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Creative Conversations: Plum Guide meets Maya Njie

We hear from Maya about her love of scent, where she looks for inspiration and how she came to acquire a very special Brick Lane bargain

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Portrait of Maya Njie by Caro Llamusi

In this installment of our Creative Conversations interview series, we're sitting down with the founder of Maya Njie Perfumes. We discover what scent means to Maya, why design is so important to her brand's ethos and more.

Where did the Maya Njie Perfumes story begin?

My love of scent has been with me for as long as I can remember. From collecting scented dolls and stationery as a child to making scented candles from an early age. It has also dictated how I shop for beauty products throughout my life, scent has always been at the forefront. I began studying Surface Design in 2013 and focused mainly on textile design and traditional photography. My Swedish and west African heritage played a big part in my inspiration and I used my old 1960s and 70s family photos as visual reference points. It was my curiosity around working in a multi sensory way that got me blending, all based on these snapshots in time.

Maya uses 1970s and 60s photos as visual reference points when creating a new fragrance

Maya uses 1970s and 60s photos as visual reference points when creating a new fragrance

Where do you go for inspiration when developing your latest perfume?

My latest fragrance is inspired by Mediterranean climates and vegetation, a part of south of Spain that I go to every year, it’ll be released this summer. I am also working on a formula that has a connection to a piece of music that I love. I am excited about revealing them both in due time.

What was the process behind marrying your fragrances with the design of your bottles and brand?

I knew I wanted something simple that felt both classic and contemporary but above all gender neutral. My bottle is all of those things. I love its soft lines and how comfortable it is to hold.

The classic yet contemporary design of Maya Njie bottles, shot by Maria Lax

The classic yet contemporary design of Maya Njie bottles, shot by Maria Lax

Which fragrances do you love to have in your home and what do they evoke for you?

I primarily burn west African incense and oils that I have blended myself. I feel real nostalgia around some of them as it reminds me of my travels to Africa, they are woody, resinous and aromatic. Others bring calm and character to my home - there is usually always something burning whether it’s incense, candles or resins.

Travelling and discovering new scents often come hand in hand. Which destination are you most looking forward to visiting next?

I am really looking forward to being back in West Africa, Senegal and Gambia mainly. I would also love to visit Japan which is new territory for me. I sell my perfumes there but have yet to visit myself. It’s at the top of the list for new places to go.

On the topic of upcoming travels, Maya is looking forward to returning to Gambia

On the topic of upcoming travels, Maya is looking forward to returning to Gambia

Tell us the story behind a favourite item in your home

That would probably be my mid-century Italian drinks trolley. It’s made of dark wood, rattan and bamboo. I bought it 12 years ago from one of the second hand traders in the arches of Brick Lane. I was passing and spotted it. He gave me such a good bargain. In order to get it home I had to beg the D6 bus driver to let me on with both the trolley and my daughter in a buggy. It was worth the struggle.

Maya's favourite item at home – her mid-century Italian drinks trolley

Maya's favourite item at home – her mid-century Italian drinks trolley

What makes a house a home, to you?

It’s a space that you can make your own. When you’re young in London you tend to move around more and it can be hard to make a house a home but I have managed successfully a few times. To be honest it’s always come down to the house or flat itself and what you can or are allowed to do with it if you’re renting. Where I am now I have been for 12 years and it really does feel like home.

Where is your home away from home?

At my best friend's house Matilda in Sweden. I haven’t been in a while due to the restrictions, she’s even moved house. But I know it’ll feel like home when I do go, even though technically I have never been.

Who or what do you consider to be an arbiter of style?

That would have to be my partner Eddie. He is a menswear designer and does made to measure suits and jackets under the name of Beggars Run. We are starting a suit fitting for me next week and I am so excited at the prospect of my first bespoke 3 piece suit!

For the Plum Guide ‘Perfect Stay’ home test, we collaborate with experts from different fields — from psychologists and hospitality experts to architects and interior designers — to identify the ingredients a holiday home needs in order to deliver a perfect stay. If you were designing a test or set of criteria for the perfect holiday home, what ingredient(s) would you specify as essential for the perfect stay?

My perfect holiday home would be in a warm climate and have ample space for my friends to come and stay. With a pool to hand and the sea nearby. It would have a terrace in the sun and one in the shade and an outdoor shower with a private but open view. It would be surrounded by greenery that’s different to what I have in my usual habitat. I love the scent of ripe fig trees, cypress trees and tomato leaves basking in the sun, it lets me know that I’m on holiday and often gives the first impression of a place, sometimes before you even enter it.

Fragrant fig trees are an important part of that holiday feeling for Maya

Fragrant fig trees are an important part of that holiday feeling for Maya

To find out more about Maya and her perfumes, take a look at her website or Instagram feed.

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