I always thought of Onda by Vero Profumo as a difficult perfume, but now, at a distance of a decade, I understand that I was just not grown enough for it. Though I first smelled – and liked – the parfum in Campo Marzio 70 in Rome, my mistake was ordering a sample of the eau de parfum, not knowing that the formulations were very different. The putrid-smelling passion fruit note, the pissiness, and the fungal brown wetness of it all repulsed me. I couldn’t imagine anyone wearing let alone loving it.
When I referenced its urinous aspects, laterally, in a review of Maai (Bogue Profumo) for a now-defunct blog, Vero herself took offense and, as the kids say, put me on blast publicly for having a scat fetish. (Yes, I had to look that up too. No, I don’t recommend doing a Google image search.)
Wearing the Voile de Parfum, an extenuation of the original parfum, now, I still think that the dark, mealy honey-vetiver dankness of Onda gives a little freshly cleaned bathroom stall, but in an unctuous way that also makes me think of brown velvet and the dull, chocolate-y glow of Tiffany lamps. There is no repulsion. It turns out that it was me all along that was the problem, not Onda. And when I was ready to grow the F up, Onda was there, waiting for me.
Still, Onda is by no means for the uninitiated. Salty, wet, and a bit furry, it is a perfume that smells of feral cats in a den hidden in the undergrowth, albeit a world removed from the agrestic ‘smells’ turned out by indie perfumers to simulate an environment or an animal that lives there. Onda is a wild-reared, 100% grass-fed, organic experience that just happens to be chypre-shaped. There is no sense of it having been born, just of it arriving in the world fully formed – a creature with native intelligence.
There are no perfumes that smell like Onda, but the medicinal (and medieval) dustiness of the mace note remind me of other ‘brown-grey’, shadowy, and sepulchral things like Djedi (Guerlain) and Marescialla (Santa Maria Novella). The ‘artisanal’ apothecary vibe reminds me a lot of both Maai and MEM (Bogue Profumo), as well as the turgid funk of several O’Driu perfumes, including Ladamo. Still, even in this company, Onda stands out as being impenetrable and a little disturbing.
But then, the greatest perfumes in the world all have something impenetrable or disturbing about them, don’t they? Mitsouko is a prickly creature, sometimes smelling of peaches and wood, sometimes of formaldehyde. The clove and honey notes in Comme des Garcons Parfum are sharp and unlovely at first, reminiscent of a sweaty crotch. L’Air de Rien carries with it the distinct whiff of unwashed scalp. Yet these are perfumes worth spending time with and trying to unlock, because behind that door lies greatness. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to only smell amazing. For most people, perfume is an extension of their grooming ritual. You can enjoy beauty without worrying about whether or not it has a dark side. But if you believe that perfume is art, then it stands to reason that your perfume should transmit a message that goes above and beyond a good ‘smell’. And love it or hate it, Onda is a great example of perfume as art.
Source of sample: I have owned the parfum and the Voile de Parfum of Onda since 2015.