Van Cleef & Arpels First, 1976

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(image source Helen Mirren Greenfingers)

Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena

Florals as a category often get maligned by perfume hobbyists.

They’re considered quaint and 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. Well-executed florals demonstrate beauty in the same way that ambers demonstrate lushness and chypres, austerity. Still, Huge Florals such as First do more than put you in a beauty trance.

First is luxurious and expansive out of the bottle and the first sniff is scintillating. As the sweeping opening simmers down, the thrill becomes the way First moves from chord to chord so seamlessly. There are no abrupt changes, but the movement isn’t hidden either. There is a sense of deliberation and heft 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 as the morning-fresh feel of the start gives way to a glamorous twilight.

First’s style of perfumery could be considered a bit retro today, but First is still relevant. Its style might mark it as a child of another era, but it is an exquisitely detailed homage to the ideal of the mixed white floral.

Note: If you love Amouage Gold or Gold Man (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.

2nd Note: Each time I wear First I laugh to think that this was composed by Jean-Claude Ellena who is known for his specific, austere minimalism. Clearly he hasn’t chosen minimalism because he can’t manage complexity.

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