Five years after leaving her eponymous fragrance brand in the hands of Estée Lauder, Jo Malone is back with another venture every bit as beguiling as her first. Grace Timothy chats with the perfumer about her second run at the sweet smell of success.
How did starting Jo Loves compare with Jo Malone’s early days? The only thing that’s similar is how my decisions revolve around my gut instinct and the relationships I form. So although a lot of the [retail] enquiries come from people who have seen us do it once before, I don’t want to just follow the same vein again—I want to do it differently. After all, it’s a different world now.
What was your ambition upon leaving Jo Malone? I had fought cancer and was terrified of it coming back, so I wanted to spend my time with my family and my son. I opened the Madison Avenue store just eight weeks after getting the all-clear, and I remember thinking, I don’t belong here anymore. But as time went on I realized I had to pick up my life again. I was still thinking about fragrance every day, creating notes in my head. Creative people need to be around creative things—I felt such sadness without that.
Did you consider changes industries? I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Creating fragrance is the thing that makes me feel fulfilled as a human being. I have a very bad form of dyslexia so writing is difficult—fragrance is my way of communicating. Every color, emotion and memory always goes back to a note.
What happens when a new idea for a fragrance pops into your head. How do you lock it down? I sit on my own, play, and think. This morning, I’ve been working on a really different and unique project, which started with a walk around the park. I had walked past some Mahonia [a flowering shrub] and just stood there smelling it. Now I’m trying to pin it down—it’s like putting your foot on your car’s accelerator, you need that moment of bite. Like Goldilocks and The Three Bears, it’s got to be just right. That could take five minutes or five years! I guess I’m still a perfectionist.
The Jo Loves iPhone app encourages others to share their favorite scents in pictures. What do you especially love about the app? I love the woman who said her favorite smell was her grandson, who was born the day before. To get people to share something emotional, a memory, is such a precious thing. There’s such a wonderful array of color when you look at the moodboards, too—whether it’s bacon, a pair of shoes, a glass of wine on a shelf. I always think up the stories behind the scents. I can smell dinner cooking in the background, sense the rain coming, think of who was in the other room, why it’s such a treasured memory. I’ve always worked on my own – it’s a personal thing – so this is the first time I’ve ever reached out and tapped into other people’s thoughts. It’s been humbling and magical.
Which upcoming project excites you most? I’m approaching fragrance in three very different ways this year. The candles will come at the end of the year, and the summer will see a new fragrance that I’m working on right now. Then I’m branching out into food. Each new launch will be about taking something, twisting it, and looking at it in a different way.