me, I will be re-visiting First.

There is an obvious powdery aspect to First, rather aldehydic and along the lines of another Chanel No.5. However, the powder is not all that sharp. It tends to be quite soft and elegant.

Towards the drydown I detected an odd yet beautiful sweetness, which I now relate to the honey and vanilla notes. This subtle sweetness when blended with the delicate white florals, smells absolutely divine.

The powdery-ness does diminish ever so slightly when settled on the skin, making way for a more soapy finish. First to my nose, smells like an old-fashioned bathroom complete with scented soaps and floral-printed shower curtains. Strangely quaint, yet very likable and familiar.

One thing that we must acknowledge is the fact that this fragrance has lasted for over 30 years in the industry and has been crafted by the very talented Jean-Claude Ellena. I'd recommend this fragrance to anyone that loves powdery, clean or classic scents along the lines of Sicily by Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel No.5 or Lanvin's Arpege. The quintessential fragrance for a true lady.

5th July 2011
I am seldom at a loss for words, but sampling First brought me close. Most white florals are restrained and polite or at least focused, but I feel Caligula would have applauded the excess in this one. The top is so laden with fruits it should collapse under its own weight. While this is going on, the base already begins to establish its sweet self. Add labdanum and this would be called a chypre, and a dense one, at that. The heart is a farmer's market of indistinguishable yet formidable flowers: a phalanx of flowers strong enough to attack the eyes and nose of the wearer and anyone else in the room. The base is the classic 'feminine sweet,' woods, musks, sandalwood, honey, and a civet note that should have saved this for me but instead became rather intimidating.
This is the same approach VC&A took with their flagship male fragrance- 'Put it all in.' They probably figured they would generate a dense and endlessly diverse masterwork like they had before, but this one came out a bit monstrous. There's too much of everything. It's loud, lasts ages, and requires no less than four washings to completely remove. It is a potent scent that will only serve older women possessed of limitless confidence or a smoldering sensuality. It's not bad in any regard. It's just a bit too much.
13th April 2011
Let us examine two version of aldehydes VC&A First &
Chanel no 5 VC&A First has a harsh Aldehyaic opening
synthitic and volumed then chanel with it's more discreet and diluted silage In a few minutes V.C
turns to a soft floral scent with accords of black
current raspberry that leaves a sparkling texture
Chanel dries with neroli the note of bergamot dos'nt
overwhelm but still defind the senses ylang ylang
brings the velvety feel of no 5 orris root gives it
an earthy touch, V.C Is Chanel for the 80's a bit
Multi layered then Chanel no 5, A fruiter and outgoing sister aldehyde to Chanel which is reserved
and refind V.C and Chanel has the same Civet note
but Chanel adds a richer and deeper note of civet
then V.C.

Chanel exemplifies the grounded and pragmatic view of femininity while V.C is the Airy more romantic head in the clouds view.

1st March 2011
Florals as a category often get maligned by perfume hobbyists. I think they're considered quaint and that liking them demonstrates a sort of naivté about perfume. ‘There, there, darling. In a few years you'll find your way to the chypres and leathers.' I couldn't disagree more, and First is my evidence. It's true that well-executed florals tend to demonstrate beauty principally in the same way that ambers tend to demonstrate lushness and chypres, austerity. I think that Huge Florals such as First can hang onto beauty while giving complexity both in the moment and over time. ‘Floral' alone doesn't entirely capture it (there are aldehydes, hedione, woods, amber and civet) but if you must put a word to it, floral is best.

First is luxurious and expansive out of the bottle. The first sniff is just radiant. But over time the thrill is the way it moves from chord to chord so seamlessly. You don't notice any abrupt changes, but the movement isn't hidden from you either. You feel a slow, steady inertia as First moves out from its center. And while I agree with people's description of First as symphonic, it is the dissonance that keeps me glued. Yes, aldehydes, white flowers and hedione give that swirling bouquet feel, but the civet, narcissus and I believe tonka focus on something dark beneath the bouquet. And since these elements are the ones that last, that beautiful morning feel at the start gives way to a glamorous twilight.

I know that First's style of perfumery is considered a bit retro, and that, in general, the symphonic floral has been supplanted by simpler linear woody florals and the fruity floral, but First is still relevant. It is sweepingly gorgeous and makes you stop and think. This is the experience of perfume that I hope never dies.

Note: If you love Amouage Gold or Gold Men (I do) but can't bear to pay the price (I can't) try First. It is similar to both and sits somewhere between the two in tone, huge and bright like Gold, animalic like Gold Men.
30th November 2010
Powerful, flowery and old-fashioned beginning (it instantly brought to mind a wealthy woman in late middle-age who probably has a Pekinese); after an hour or so it dried down to a vanilla/tonka bean-plus-flower mixture that added up to slightly decayed hyacinths. Distinctive and long-lasting but definitely not for me.
8th October 2010
On my skin it smells acidic and cat-peeish and a distinct smell of cheap soap, added to something which has gone off...
I've been wearing it for two hours now and it is making me nauseated. I don't think I can last the course, I think I have to try and wash it off now...
Funny, Elena has created several fragrances which make me turn and run, if I can keep from projectile vomiting, and others which are my all time favorites.
17th August 2010
A very well-done floral. I feel it is somewhere between Chanel No, 5 and YSL Rive Gauche. It is very elegant. Overall, I give it a thumbs up though generally when I want to evoke this type of feeling I go to the No. 5 parfum which smells better on me at least.
9th January 2010