Jo Malone’s story is a modern-day fairy tale; creating a brand in her kitchen that went onto become a multi-million pound business. Along the way her name and the brand became synonymous with a certain type of lifestyle and represented a benchmark for beautiful, coveted things. In 1999 she sold Jo Malone to Estee Lauder Companies and remained on the board until 2006.
Not tempted to rest on her laurels and enjoy the fruits of that labour, this year marks a new chapter as she opens a flagship fragrance brasserie in Mayfair for her new venture Jo Loves. Still very much fragrance and still very much lifestyle, it’s easy to ponder what the difference is, but it’s something to which Jo offers the following answer: ‘Jo Malone and Jo Loves are very different, but they have the same mother.’ The biggest difference, she explains, is that, ‘Jo Loves is who I am now, with the courage, quirkiness and confidence that I wouldn’t have dared try before.’
The courage comes, in part, from a battle with cancer in 2003 to which Jo steels herself to simply say, ‘I fought during that year’.
Emma Gunavardhana meets Jo Malone, the woman, to find out what makes her tick, why she’s doing it all again and the secrets to her success.
EG: Your first business, Jo Malone, was hugely successful – why start all over again?
JM: It’s really simple, the first morning I woke up after ‘retirement’ I knew I had made a mistake. Creatively, making fragrance is a real outlet for me. I had all these emotions and because I couldn’t do anything creatively I found it very miserable.
EG: Is starting from scratch in the shadow of such a huge brand scary?
JM: The fear of failing frightens me because it feels as though it’d be global humiliation. No one can guarantee success and just because I’ve been successful before doesn’t mean anything. Plus, we were in an unbelievably unique position in that before we’d even created a product the world was watching. What’s different this time is that I have the experience now to try things that I’d never have had the courage to do before.
EG: Does previous success mean you found creating Jo Loves easier?
JM: Not at all. I’ve nearly quit so many times; there have been times when I’ve seen the finishing line in sight and I’ve questioned whether we could get there. Then I look at her now and she has absolutely come to life in front of my eyes and I wouldn’t change this moment in my life for anything.
EG: What was the starting point for creating Jo Loves?
JM: I didn’t want to go back and recreate something that I’d already done – that’s not what life is about. What was right ten years ago won’t necessarily be right now. For me the question was what else could I deliver, second time around?
EG: Does it feel different this time around?
JM: This is a passion project. It’s a privilege to know what makes me happy and it’s making fragrance, and it’s something I can do in a way that no one else does. If I spend the rest of my life in my shop on Elizabeth Street then I’ll be happy – but I’m very ambitious too.
EG: How was the concept of the store born?
JM: There’s a Maya Angelou quote, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,’ and that’s what the store is based on. Everything came from that feeling, I wanted it to feel like your first kiss – where you’d meet a fragrance for the first time and it’d be memorable.
EG: The store is a very unique way of ‘meeting’ fragrance…
JM: The idea for the store came together quite easily – the challenge was creating it. The idea was to have a brasserie and to have a fragrance bar, but every time I designed a bar it just became a counter and that wasn’t what I wanted. I was at a dinner and I was sitting next to an incredible man, Jeremy King, who is the brasserie God. He created the Wolseley. I asked him for a coffee to pick his brain and a few days later we met up, I explained my idea and he drew a sketch there and then – and that was it. He was right.
EG: Given your successes you’re seen as quite the entrepreneur, is that how you see yourself?
JM: I’m a shopkeeper, I really am. I’m not a CEO. My passion, and what I love, is being in the shop. It feels like my home and that’s what I wanted it to feel like – for me and the people who visit.
EG: How do you feel and make decisions about your brand?
JM: As a brand I think we have a heartbeat and when it comes to making decisions it comes down to four questions; does it have integrity, is it innovative, will it catch and will it have ignition? Those are the four things I ask myself. It’s also important to know that if something isn’t working, you have to change it.
EG: Did anyone ever question you coming back into the industry?
JM: Someone asked me if I had the right to come back. Everyone is entitled to their opinion I suppose.
EG: Are you a workaholic?
JM: I don’t think I like the stress but I do love living it. I had a day off this week and I absolutely hated it. I promised myself I wouldn’t think about work, but I did – all day long.
EG: How do you make fragrance?
JM: When I create a fragrance I get from the point of creation to the end destination within hours. Each scent has its own identity and each one, for me, is a memory. I don’t do a brief; I don’t sit in a boardroom and look at statistics to see what holes there are in the market that we could fill. If I feel it, I create it.
EG: What’s the process of making fragrance for you?
JM: I don’t care what anyone else thinks during the creation process. I work on my own. Once I have created a heartbeat of a fragrance then I share it with people.
EG: Having sold your brand how does it feel that your name is still on it?
JM: I was woven into that business and I didn’t anticipate that feeling of being so attached to something and also being so detached from it. I don’t regret the decision to sell and if I could do it all again I would, but perhaps I would do it a little differently.
EG: In 2003 you were diagnosed with breast cancer – what effect did that have on you?
JM: A life-threatening event will change you. I went through a year of treatment – and I really fought during that year.
EG: How did it change your perspective on life?
JM: It’s very complex. In some ways I feel like a teenager again. I want to fulfil all my dreams and I want the people around me to fulfil theirs. I don’t want to get to the end of my life, however long that will be, and look back and think, ‘I wish I’d tried...’.
EG: Having enjoyed success how do you now pay it forward?
JM: I believe that my story can help others. I’m not good at mentoring but I am good at opening doors and standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves. I’ve started working with a charity called Prime; it’s for people over 50 who want to start a business. And I got involved because I actually felt I had something to offer them.
EG: Describe a typical day?
JM: I take my son to school; I walk the dogs – normal things. I like my hour in the morning where I sit in the office with my little bottles and just work. It’s a ritual.
EG: What makes you happy?
JM: I love being with my family and I love cooking for everyone. Wherever I am, I always want laughter because life is too short.
EG: If you could invite five people, alive or dead, to a fantasy dinner party who would they be and why?
JM: Well first on the list would be Coco Chanel because she was an incredible human being. I’d have to ask Miranda Hart along because she makes me laugh and I think she’d be a fantastic guest. I’d be really interested to speak to Monet because he often painted the same thing over and over again and I think I could learn a lot from him. Moses would be fascinating and I’d love for him to describe what it was like to walk into the Promised Land.
EG: And your fifth?
JM: I’d want to share something as wonderful as that with my husband. To meet those amazing people alone, without the person you get into bed with every night, just wouldn’t seem worth it.