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January 20, 2006

Fragrance Review: Van Cleef & Arpels First


Contemplating a quintessential classical fragrance, Chanel No.5 and Lanvin Arpège immediately come to mind. The aldehydes add shimmer to the flowers in the opulent floral bouquets of these great classics, interspersing the petals with the diamond dust of aldehydic fizz. Creating a fragrance in the classical spirit is an exacting task, because composing something novel becomes more challenging. In this sense, Van Cleef & Arpels First encompasses both the classicism and the spirit of innovation. Intended as the first fragrance for the jewel house Van Cleef & Arpels, a fragrance that would sparkle like a jewel, First transforms luminescence into the form of scent. From its brilliant top note to the resplendent heart and radiant base, it shines like a perfectly cut diamond and feels like a smooth South Sea pearl.

First was the fragrance that marked the inception of Jean-Claude Elléna’s great career. Even though his Sisley Eau de Campagne came out in 1974, First’s debut in 1976 was an even bigger success. Experiencing the fragrance, it is not difficult to understand why, because the composition has a seamless and perfectly polished quality with the notes melding one into another, drawing one into the languid sensation of the composition. ...

First is focused around jasmine, its rich sunny sweetness accented with the glittering effect of the aldehydes and the emerald green vibrancy of blackcurrant bud. The aldehydes, however, are a light touch, rather than a thick veil as in No.5, merely emphasizing the luster of the composition and lending an elegant twist to the luxurious blossoms in the heart of First. The rainfall of soft flower petals is set alight by the radiance of Hedione, a material which has a subtle scent on its own, but in combination with flower notes, especially jasmine, its dazzling qualities are brought to life. The flowers kissed by Hedione unfold in translucent layers, with the composition preserving its clarity, while attaining wonderful complexity.

The base of the composition evokes the feeling of being bathed in the sunlight, with its honey drizzled warmth of amber and sandalwood. Contained in the flacon inspired by Van Cleef & Arpels pendant, First is the fragrant jewel of stunning elegance. For me, it is in the class of fragrances with Guerlain Chamade, Frédéric Malle Iris Poudré and Lipstick Rose, which while very diverse, are the fragrances that make me feel poised, yet perfectly at ease.

First is also available in the EDT and the parfum. Despite my usual preference for the parfum, in the case of First, I prefer the EDP, because it possesses more of the sparkling effect. Where the parfum is about the seductive richness of the floral notes, the radiance pervading the composition is dimmed by the soft voluptuousness. The EDT, on the other hand, is not as rich, its lighter heart giving way to the ambery base perhaps a bit sooner than I would have liked.

Notes include aldehydes, mandarin, black currant bud, peach, raspberry, hyacinth, Turkish rose, narcissus, jasmine, lily of the valley, carnation, orchid, tuberose, orris, amber, tonka bean, oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, honey, civet. The fragrance is available at Neiman Marcus, Saks 5th Avenue as well as other department stores. Online retailers such as Imagination Perfumery and Perfumemart also carry First in a variety of concentrations.

Please see other reviews of fragrances created by Jean-Claude Ellena:

Balenciaga Rumba (with Ron Winnegrad)
Frédéric Malle L’Eau d’Hiver
Hermès Hermèssence Ambre Narguilé (brief description)
Hermès Hermèssence Ambre Narguilé (full review)
Hermès Hermèssence Osmanthe Yunnan
Hermès Hermèssence Poivre Samarcande
Hermès Hermèssence Rose Ikebana (brief description)
Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil
L’Artisan Parfumeur Bois Farine
Paul & Joe Blanc
The Different Company Bois d’Iris
The Different Company Divine Bergamote
Van Cleef & Arpels First
Yves Saint Laurent In Love Again Fleur de la Passion

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