It’s rare to smell a fragrance that seems completely new, like nothing else on the market. It’s even more rare to find something that smells not only new, but at the same time ancient, as if unearthed from an Egyptian sarcophagus. Astonishingly, Vero Profumo Onda manages this last trick. There’s nothing of the focus group about it. If someone told me Onda was Mata Hari’s secret weapon, I’d believe it. If she told me Onda was Comme des Garçons’ latest fragrance, “Bilge Water Supreme,” I’d believe that, too. It’s a marvel.
Vero Kern, the nose behind Vero Profumo, released three fragrances in extrait — Onda, Rubj, and Kiki — in 2008. In 2010, she released Eau de Parfum versions of each fragrance. These three perfumes are Vero Profumo’s only offerings. Vero Profumo is one of the few perfume houses that doesn’t hustle one or two new perfumes out the door each year. While it’s a relief not to have to field a regular raft of new perfumes, Onda, Rubj, and Kiki are so interesting that I’m eager for her next release.
I first smelled Onda extrait when a Now Smell This reader passing through town slid a spray sample across the table of a Thai restaurant. It was surprising — sexy, fetid, and earthy. I didn’t know what to make of it. With fond memories of the reader, who became a friend (it turned out we had a common friend in Portland), I put it in the etched crystal glass I save for special and rare samples. Every few months I took Onda out and sprayed it on a wrist. And each time I was wracked with a keen attraction and repulsion. I didn’t know what to make of Onda.
Onda in extrait is a fusty, leathery vetiver, sort of like a cross between Molinard Habanita and Caron Narcisse Noir. It smells of old powder, vetiver, marjoram, dirty vase water, cardboard, pencil lead, and loamy earth. Initially, menthol shafts its way through the perfume until it is subsumed by rot — a beautiful, almost biblical, incense-tinged rot. As the fragrance settles, the smell of burned logs arises. Not the woody, boozy hot smell of Serge Lutens Chêne, but the scent of charcoal-black wood. (Onda extrait notes include vetiver, ginger, mace, coriander.)
Does this description sound like I don’t like Onda? Because that’s not true. I adore Onda the same way I adore poached foie gras on brioche points or George Saunders short stories. I crave them both but dread them for their gorgeous-painful intensity. It takes courage to dive into this kind of unfriendly art, but it’s rewarding. At least, I think it is.
Onda in Eau de Parfum is, if anything, more difficult than Onda extrait. It has less powder than the extrait and less animalic depth, but it is more herbal-bright and more “rotted” smelling. Onda Eau de Parfum’s notes include bergamot, citron, mandarin, ginger, coriander, basil, passion fruit, iris, ylang ylang, honey, Bourbon vetiver, patchouli, musk, and cedar wood.
Unlike for Rubj, where the Eau de Parfum sings on my skin, I prefer Onda in extrait. I find it richer and deeper, and, in some delicious way, scarier. Both forms of Onda last all day on skin. If you are fascinated by Onda, you'll rejoice in its persistence. Otherwise, you'll find it a scrubber extraordinaire. Either way, I don't think you'll leave Onda unmoved.
Vero Profumo Onda Eau de Parfum (shown) comes in a 50 ml bottle for $165. It’s available in Extrait de Parfum for $185 for 7.5 ml. For information on where to buy Onda, see Vero Profumo under Perfume Houses.