Inside Onda Beauty, Naomi Watts’s ultra-chic beauty hub
It’s fitting that the origins for Onda Beauty can be found in Vegemite-smothered Corn Thins that Naomi Watts served up in her New York apartment. At the time, the actor was playing business matchmaker to two mutual friends in her kitchen – fellow Australian and journalist Sarah Bryden-Brown and American fashion editor Larissa Thomson, a clean-beauty devotee who was looking to turn her love of non-toxic elixirs into a fully fledged beauty start-up. For Bryden-Brown, it was the polarising Australian spread that sealed the deal with Thomson. “I thought, the fact that you’re in New York and you can eat Vegemite with us makes you super-cool. So the rest is history.”
Three years on from the Vegemite meet-up, Onda boasts a successful online boutique, two bricks-and-mortar stores in the US (in New York’s Tribeca and Hamptons hotspot Sag Harbor) and Watts has become a key stakeholder in the business. Most exciting for locals is news the brand has opened its first Australian outpost in Sydney.
Situated down the re-energised end of Paddington’s Oxford Street in Aesop’s former bolthole, the lofty light-filled sanctuary checks all the clean beauty boxes: nature-meets-science treatment menu and non-toxic formulas. But the real magic – or the “Onda Fix” as it’s been affectionately dubbed Stateside – is in the feeling that surrounds a visit to the wellness haven.
In fact, it’s a prerequisite that a friendly, village atmosphere echoing that of New York City’s Lower East Side or London’s Notting Hill (where they plan to open the fourth Onda boutique later this year) surrounds each outlet. “One of the criteria for opening a store is that we build it around a community,” says Bryden-Brown.
Onda has also enlisted facialist Nicole Manning (she merged her own successful business, Tribe, into Onda), who oversees a treatment menu that focuses on holistic details like grounding meditation and energy work. “I know Sydney is a relatively small market, but it’s very, very devoted to clean beauty and the wellness community. Sydney leads in so many ways and that’s one of them,” notes Bryden-Brown.
Onda – meaning ‘wave’ in Spanish – stocks more than 20 clean-beauty brands: a mix of local skincare formulas (Sodashi, The Beauty Chef and Saya among them) and international favourites like Vintner’s Daughter, Butter and cult US brand May Lindstrom.
“It was important to me that we could offer our special clean beauty destination in Australia, where we could not only support local brands, but introduce many brands that aren’t previously available in Australia,” says Watts, who now counts herself a firm believer in the power of non-toxic beauty products. In fact, it was the perpetual cycle of applying and removing make-up on Hollywood sets that drew the A-lister to a simpler regimen.
“My skin started to react badly to a lot of the products I had been using,” she says. “Larissa, one of the founders of Onda, recommended I try using clean products … The change for me was immediate and significant enough that I have now switched out both my make-up and skincare products for [alternative] brands.”
Each product must pass the trio’s vetting process. “We’re all a similar age, but we’re all different,” says 51-year-old Bryden-Brown of the criteria, which starts with each founder testing the skincare formulas on their own complexions. “Every product we have in our store or on our website is clean, and myself, Larissa or Naomi can tell you why it’s there and why we love it,” she enthuses.
With this, Onda aims to reposition ‘clean’ and dismantle the tired notion that it means forgoing efficacy. To have a home on the Onda shelves, formulas must limit toxins and earn a low-hazard ranking score of one from Environmental Working Group (an organisation that ranks products based on factors such as eliminating toxic ingredients). They must also look as beautiful on your bathroom cabinet as they smell delicious on your skin.
Checklists aside, the Onda experience feels refreshingly new. On a warm autumnal afternoon, the white space is bathed in natural light and feels a lot like you’ve stepped inside a fashionable friend’s holiday house. I’m led downstairs to one of the two treatment rooms – each with a millennial-pink Kelly Wearstler wall lamp – for the 90-minute Pure Renewal facial.
The results-driven treatment starts with a thorough cleanse and exfoliation, followed by a much-needed bask under an LED light, before my facialist promotes lymphatic drainage using an Eastern massage protocol known as gua sha. Whether it’s the hypnotic aroma of the room or some intangible energy work at play, my beaming post-treatment skin is enough to convert even the toughest sceptic.
“The facials are very grounding and soulful,” notes Bryden-Brown. “Every aesthetician we have working with us has an energy gift, so when you have a facial you feel not only completely renewed but quite different.” And with that, I diarise my next Onda fix.
This article originally appeared in Vogue Australia’s August 2019 issue.
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