Tropical Triplets: JAR Bolt of Lightning, LesNez Manoumalia and Aftelier Perfumes Parfum Prive

The other day, luxury blogger Nathan Branch gave me a nudge in the comments section of my "Holiday Party Fragrance Tips" post:

“Perhaps for your NY's Eve party schedule you might wish to sport that sample of JAR Bolt of Lightning that I know you have . . . *ahem*. It's lush, gorgeous and radiates goodwill.”

Okay, Nathan, I've finally taken a stab at the generous decant of JAR Bolt of Lightning you sent me, there such as thing as being too generous? Because here's what Bolt of Lightning is doing to me:

First thing on the skin, it's a stomach-roiling cross between Etat d'Orange Sécrétions Magnifiques and Gorilla Perfume Breath of God: thick, rotting undergrowth, white florals and menthol. It calms down pretty quickly, and smells like fresh tuberose for a minute. And then after about 20 minutes, it smells like minty, metallic meat. Or perhaps “minty, metallic meat” is the fresh tuberose?

Oh, it's lush, all right, but whatever it's radiating is not "goodwill.”

Guaranteed to give you a severe dose of goodwill radiation.

I did a quick whirl around the fumisphere to see what the other kids were saying about Bolt of Lightning, and had one of those “duh” moments as I realized that Bolt of Lightning was the hip, obscure object of desire about five years ago already. I may have missed it then, but thanks to Nathan, I was catching up on my homework now.

Despite its ritzy-titsy price of almost 800 clams for a 1 ounce bottle, I was interested to find a distinct consensus on BoL's startling out-of-the-bottle yakkiness, including this comment from Nathan on Basenotes:
“Opens up with a seriously foul, rotting vegetation note, but after twenty minutes transforms into one of the most beautiful fragrances I've ever smelled -- an airy, fresh, lightly green and subtly sweet concoction”

...a theme he develops on his BoL blog post, here.

Well, my Bolt of Lightning clock might need another electrical charge, because at T minus 25, all I was getting was still that minty, metallic meat. Along with what Basenoter Marlen Harrison described with breathtaking specificity: “stale ice cube trays.”

Bolt of Lightning did put me in mind of LesNez Manoumalia, another sultry white floral that also cha-cha-chas with the gag reflex. Though with Manoumalia, I happily embrace its sexily suffocating tropical allure, represented by tiare instead of BoL's tuberose.

It was instructive to apply Manoumalia for the inevitable dance-off, however, because their imagined similarities were outweighed by their actual differences. Manoumalia stayed warm, salty skin-like, almost nutty. BoL revealed itself as cooler, thinner, sweeter.

But I couldn't shake the sense that BoL's earthy florals resembled something I'd recently worn, and still trying to pin the tail on the donkey, I dabbed on my sample of Aftelier Perfumes Parfum Privé.

Ooooh -- dig that smooove tropical leather! Parfum Privé is Mandy Aftel's essay on the night air in Hawaii, and wearing it, I'm there: the humidity, the orange blossoms, the ocean.

As Aftel only uses natural ingredients in her perfumes, it's actually meaningful to consult her list of notes: bergamot, pink pepper CO2, orange flower absolute, osmanthus, pimento leaf, ambrette, ambergris. Yes, ambergris: the legendary -- and legendarily rare -- oxidized whale hork that has imparted a lived-in physicality and sensual warmth to centuries of perfumes.

Brigitte Bardot has a lot in common with ambergris. Like the way she washes up on the beach.

Parfum Privé has a chewy, latex aspect to the florals. The nutmeggy pimento is spicy, but spice without bite, just flavor. Privé isn't as “warm, wet beach towel on the face” as Manoumalia, but both trade in the seashore's muggy allure. There's an almost-sweetness to Privé, like cooked-to-caramelized brown butter.

As a natural perfume, Privé doesn't have the tenacity and throw of fragrances 'roided up with synthetics, so the experience is softer. Even still, Privé has a beautiful, persistent presence on the skin.

The more I contemplated tropical triplets Parfum Privé, Manoumalia and Bolt of Lightning, the more it became apparent that at most, they were only fraternal siblings.

Will the real tropical triplets please stand up?

And most unexpectedly, while I wasn't paying attention, Bolt of Lightning outgrew its ugly monkey baby stage and turned into a genuinely pretty perfume. It smelled like the distant drydown of Comme des Garçons' bombastic Daphne: tuberose and candied incense.

Nathan's comment:
“It does the darnedest Ugly Duckling To A Beautiful Swan transformation -- from foul to fowl! Its development from awful intro into utter gorgeousness would be almost comical if it weren't so breathtaking.

BoL is the fragrance that made me believe in the possibilities of tuberose. From what I understand, it has a hefty overdose of natural tuberose essence, which is why it's so expensive.”

And which is why I was getting all that minty meat. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, Tania Sanchez describes the smell of tuberose absolute as “rubber tires, steak tartare, Chinese muscle rub.”

But as much as I enjoyed the nasal workout, Nathan, I will not be sporting Bolt of Lightning come New Year's Eve. By the time BoL got pretty, it was well into the fadeout. Why couldn't the pretty part be as loud and insistent as the ugly monkey baby part?

A baby anything is never ugly. Unless it's a perfume.

So, my New Year's tuberose choice is still on schedule as Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower. Carnal Flower not only starts pretty but it stays pretty, and it stays pretty forever.

Bolt of Lightning is discontinued, Manoumalia is from Les Nez, and Parfum Privé is from

Image credits:
Aloha Girl by tsevis
Bardot still from ...And God Created Woman
Rodgers triplets via
Baby monkey via


  1. Well, who'd a thunk that metallic meat smelled so darn good . . . uhm, to me!

    Once that initial dank vegetal opening clears out, I find BoL to be a soaring, crisp floral, but I can see where a Ms. Portrait of a Lady might actually consider BoL to be a bit too much fork in the electrical outlet (and not enough bungle in the jungle).

    Perhaps this is why BoL is the only tuberose heavy fragrance I've ever purchased? It's edgy enough to have pulled me into its cold floral embrace -- I barely wear it (it's still a big floral, after all, and that's not really my style), but whenever I do decide to put it on, I find its No Holds Barred sucker-punch to be both daring and admirable.

    I was hoping you'd take a seat on the bench and join me in contemplating the inscrutable, but I guess I'll continue to do that in solitude. *sob*

  2. nathan - you're so poetically quippy! Yeah, I served my time contemplating the inscrutable, but was forced to vacate the bench when my bum went numb.

    The thing for me was that BoL never soared. By the time it turned into that beautiful swan, it was paddling away from me as fast as its little webbed feet could go.

  3. Katie, I was thinking just the other day while sampling SL's Cuir Mauresque, whether it is worth persevering with a rather replusive opening to get to a very nice dry-down. I concluded that if the rotten opening lasts longer than a mintue or two and the dry-down is less than spectacular, then it's JUST NOT WORTH IT.

  4. I would love to add a bottle of Bolt of Lightening to my collection. And for that matter, Jardenia too. Dank and edgy, cheesy and mushroomy-both sound just perfect, though probably more for warm weather rather than for the icy blasts that we've been having. And probably more for pockets that are a bit deeper than mine.

  5. Melissa, you have a higher comfort level around "overripe" than many. I wonder if you've yet encountered a perfume that made you blanch, just a little? I do remember that Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia gave you pause...

    tara, there is indeed a delicate ratio of gross-to-gorgeous that must be struck in order to continue a relationship with a perfume. And it's different for everyone. Your calculations strike me as spot on!

  6. I do admit that Bolt of Lightning tested my patience in the opening intro time regard. I was already heading to the washroom to scrub it off when *BING!* it went from brown woolly caterpillar to Monarch Butterfly.

    Though my version of a Monarch Butterfly apparently looks like meat. On an aluminum skewer. In the freezer.


  7. Nathan, trust you to turn something as simple as wearing a perfume into a trip to MOMA.

  8. Thank you so much for this katie. I love the expression "whale hork" that's a new one to me makes it's mystery clear in a second.

    I love the way you write with such wit about perfume.

  9. Thanks, Mandy! Always happy to truffle out fresh synonyms for, as my dad used to "delicately" call it, "upchuck".

  10. Hi Katie,
    I also received a decant of JAR BoL from the ever generous Nathan and I surprised myself by loving it. Ok, I totally get that it's disgusting at the start. Really gross rotting vegetation and a chunk of meat for 20 minutes. But (but!) after the initial revolting 20 minutes it became an amazing animalic, edgy tuberose on me. I used up the entire decant and even wiped out the inside of the vial onto my pillow case (yes, that's how insane I am when nobody is watching) because I know I won't be buying myself a full bottle at THAT price! Be happy you don't like it, that stuff is outrageously overpriced. And, strangely, I despise Amaran-thigh which is in a similar vein yet everyone seems to like that one. On me it's spoiled milk and rotting vegetation forevah.

    PS: I love that Brigitte Bardot washes up on a beach similar to ambergris. hee hee.

  11. Abigail,

    Boy, Nathan's really playing fast and loose with his Bolt of Lightning (hmm, that sounds dirty). Now that your lending your voice to the chorus of BoL Hosannas, I suppose I'll strap myself in for another go-round. I know I did enjoy the tuberose resolution after the horror show overture, but it seemed like too little too late.

    Hmm, Amaranthine doesn't tickle your pickle? Sounds like you have a higher tolerance for BoL's meat than Amaranthine's milk.

  12. Now that you mention meat vs. milk -- it's true! -- I do hate milk. I don't drink milk, not straight, I can have it in cereal and whatnot but the idea of a 'milky' fragrance totally skeevs me.

  13. Agigail, that's funny. That'll be my long-distance odor radar ("o-dar"?) coming into play.

  14. Katie, do you know if Velvet Gardenia available anywhere online or elsewhere, other than ebay? I can't find it :( :O

    Thought you might know of secret haunts, being a perfumista and all. It would make my month!

  15. So sorry, I know of no secret stockpiles of Velvet Gardenia. Might they have any remaining stock in the Tom Ford boutiques, or did they withdraw them completely?