Maya Nije: Nostalgia in A Perfume Bottle
Born in Västerås Sweden, Maya Njie moved to London in her late teens. Her background lies in surface design and photography, which she studied at the University of the Arts London. She began experimenting with the sense of smell as an added medium. Inspired by an old family photo album from the decades before her birth, Maya set out to capture, by way of scent, these moments in time, these tropes of familial life, set within their frames. Handcrafted in small batches in the perfumer’s London studio, these contemporary, genderless fragrances are infused with a comforting measure of nostalgia.
Tell us about your story. You were born in Västerås Sweden, then came to London to study surface design and photography, right?
Yes I was born in Sweden and grew up with my mother and older sisters in Västerås, a fairly small industrial city about an hour from Stockholm. My Swedish mother and Gambian father separated when I was two. Through out my childhood I would go to The Gambia with my mum and sister on holiday – a much welcomed escape from that long, dark and cold Swedish winter.
How did you become a perfumer and the Maya Njie that we know today?
I have a selection of beautiful family photos from the 1960’s and 70’s that I used as inspiration during my Surface design degree. I would colour pick them and put them on my mood boards. Visual references such as photos is of course the most common way of capturing a moment in time. However, the power of scent can really transport you to places, more so than any of the other senses for me. I had a real desire to connect my visual designs and their starting points with olfactory art and this led me down the path of perfumery.
In 2016 you founded your namesake brand. Was Nordic Cedar your first creation?
Yes Nordic Cedar was the first scent I made but it was formulated years before the company was set up. Each scent that is in my current collection were simply designed for my personal use. I would also scent the reception room of where I worked as front of house and this led to a lot of enquiries from visitors. The thought of making these for other people didn’t enter my head until strangers on public transport started asking what perfume I was wearing.
I have always been drawn in more by traditionally masculine scents with woody, smoky and musky notes and my perfumes all have an element of this. Even thou some are greener and fruitier they do link together. I believe that people should simply forget about outdated gender marketing and wear what suits them and makes them happy.
Les Fleurs from my range is the perfect example of this (named after the Minnie Ripperton song). A lot of men love the scent as its green, citrucy and herbaceous with elements of fig and white florals. However, the name makes them unsure. I wanted to challenge this in my recent Liberty window campaign.
Recently we've seen you participating in a campaign for #InternationalWomenDay by Appear Here. What is your say on the world of female entrepreneurs? Do you believe we still have a long way to go in order to be respected as much as our male counterparts?
All I know is that when I am out there during events and meet other start ups at varying stages of their journey, it’s overwhelmingly female led. This makes me think that there is a real shift happening.
Back to your company... we've seen you hosting workshops all over London. How did you find these and what would your advice for a perfumer-wanna-be be?
Workshops are fun - people get really into their own creative process and I enjoy guiding them though it. Designing a perfume usually takes multiple versions and a lot of patience. For me it’s been a case of years of experimenting, trial and error with a drop or two of determination.
Finally, what's next for Maya? Any event or new perfume we should be in the know of?
It’s been a busy couple of months with a studio move and the beauty campaign launch in Liberty which has been my main focus. I do have many creations up my sleeve though so it’s just a case of deciding which one to add to the offering next. I will also be hosting more regular workshops with dates to be revealed soon.