As much as I miss shopping for perfume in actual stores and attending events like launch parties and personal appearances by perfumers and brand founders, I’m managing to ease some of that loss (for now) by “attending” virtual/online/remote events.
There are actually so many opportunities to join various Instagram Live interviews and Zoom panel discussions that I can’t even keep track of them anymore, but there are a few events I make sure not to miss. Perfumer Maya Njie’s recent live chat with Ari and Katri of Arielle Shoshana was one of them. It combined a walkthrough of Maya’s fragrance line and a “live blending” of a new work-in-progress, plus plenty of time for questions and answers.
Maya joined us (via Zoom, of course) from her studio in London. Her introduction included a brief discussion of her career shift from surface design (e.g., textiles) to “scent design” and her method of incorporating her visual sensibility into her olfactory process.
For the live blending portion of the event (a rare occasion to see a perfumer at work!), Maya began with the starting point for a new perfume-in-progress: a photograph she’d taken on Atlantic Boulevard in the Gambian city of Bakau, with her customary breakdown of its color palette at the bottom. Like many of her fragrances, it was inspired by memories of travel with her Scandinavian-West African family.
In the clearest and most generous manner imaginable, Maya walked us through her system of choosing and adding essences that will shape her composition for this fragrance.
They included (but were not limited to) dried mango (a fruit native to The Gambia); an oceanic-smelling melon to evoke the city’s coastal location; methylpyrazine for a roasted nut accord, a nod to the smell of The Gambia’s nut-roasting factories; a leather note that reminded her of leather craftsmen working in the Bakau markets; and citrus, pink mimosa, and coconut CO2 extracts to evoke the feeling of a warm-weather escape from Swedish winters.
She also mentioned that her process of beginning with visuals and personal memories keeps her work rooted in an understanding of perfume as an art form, not simply a beauty product; and she noted her recent observation that “people are finding solace in fragrance” in “a time of isolation.”
The only drawback to this transatlantic conversation was that we weren’t able to smell the resulting blend under its working title of “Atlantic Boulevard.” I’m sure I wasn’t alone in hoping that someday we’ll all be able to try a finished fragrance…!
I must add here that Ari, founder and proprietor of Arielle Shoshana (disclaimer: and a friend of mine!) was a hostess extraordinaire, adding bits of perceptive and humorous commentary throughout Maya’s discussion. Katri, the boutique’s manager, also moderated and shared her own lovely insights.
(Seriously, if you don’t already shop online with Arielle Shoshana, you should start now.)
For the second half of our virtual gathering, Maya went through her current collection scent by scent.
We sniffed along at home with our sample vials as she shared the back-stories for Nordic Cedar, her “first-born,” a scent-snapshot of her family’s summer cottage in Sweden; Vanilj, a “homebody” blend of vanilla and spices; Tobak, inspired by the smells of her grandfather’s pipe-smoking and her family’s tobacconist shop; Les Fleurs, a spring scent that marked a departure from her existing style; and Tropica, a “carefree” fragrance meant to evoke reminiscences of fruity cocktails enjoyed during beach holidays.
(If you’d like to read my own thoughts on three of these fragrances, check out my review on Now Smell This, here!)
I hope I’ll meet Maya in person someday—and I hope I’ll be able to see Ari again “in real life” before too much more time passes—but for now, this event was the perfect way to spend part of a Saturday afternoon. It added even more to my enjoyment of Maya’s perfumes and reminded me of the invisible connections that so many of us scent-obsessed individuals share across distances.
Please visit the Maya Njie website to learn more about Maya’s work!