Old Family Photographs Are This Self-Taught Perfumer’s Muse
Years ago, while flipping through an old family photo album, photographer Maya Njie homed in on an invisible aspect of the pictures. “I found myself wanting to know how the place or person [shown] smells,” she says. She began experimenting with raw ingredients to make fragrances that capture a given image’s scene: The celebratory reception of her aunt and uncle’s wedding became Vanilj, a blend of vanilla and spices that’s redolent of bourbon; a photo of tropical vegetation, a nod to her family’s roots in Gambia, springs to life in Tropica, a citrusy spritz that incorporates pineapple, Mediterranean fig, iris, coconut, and sandalwood. Njie began wearing her concoctions, which quickly garnered a fan base that led her to found her namesake fragrance line in 2016. These days, Njie mixes and bottles her gender-neutral scents by hand in her London studio. She’s also eager to share her know-how with others. This week, after a hiatus due to the pandemic, she resumed hosting workshops, where participants learn how to blend their own perfume (next month’s sessions will be announced on her website’s events page soon).
While Njie’s aromatic work focuses on expressing moments from her personal history, most noses can still appreciate it—as anyone whose memory has been triggered by a smell can attest. “The fragrances form relationships in people that are linked to both emotion and olfaction,” Njie says. “They’re versatile enough for wearers to fill them with their own stories.”