Maya Njie (pronounced ‘Maia N-Jai’) has diverse familial and artistic roots, having been born in Västerås Sweden, with a West African heritage, and moving to London in her teens where she went in to study at the University of the Arts. Weaving together these threads via the medium of the senses, Maya began experimenting with smell alongside the the visual mediums of colour and photography. Indeed, so Maya told us when we first met her, the studio often gained visitors of passers-by who’d been attracted first by the wonderful scents wafting from the doors. ‘Some would ask if they could buy whatever fragrance it was, and I had to explain they weren’t for sale. But it got me thinking…’
After graduating, and further inspired to continue her sensorial artistic explorations, Maya began working at The Laundry, an artistic hub located at London Fields. She felt confident enough to wear her fragrant compositions to work, with colleagues again asking if they were available to buy. Truly, wearing her heritage and inspiration on her skin, the fragrant future of Maya Njie was forming.
Maya had chosen the stimuli of an old family photo album for her inspiration – the images within were taken decades before her birth, but she found their faded colours and snapshots of familial life so fascinating to pair to fragrances. Our sense of smell is, as we know, the most immediate connection we have to memories and emotional responses. Sometimes, even though we’ve never experienced a place or met a person ourselves, through smell we nonetheless feel a bond, another life lived.
In this way, the people and places in the photographs were brought to life in 3D, an emotional connection finally made possible because of the scents that had been directly inspired by them. Maya Njie describes the questions she thought about while bringing the framed photos alive through scent, wondering ‘What did it smell like?’ The small Swedish summer house surrounded by mercurial forests, the visits to her grandparents’ sparsely furnished flat on Sunday afternoons, Uncle Lars’ and Aunt Erene’s wedding.. she sought to bottle the spirit connected to the classic 1970’s Scandinavian idyll, combined with the soul of her esoteric Gambian heritage.’
Having already gained a loyal band of fragrant followers before she’d even officially opened, Maya Njie was first stocked in some local indie shops, then properly launching as a fragrance house in 2016. Proudly independent, showcasing exceptional qualities of both natural and synthetic materials in her compositions with ‘nature and science combined’; Maya develops and makes every element of her fragrant formulas in-house, every single scent ‘mixed in small fresh batches, filtered and bottled individually by hand.’ What’s more, she’s even started hosting small classes in perfumery, keen to pass on her passion to others who want to learn. Using her experience as an artist, Maya also designed the perfumes’ packaging, drawing on ‘the dreamy colour ways’ of her family’s photo album once again.
Right from the start, these are scents that have not only sprung from Maya Njie’s imagination, but have captured other people’s: when we wear them, our own memories and emotional connection ruins are triggered.
Within Nordic Cedar, for example, we may never have visited the Swedish Forest it was inspired by, but we feel a sense of towering trees, the reassuring comfort of cedar and earthy patchouli enclosing us as cardamom gifts brightness, ambergris adds a touch of mist. For Vanilj, the traditional Swedish note of cardamom is used again, the comfort intensified by addictively dark vanilla that swirls boozily amidst ambered musk.
In Tobak, addiction is ramped up via the honeyed smokiness of the tobacco leaf, a trail of animalic musks and leather resonating many hours later. Incorporating music as another inspirational medium, Les Fleures is named for Minnie Ripperton’s 1970 song, a green floral scent that ripples with bergamot’s brightness, magnolia and sweet fig, an ‘unbound celebration of life, love and creation.’
Those longing to escape might yearn for Tropica – an invitation to imagine ‘trading in a dark, bleak and cold setting for a warmer climate far away, with flourishing green vegetation and remote beaches’ with tropical fruits lushly layered on sandalwood and coconut. And in Voyeur Verde, nature claims an abandoned car, leaves and creepers entangling the leather seats, a wonderfully verdant burst of rebirth and ‘balmy cypress trees shadowed by the Sierra Bernia mountains.’
Maya Njie fragrances don’t just express emotions, they provoke them – along with many compliments (we’ve found) while wearing them. Incredibly long lasting, fragrantly evocative, which one will you make your own first discovery with…?