First by Van Cleef and Arpels was Jean-Claude Ellena’s first fragrance creation, and what a début it was! A classic green aldehyde that, like all good fragrances, changes as you wear it, revealing different layers as your skin warms and cools.
I first tried this in my local House of Fraser, just having a squirt on my arm in passing. I didn’t like it much, but it had such good reviews, and contained Green notes, (which are my favourite), that I thought I’d give it a second chance. I’m so glad I did.
I got my hands on a 5ml bottle (from a set bought in Argos would you believe?), certainly enough to wear generously for two or three days. Its strong stuff and my beautiful little mini bottle didn’t have a spray, so I applied it straight to my skin. What a difference.
Forgive me if I say it reminds me of Palmolive soap, because it does. Then again, many detergents and fabric softeners use aldehydes in similar fashion to many fragrance houses. You may often find that a fragrance reminds you of Dove or Lenor, and neither is any bad thing in my view.
Once First was on, I immediately sensed acetone, like nail polish, just for a second or two (I often find this with older scents but it may just be me), then the aldehyde soared, then the green notes kicked in, then light florals (definitely a whisper of Tuberose and Hyacinth) and then it changes and grows and develops over time. When you’re hot, it smells softer, but when out in the snow, it is sharper and greener, although the aldehyde tones it down into an oakmossy green rather than a fresh green. It’s a scent that kept my interest, and I respected it even more for talking me round after a disastrous First date in House of Fraser (excuse the pun).
I was shocked at how reasonably priced it is. I was expecting to pay upwards of sixty quid for a small bottle, but it’s currently less than £30 for 60ml . I am getting my credit card out as soon as I finish this (I’m serious, I want a big bottle). Naturally, it has been reformulated since 1976, but I like it enough in its present form not to become a vintage purist in this case.