One of the many joys of working with flowers is the incredible and endless array of scents that arise throughout the year, marking the start and end of the season as distinctly as the changing weather. Scent has the magical ability to unearth memories of the past and the nostalgia of seasons before, a sensory encounter unique to each and every one of us, and an experience which Swedish and West African designer, Maya Njie, recognised and brought to life with her extraordinary, niche perfume range.
Inspired by her Swedish and Gambian heritage, Maya Njie has created five fragrances from her London studio, using a variety of essential oils, aroma compounds and intriguing resins. Captivating in both ascent and ascetic, Maya has drawn on her education in surface design to create bespoke packaging incorporating dreamy colour palettes extracted from her family’s old photographs.
This distinctive parallel between the visual and olfactory senses creates a unique olfactory experience that we love, and with a compact collection of five androgynous scents, the only drawback is choosing which one to claim as yours. We sat down with Maya to find out more about her story, inspirations and more.
How did you begin to explore the art of perfumery?
Perfumes and smells in general has always had a focus in my life and I have been driven by it on many levels. By being visually creative it became second nature to want to tell a story through smell as a parallel to my creative work. Photography is a love of mine and I often find myself wondering what a certain scene, place or person might have smelled when looking at a photograph.
“I am not being told the full story here if I can’t experience the smell” I’d be thinking to myself and of course this is always left to the imagination.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I grew up with my mum and sisters in a small industrial city called Vasteras in Sweden. My sisters were born in the 1960’s so are quite a bit older than I am being an 80’s child.
I have a selection of photographs from my family photo album stemming back from this time during the 60’s and 70’s that I cherish very much. They depict a traditional picturesque Scandinavia in many ways but my sisters bring the African element into the frames and from that you know it’s not your usual Scandinavian story being told.
I chose to use these photos as my visual inspiration for my printmaking when creating designs for textiles, ceramics and wallpaper at university. The choice of colourways often came from these images too hence why their colour pallets are on show. I am proud of my Swedish and West African heritage and really wanted to try and translate that. Leading up to graduation I decided to try and compose an olfactory story using perfume notes to complement my work and that’s how it began.
When did you decide that you wanted to establish your own brand?
After university, I worked as front of house at The Laundry, a creative hub in Hackney. During this time as I was experimenting with perfumery, I would often bring new creations into work to scent the reception. It started with a lot of positive comments and enquiries from tenants and then from visitors, courier staff and tradesmen. Eventually, people started calling the reception asking for “the lady who makes scents” and that’s when I knew I had to do something with them.
How do you approach developing a new fragrance?
Often it starts with coming across an ingredient that really excites me, it may be that it reminds me of something rooted in previous experiences or places and my curiosity forms the basis of a structure that I then explore further. Other times I’ll visit somewhere that inspires a blueprint for a new formula. It can also start from wanting to create something personal for a friend. I’ll guess my way through it based on my knowledge of them and so far they have all come back for more! It can be a time-consuming process and it requires patience. I enjoy revisiting ‘sketches’ that I had forgotten about as they have had plenty of time on their side to mature and change since they were first created.
What is your relationship with flowers?
I had the pleasure of doing a floristry course at the McQueen’s flower school and I absolutely loved it. Working with flowers is something I’d like to keep up as it’s very therapeutic. I was really happy with what I achieved and my both my house and studio made me feel extra creative.
In terms of perfume notes one of my favourites to wear is Violet. It’s widely used in perfumery and has been for a long time, you’ll find it in make up such as lipstick and powder too hence the association between the two for many. I find it very attractive, especially on men it has to be said. I like mixing it with darker notes of wood and leather and often layer it with Nordic Cedar to add another dimension to it and the combination is addictive.
What are your plans for the future?
The big news is that I’ll be launching in Liberty this year which is huge. It’s my favourite store and I must have spent days there over the past two decades. To be asked to join them is such an honour for me. Since starting my business I have had them as my benchmark and can’t wait to see my range in their perfume hall.
In September I will be teaming up with Charles Heidsieck Champagnes for their collaborative series Maverick Encounters. Its a ‘champagne tasting meets perfume workshop’ experience where we will be drawing parallels between the two disciplines – both in terms of their notes and the development that goes into a creation. It’s a chance for the participant to learn about perfumery and make their very own bespoke fragrance to take home with them. Click here to discover more
I am always making new scents, experimenting with and tweaking formulas so expect some additions to the range in due time. A collaboration or two could well be on the horizon too.
Discover more about Maya and her perfumes here:
Online store: www.mayanjie.com