We asked perfumer Maya Njie all of our burning questions about her inspirations and creative process...
Do you feel your background in studying surface design and experimentation with colour informs your work as a perfumer? We often find that, because there are so few descriptors for smells, a lot of people (us included) borrow descriptors from other sensory realms such as texture (touch) and colour (sight). Are there any materials that you’ve worked with which you feel lend a particular texture or hue to your fragrances?
Colour is definitely closely linked with scent for me and I use it throughout to demonstrate this. The difference between Nordic Cedar and Vanilj is the perfect example of how different tones and colours connect with notes. In terms of formula they are very similar but Vanilj has an added Vanilla note and this changes the fragrance and its colour palette to a softer tone which feels more opaque and powdery in comparison to Nordic Cedars brisk and airy performance. Musical notes and instruments are another interesting descriptor for perfumes. I do not play an instrument but do find it both helpful and inspiring listening to music whilst creating and working on descriptions. My scent Les Fleurs is named after the Minnie Ripperton song and a perfect example of this.
Are there any materials that you find particularly tricky to work with? Are there any that you’d really love to compose a perfume around?
Resins like Labdanum, Benzoin and Tolu for example because they are so thick and need heating and diluting, they are all amazing materials it’s just the preparation of them that aren’t as easy as some other materials. I am exploring them more alongside other earthy notes like Patchouli and Papyrus alongside other woody materials and floral nuances.. all with a place in mind.
Indolic Jasmines and such can be very overpowering for me so I find them challenging. Another material would be Galbanum which I find a little tricky to work with. It could be because I don’t like the note or most likely because I haven’t used it right, yet.
Are there any perfumes you’ve discovered that changed the way you thought about perfume?
I remember an early Comme de garcon perfume I discovered whilst visiting Barcelona about 15 years ago. It could be from their first series.. I can’t find the name or notes but will know it in an instant. Sorry I can’t be more descriptive than this. It really challenged me and I remember thinking that very few people would be bold enough to wear it, yet I kept going back to it. I’d be interested to smell it again and see if my perception has changed with age. I’ll have to keep you updated! I have so much to discover when it comes to perfumes, it’s out there in abundance.
Are there any perfumers or brands whose work you love or always want to see what they do next?
I have to go with fellow UK indie Perfumers here like Sarah Baker, Rook perfumes, 4160Tuesdays and Gallivant Perfumes. It’s great to follow these brands as they are all local and I was so happy to discover after starting out and finding out that we are on similar paths in this industry. Being an indie perfume brand definitely has its challenges, and I take my hat off to them all. Everyone is doing something different but we are all connected.
When you’re making a new fragrance, how do you know when you’ve finished it?
This is actually one of the hardest parts for me as there are so many different places you can take a formula. And each tweak can add a major change – the possibilities really are endless. I find that if I keep exploring with enough space and reflection in between, each time I come back I am clearer. The materials need this too in order to mature. As with many things, rushing the process stifles the creativity.