The Powdery Musk Rose

Francis E. Lester from the

Some years ago there was a line of perfumes done by Stephanie de Saint Aignan and one of the more popular scents was something called Le Pot Aux Roses. This does not mean a rose pot pourri in French but rather to discover something that was secret.  It probably harks back to the curious old Latin phrase Sub Rosa which meant that anything said underneath the rose was off the record, something never said, and never heard.

Pot Aux Roses was a very powdery rosy scent which some people loved for its evocation of old compacts full of rice powder, and other people disliked for the same reason, but I recently came across a scent very like it-in my front garden.  The culprit is a musk rose with the officious name of Francis E. Lester.  ( I think you really have to give this rose it’s complete moniker) It was hybridized by a rosarian of the same name and the man who founded the Roses of Yesterday and Today Nursery. He bred this fragrant rose during World War II as far as I can discover and it looks like a wild rose, but the scent is a variation on rose.

Stephanie de Saint Aignan’s Pot Aux Roses from

OK the secret about rose fragrances is long out.  They are diverse.  They are New York diverse and you can hardly find two roses with the same olfactory profile, except that somehow, they are all roses, just like all the people living in New York are New Yorkers.  Sometimes it’s difficult to say what exactly it is that roses have in common?*

In this case, the musk rose case, it is a certain soft powderiness.  Francis E. Lester like all his musk rose family, has this fuzzy, tactile, scent profile.  There is none of the wine of damask roses, none of the fruit notes you get in hybrid teas, and certainly none of the green pepper you can smell in Gallica roses, nor yet the clove and cinnamon of Rugosas.  The musks it seems, have a different take on what it is to be a rose perfume.

Lipstick Rose

Musk roses suit boudoirs, they smell of musk indeed, but the powdery quality is very like the old musk ketones that you find in vintage perfumes.  There is very little top note to my

Musk roses, only this dry tonality, something like rice powder or even dried roses, and yet the scent can be pervasive, even narcotic.  This is the scent of silk peignoirs abandoned on floors, old compacts, and glamour of the vanity table variety. Now, since my musk rose is right behind my post box, I wonder what the postal workers will think?  I mean, this is the most perfumey rose I have ever smelled.

Would I wear this kind of rose fragrance?  As a matter of fact this particular version of rose is one most people are already familiar with from perfume bottles, take Coty’s Paris, which was roses and violets and musk, and  the blockbuster YSL Paris, which was a variation on the same idea, but a better perfume.  Then there is Frederic Malle’s Lipstick Rose, which once again, is roses, violets, musk, but grapefruit, raspberry and vanilla, to make it more contemporary than retro.

Of all of these, perversely, I like Pot Aux Roses. I think it is one of the most skin friendly roses I’ve ever smelled.  As I recall Le Pot Aux Roses, possibly a higher proportion of rose, less violet, a more careful selection of musk, would have served the fragrance better.  But that’s me, I am fussy, and I’ve smelled Francis E. Lester.

  • They do share chemical components of course.
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4 thoughts on “The Powdery Musk Rose

  1. It was such an interesting post, that it didn’t really need the perfume connection – it is fascinating on its own.
    Now I will be looking at different flowers and thinking how I know those aren’t roses 🙂

    Every time I smell a beautiful rose, I think that no natural ingredient – even rose-based – can completely recreate that wonderful smell… well, it’s true for many fragrant flowers/blossoms but roses are the most recognizable – despite the fact that they are all so different.

    1. I’m pleased you liked this. I must admit to being a total rose nut. I even save miniature roses from the sale table at the Stop and Shop and have a very orange rose thriving in my backyard for my trouble. Miniature roses btw are the answer to most people’s question about which roses to grow without trouble or chemicals. Francis E Lester being a hybrid musk is almost a rambler and getting very big!

  2. Not familiar with either the Stephanie de Saint Aignan scent or the rose in question, though I do know her Royal Palm! I love rice powder and all those kind of edible rice-y, semolina-y, foody scents, so I bet I would have liked it. Meanwhile, I do plan to take an elderly friend to the David Austin rose garden, so will see what I can find.

    1. Perhaps you will find this odd little rose but, probably not because it is an old American production.

      Yes I think that if you like Fils de Dieu you would like the Pot Aux Roses because of that lovely rice addition.

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