Memories of summer days and roses blooming in the garden – Sa majesté la rose

Serge Lutens – Sa majesté la rose (Her Majesty, The Rose)

“The king is dead, long live the queen! Author Marcel Proust based his [character] ‘Madame de Guermantes’on three society women of his day. Like Proust, I went in search of the lost land of childhood. On a quest for my rose, I charmed three royals, one Turkish, one Bulgarian and one Moroccan, for the perfect ending to my regal journey.” – Serge Lutens
*From Proust’s novel “In Search of Lost Time” (French: “À la recherche du temps perdu”), also translated as “Remembrance of Things Past”.

“Sa majesté la rose”, by Serge Lutens, a rose perfume. Perfumer: Christopher Sheldrake. As Perfumer Max Millies has said, “…natural ingredients are beautiful and rich but in the modern world we need the synthetics which bring about a sharpness, a defined character, and creates notes which are unquestionably modern such as marine notes. These types of notes are indispensable and modern perfumery would not be possible without it.”

This perfume is one in a range of perfumes with mainly flower accords as the defining note, by the house of designer Serge Lutens. The range is called Flowers Unpicked, and Sa majesté la rose does indeed smell like a rose still on the vine.

Lutens embarked on his own venture, Parfums-Beaute Serge Lutens, in 2000, and creates his perfumes in close collaboration with perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.  When you think of Lutens perfumes, you think of modern classics, well-developed, balanced, long-lasting, with the best notes left for last.

Serge Lutens, Sa majesté la rose; roses in a bottle

What is this perfume like? As Naz Ladha of The Perfume Shoppe in Vancouver said, when she introduced me to it, “this is not an old lady rose fragrance”.

It starts with the immediate hint of something like fresh-cut grass or leaves, then seconds later, the exact, exact heady fragrance of the old English tea rose, “Young Lycidas”, which grows in my garden: pure rose, honey, wine, a bit of …could it be nutmeg?…something perhaps like a smidgen of peat that you’d find in whiskey. But the overriding memory that hits you like a gold-plated baseball bat, is rose, fresh, robust, sunshiny, full-bloomed rose. Rose petals do not keep their volatile fragrance for long. You need massive quantities of petals to extract a small amount of rose oil, and cool weather to harvest them. But what beauty comes from that! Then, about half an hour later, a somewhat leafy, slightly minty note emerges – which reminds me of my rose, now with its leaves dropped to the lawn, soaking up the warmth on the grass. Hours later, a gentle scent remains of roses and greenery – all of the above notes, but softer and long-lasting. And that, dearest reader, is what I experience when I spray on “Sa majesté la rose”.

The perfect place for an eye-opening, inspiring perfume experience: The Perfume Shoppe in the Sinclair Centre, West Hastings Street, Vancouver.

The box lists the ingredients, and like professional perfumers would, Lutens and Sheldrake combined natural with synthetic ingredients to bring about a balance between the romantic rose absolute and its associations, which gives it a modern feel. This is no dusty, chemical old-fashioned rose scent, and it is lightyears away from those sharply medicinal-smelling hot-house roses.

While natural rose oil is the distinctive character of the perfume, it does not make this a “single-note” perfume. Rather the opposite. It is subtly complex. The key flavor compounds that contribute to the distinctive scent of rose oil, are beta-damascenone, beta-damascone, beta-ionone, and rose oxide. Beta-damascenone presence and quantity is considered as the marker for the quality of rose oil. Even though these compounds exist in less than 1% quantity of rose oil, they make up for slightly more than 90% of the odor content due to their low odor detection thresholds. (Rose (Rosa damascena), A Review by John C. Leffingwell, Ph.D.)


Lutens refers to two types of rose oil (rose absolute) in his description of this perfume:  Rosa × centifolia (lit. hundred leaved/petaled rose; syn. R. gallica var. centifolia (L.) Regel), the Provence rose or cabbage rose or Rose de Mai is a hybrid rose developed by Dutch rose breeders in the period between the 17th century and the 19th century, possibly earlier. It is commonly grown in Morocco (known as Dades Rose), France and Egypt. Rosa x damascena, more commonly known as the Damask rose, or sometimes as the Rose of Castile, is a rose hybrid, derived from Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata. It is widely grown in Syria, Bulgaria, Turkey, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Iran and China. Other ingredients are:

  • Alcohol
  • Aqua (water)
  • Citronellol & geraniol (The most common chemical compounds present in rose oil are citronellol and geraniol. Chemists have known for over 100 years that the main constituent of Rose oil is citronellol, but it wasn’t until work in the 1960s and 1970s that the trace constituents so essential to a rose fragrance were reported. (Rose (Rosa damascena), A Review by John C. Leffingwell, Ph.D.) )
  • Butylphenyl methylpropional (Also called p-tert-butyl-alpha-methylhydrocinnamic aldehyde, listed as either Lilial or lily aldehyde. Synthetic – smells like lily of the valley.)
  • Linalool (Another of the most common chemical compounds present in rose oil, naturally occurring, floral, with a bit of spice)
  • Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (A stabilizer: protects cosmetics and personal care products from deterioration by absorbing, UV rays.)
  • Alpha-isomethyl ionone (Synthetic – mainly smelling of iris.)
  • Eugenol (Another of the most common chemical compounds present in rose oil. Smells spicy.)
  • Limonene (Another of the most common chemical compounds present in rose oil. Smells of citrus, mint and pine.)
  • BHT (Anti-oxidant)
  • Citral (Lemon oil)
  • Benzyl Benzoate (Synthetic, but found in plants, medicinal, balsamic odor)
  • Hydroxycitronellal (Medium strength floral scent, reminiscent of lily and sweet tropical melon.)
  • CI 19140 (Yellow 5 coloring) & CI 15985 (Yellow 6 coloring)
  • Benzyl Alcohol  (Colorless liquid with a mild pleasant aromatic odor. It is a useful solvent in perfume, can form the substrate.)

All rose images and header: Photos by MM. Bijman
Top image of Sa majesté la rose bottle: Trouver votre parfum (find your perfume) blogspot. 

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