Van Cleef & Arpels love story
A love story expressed in exquisite jewels (and now, fine fragrance) the Van Cleef & Arpels tale truly began when a Dutch craftsman, Alfred Van Cleef – an expert in cutting precious stones – fell in love Estelle Arpels, the daughter of a dealer in those stones. He was 24. She was just 19, and it turned out they were a match made in heaven in more ways than one…
Sharing much more than youthful enthusiasm, a passion for jewellery and a taste for taking on a challenge: they enjoyed constant family support, and in 1906, opened their doors to Paris’s elite in the Place Vendôme.
Times change – but the so-creative Van Cleef & Arpels spirit remains, expressing itself through five themes which have become synonymous with the brand: nature, couture, Art Deco, ‘Transformation’ – and, adding a touch of feminine whimsy, the world of fairies and ballerinas. Over the past century, roses, palm leaves, butterflies and lyre birds have been incorporated into Van Cleef & Arpels’ jewellery – often through the technologically innovative, invisible ‘Mystery setting’.
Though Van Cleef & Arpels never shares the identities of its private clientele, many legendary beauties have been photographed in the jewels: from Audrey Hepburn to Scarlett Johanssen, Grace Kelly to Julia Roberts, Elizabeth Taylor to Sharon Stone…
When Jean-Claude Ellena was commissioned to create First for the perfume house (see featured image) – back in 1976 – it was literally the first ‘jewellery fragrance’ in the world. As Pierre Arpels (part of the VC&A dynasty) commented, ‘I dreamed of a perfume in the image of our jewels: discreet but precious, fleeting but very present.’ Arpels also mused on the relationship between a jewel and a perfume, at the time VC&A unveiled the ground-breaking First. ‘They are the two adornments of women,’ he commented. ‘A dress is a part of a woman’s wardrobe… Her shoes and handbag are accessories. But you could never call a jewel an accessory. Nor a perfume. To me, perfume is the final adornment…’
VC&F’s extravagant floral aldehydic masterpiece First was indeed a real fragrance landmark. With its perfect balance of flowery, warm, aldehydic and spicy notes, First became timeless and sublime. As perfume critic Barbara Herman describes it, ‘First just smells expensive. It’s the perfume equivalent of those floral arrangements seen in the lobbies of expensive hotels.’
Since then, Van Cleef & Arpels continues to work with many of the world’s greatest noses, including Nathalie Lorson (for the gourmand So First), and Antoine Maisondeau, who worked on Féerie, with its unique ‘fairy-topped’ faceted bottle. But what’s also excited the perfume world is the Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire – inspired by the beauty of nature, capturing specific flowers in perfumes like Gardénia Pétale, Muguet Blanc (a sophisticated play on lily of the valley), spiced Lys Carmin and Precious Oud, expressing the delicate side of this so-popular exotic wood.
More recently, the Collection Extraordinaire has featured Rêve de Cashmere (2017) – a fluffy cloud of vanilla, cashmere, jasmine, leather and musk – and Néroli Amara (2018) – a succulent floral green scent encompassing bergamot, Italian lemon, orange and pink pepper, with a deliciously more-ish drydown of black pepper, orange blossom, neroli and musk. We’ve sniffed the soon-to-be-launched future iterations, too, and you’ll definitely want to get your nose around these. Proof positive that sheer class and exquisite attention to detail will always stand the test of time – First, last and always…
Written by Suzy Nightingale