Fragrance Maverick Jo Malone Talks Jo Loves
The perfume guru discusses her decadent scent collection and new memoir during her most recent visit to Boston.
For English scent savant and famed perfumer Jo Malone, hard work is in her DNA. While Malone has worked in the perfume industry for decades and founded her highly popular fragrance, bath, body, and candle collection Jo Loves in 2014, it hasn’t been an easy trip to the top. She grew up in public housing on the southeast fringes of London and struggled with dyslexia before dropping out of school at age 15. Twelve years ago, she suffered yet another blow when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37.
Now cancer-free, Malone, who lives in London, has turned her inspiring tale of perseverance into a memoir called My Story, released last month. Last week, she was in town for the 12th annual Massachusetts Conference for Women to share her wisdom about the road to international acclaim during a discussion panel. Prior to her appearance, we caught up with the fragrance expert to chat about her “million-dollar nose,” recent memoir, and, of course, her Boston bucket list.
What is it about fragrances that first drew you to the craft?
My sense of smell is like my little compass. Since I was a very little girl, I thought everyone could smell like me. It was only when I was much older that I realized my sense of smell is very acute. I didn’t choose it as a job or business–it’s just a way of life that became very successful.
Where do you get your scent inspirations?
I grew up in subsidized housing, so there weren’t a lot of luxurious smells in that house. But things I do remember: My father was a magician and a great artist, so I remember the smell of his oil paintings and water colors. My mom worked in skin care so I can remember the smell of lemon face creams and masks being made. We also had a really pretty little garden with English roses. I was very inspired by their apricot-sweet smell.
What do you think makes Jo Loves such a unique fragrance?
I don’t think it’s about being unique. I think it’s about me being the artist that I am. How I would interpret a piece of jazz music or the color green 30 years ago, for example, would be very different than how I would today because of all the emotional experiences I’ve had—and with fragrance it’s no different. I’m bold and courageous in the scents I put together, so they have a very strong feeling of who I am.
What is the inspiration behind its name?
My son thought of it. We were sitting around the table and trying to think of a name for the new brand that felt like me. We went through hundreds, and then he was like, “Mum, why don’t you just call it ‘Jo Loves.’ This brand is going to be about everything that you love.” And the minute he said it, we knew it was the one.
What was the catalyst behind writing a memoir?
I wanted to write a story that was real, true and honest–cracks and all–but I didn’t feel emotionally ready to unpack that baggage in my head for many years. I knew I made the right decision to write the story when I was inaugurated into the hall of fame in Dubai this year as one of the great retailers of all time. The book starts and ends there–it was a really wonderful moment.
What kind of reader does this story appeal to?
It’s for anyone who has fought a life-threatening illness and come through that, or anyone who has an entrepreneurial spirit. It ticks boxes for so many different people, not just as a business book, but as a life book. It’s a real strength of spirit kind of story.
Is this your first time to Boston?
I’ve been to Boston several items over the last 20 years, but I’m never here for very long. Although Boston does remind me of London quite a bit, and I feel very at home here.
If you had more time in the city, what would you do or go see?
I’m only in town for 24 hours, but if I had more time, I would have loved to do some Christmas shopping. Hot on my list for my boys are Harvard coffee mugs and t-shirts. Before I leave I’ve got to find those!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
My Story is currently available for purchase at the Harvard Book Store and Porter Square Books in Cambridge and Barnes & Nobles in the Prudential Center for $27.