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How Nomaterra Whipped Up Their Cherry Blossom Fragrance

Images courtesy of Nomaterra
Images courtesy of Nomaterra

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Think you're the number one Cherry Blossom Festival super-fan? Until you've distilled a fragrance that smells remarkably similar to the crowd-gathering, tourist-attracting bud, think again. Nomaterra is a Brooklyn-based fragrance company dedicated to capturing the unique smells and feels of a place and putting it into fragrance. While Nomaterra also stocks scents dedicated to locales like Malibu, Savannah, Ga. and Oahu, they got their start with one dedicated to our fair city. The D.C. Cherry Blossom scent brings together the city's most famous flower with spices that locals are sure to recognize.

Racked caught up with Nomaterra's creative director, Agnieszka Sygnarowicz Burnett to chat about the difficulties of making a cherry blossom scent, what kind of person wears the D.C. fragrance (hint—she's probably high-powered) and her favorite place in the District to grab seafood and baked goods. Nomaterra's fragrances are available locally at D.C.'s Four Seasons hotel and in Alexandria at Bellacara. The fragrance duo will be in town for a pop-up at Homebody at 715 8th St. SE on April 4 through 6. — Alison Baitz

DC Cherry Blossom 10ml Roll-On Perfume Oil, $55

How did Nomaterra get started?
It was started by my biochemist husband and I; I was a former beauty assistant at Glamour magazine. Through that job I was exposed to a lot of different fragrance brands, both niche and commercial and designer, and my boss, who is also my mentor still, she was the beauty director Glamour and she loves fragrance — and she definitely introduced me to new brands that I'd never heard of that were outside your basic Sephora counters.

So, that's how I got into fragrance and then my husband's a biochemist so the first product we came up with was a fragrance wipe — and that kinda happened by chance. I think we were at the beach and this woman was like, spraying herself with fragrance, and none of it was actually getting on her body. And we were just like 'why isn't there something that would allow you to apply fragrance while you're on-the-go, while you're away, on vacation or even just moving around going from one place to another that you would just wipe on?' So that's kind of how we came up with the whole fragrance wipe concept and from there, it kinda grew into 'well why don't we just create a fragrance brand that's created just for travel, with travelers in mind?'

DC Cherry Blossom Fragrance Wipes, $26

What made you want to make a fragrance dedicated to Washington, D.C.?
It's actually based on a lot of my husband's experiences, and that was the first fragrance we made. He grew up in Baltimore but his uncle lived in D.C. so he would always travel to D.C. a lot and so the inspiration really came from, one, the cherry blossom ingredient, which is unique to D.C., but also the McCormick factory, so all the spices that are used — cardamom, bay leaf, black pepper — they're all found in Old Bay spice, and we ended up using a lot of those ingredients in the D.C. fragrance. So it was definitely inspired by his childhood and where he grew up.

Was it difficult to put cherry blossoms into a fragrance?
It was incredibly difficult! The cherry blossom scent is very mild, and you have to have a good nose to even smell it, and there's no actual oil that you can extract from cherry blossom flowers — like for example, orange blossom is a blossom you can actually extract the oil from the flower, but the cherry blossom you can't. So you basically have to recreate the scent using different types of aroma chemicals.

Is that a lot of trial and error for you guys?
Yes. It's tons of trial and error. I think that the version we ended up with, the final version, was like version number 57.

8.5 oz Hand-Poured DC Cherry Blossom Soy Candle, $60

Since this was a fragrance that really spoke to your husband's experiences, I have to ask: have you been to D.C. yourself?
Oh yes. I have to travel — before I make any fragrance, I have to have had been there. Not only that, but it has to have a lot of meaning to me. So every place I create a fragrance for has had meaning to me and does have meaning to me. And we're in D.C. all the time.

What do you guys like to do when you come to DC?
Usually we're there for work, so we usually do like pop-up shops, but we did a lot of pop-up shops last year on 8th Street SE, and there are so many great restaurants there. There's this one Belgian place right there on 8th St. [Belga Cafe] that's amazing. We always get mussels there; we try to go there almost every time we're there. There's this amazing bakery right there [Springmill Bread] as well. We're really big foodies, so as you can kinda see the theme of all the restaurants. Everywhere we travel, we do a lot of research on what's unique to that area and what's culturally special, so we love to always try something new in respect to the food. And when I was younger and I went and I traveled for pleasure, we would definitely go and visit the Smithsonian, the aviation museum, the monuments and a lot of the different attractions.

Do you get a sense of who is buying the D.C. fragrance?
Yeah, it's actually a lot of powerful women. It's women who are confident, who like a strong scent, they like something that makes them feel confident and powerful. It's usually women who, I'd say, between the ages of 35 and 45, 50. Women who have kinda already established themselves in their career, and that fragrance really resonates with them because they've worked their way up the ladder, they're usually directors or leaders or managers, CEOs. So that fragrance resonates more with them than, say, Miami for example.

Do you have a personal favorite Nomaterra scent?
My personal favorite is actually a mix of two. I love the mix of Malibu and Boston. Boston's tobacco leaf, and kind of edgy and gritty, and then Malibu is on the sweet, floral side. And I love mixing the two — it's a great mix. But I really love all of them, so I really kinda switch it up depending on my mood. So when I'm having a meeting that's important, I'll wear D.C., when I'm wanting to come off sophisticated or classic, I'll wear East Hampton, if I want to evoke the feeling of fun, I'll wear Miami. So it kinda goes on. I just love to mix them all.
· Nomaterra [Official Site]