Straight out of a fairy tale
A chirpy ‘hello’ greeted us over the phone from London on a December evening. Jo Malone CBE, founder of Jo Loves, was on the call to chat with us about Zara’s global fragrance collection in collaboration with Jo Malone CBE called Zara Emotions Collection by Jo Loves. “Collaboration is the way this world needs to think about running businesses,” Jo told us as she introduced us to the eight unisex fragrances. The half-an-hour chat was full of laughter and positivity, much like Jo herself. A fighter and a dreamer.
What’s keeping the spirits up in these unprecedented times?
What keeps me going is life. Many years ago I had breast cancer and was given nine months to live and I fought it off and came through it and I am living again. I think life is one of the most precious ingredients we have and every single day is a bonus for me. I was saying earlier this morning that I am not in love with money but I am in love with success. Every single day there is the opportunity to learn something, create something and have a new adventure. When I was in chemotherapy, I had to live in isolation for a year. So, I have done this before. Within those times you really listen to your imagination, thoughts, dreams and once it’s over, you say ‘I am going to live now’. That is exactly my mentality. I am married to an amazing man... we are business partners at Jo Loves. We keep each other going and we celebrate anything... every single minute. Your mental attitude becomes much more positive. I was panicking that I wouldn’t find a turkey and someone delivered one.
How has your brush with cancer changed you as a person?
When you face your mortality, it really does bring back what really matters in life. What really matters are the people that we love and those who love us. As long as you have that, you can survive anything.
After cancer I had a spring clean of my life. I am a giver, I always give to life and I am known as a generous person and I want to be that. It gives me huge pleasure, but a lot of people who surround you, their hands are out but they don’t want to give themselves. After cancer, I got rid of those people from my life. I decided that if I were to spend time with them, it won’t be weekends and family dinner. It would probably be coffee with them. I wanted to be with people who have made me feel good and I felt good.
Also, life is so fragile. I was pumped with chemotherapy every seven days for a year. I didn’t know who I was at the end of it and which is really why I left Jo Malone London (a brand she built from a “kitchen sink”) .... nearly 10-15 years ago. When I was given back my life, I kind of felt that I was walking a tightrope without a net. I was scared that it was going to come back and I also lost my identity as a person. I realised very quickly that I had made a huge mistake. Fragrance to me is not a job. It is like my best friend and it’s the thing I can do brilliantly like no one else can and I had suddenly taken myself out of any opportunity to be creative and that’s when I went into a very dark place and I never want to go there again. So, starting another brand was not about starting a business, but reconnecting with the one gift in life that I had.
How old is Jo Loves?
She was formed in 2011. It is now a global brand again. She is the company with which we collaborated with Zara.
Did you keep the DNA of Jo Loves the same?
Whatever it is you are creating, you evolve and I have evolved. I am braver than I have ever been. So many years ago when I created all those fragrances, there was an innocence to them and naivety, but as I have grown older I have done things which I wouldn’t have had the courage to do earlier, like try patchouli, smoked tea notes, deep rich cherry. But still the integrity of the creator... I still can’t create fragrance in any other way but tell stories of life.
We love the names... straight out of a fairy tale...
I named them. I have loved working with Zara and have been with them for three years. I create, name, do all the marketing, the thought process behind how it is visualised because I am the one who knows the personality and identities.
Ebony Wood is the young woman who has left university, driving down the South Pacific coastal highway... dreaming her dreams. Bohemian Bluebells is the young girl who just got into Juilliard... Amalfi Sunray is the young woman standing on the beach who has fallen in love for the first time... Waterlily Tea Dress is those wonderful vintage parties that we all long for. There was a wonderful party that used to be held in London and we used to dress up vintage... the Rolls-Royce. That is my memory of that. It’s taken the heritage of fashion from Zara and my heritage of being able to create fragrances and we created a third identity together.
Have you had the chance to visit India?
I am longing because there are smells that I don’t think I have smelt which I am going to... I know. I feel I can see into the future that I am going to discover things, bring them back and create. I can’t wait to smell the jasmine, the saffron.
It’s the colour. I have something called synaesthesia. I see colour and I smell fragrance and I went to the most beautiful Indian wedding and it was the colour of the saris and spices... so many things come to mind. The colour of the turmeric for me is a wonderful marigold with dried tobacco and a sort of burnt gardenia.
I love the idea of the beautiful white buildings.... Every country I have visited, I have left a part of my heart there and I have carried it with me. Nearly 35 years ago, this Indian lady brought with her a hamper of Indian food on Christmas eve. We had these amazing chapattis and chickpea curry.
Do you think how we perceive perfumes has changed?
Well, I look back to my grandmother’s generation and they would wear one fragrance. They might have worn Lily of the Valley on their wedding day. Whereas now fragrance is one of the greatest accessories of our time. You can put a black dress on and change your fragrance and it has a whole different feel to it. You feel differently. So, I think fragrance has become about language, art. I created these paintbrushes which are actually the product that brought Zara to open up a conversation with me. You can paint your body and we are seeing this huge rise of awareness about the brand in India because of the paintbrushes. We have created paintbrushes for Zara. You can put the paintbrush in the fridge and you paint your body as though it were an empty canvas. You dress your body before you put the clothes on and you dress it with scent.
I think people are experimenting and connecting fragrance with memories. One huge thing that has happened in this pandemic is how your home smells. Our homes have become offices, schools, gyms, restaurants and people want that space to change. It can’t visually but it can with smell. We have also done a collection of candles for Zara, which are layered. They are sensational.
What makes perfumes eternal gifting favourites?
In my Christmas stockings, I always get a bottle of fragrance from my husband that I have never seen or smelt before. Scent makes us look up, remember, believe. For me, without scent in my life, there is no colour, texture, vibrancy. It makes you feel loved and valued. It’s a luxury every single day to pick up something and spray yourself or your sweater or sarong when you are sitting on the beach.
How do you conceive a perfume?
I have these ideas and they often come from a memory of something I have done, might be riding horses in Montana, might be walking down with the orange blossoms blooming. I am looking at everything that connects that fragrance... I am looking at the colour, the people and I am telling that same story. It is like an orchestra which I am sitting there and conducting. I have the untrained gift which enables me to create fragrances like music. I am pulling from that orchestra and I am looking at the fragrances that I am creating and I am looking at holes that exist within it and am looking at what I have in my memory that I can fill it with.
For instance, a jasmine note. It can have the most amazing smell and then it can flip and become very animal like. Can I do a wonderful fresh coriander which will bring freshness or a basil that will bring an aniseed twist... but then the aniseed overtakes over the jasmine... so I am looking for her voice to sing to me and be supportive and not overtaken. I don’t know anybody who creates fragrance like I do. People with noses tell me that they want to be in my imagination. In my imagination, anything is possible.
You sound like a dreamer almost. Do you write?
I am dyslexic but you know what, the lockdown brought out the writer in me. I write the copy which goes on all the boxes. We have just launched something on the Jo Loves website called Jo’s Journal. It could be about life, business... it’s called Turn the Page. I have discovered this year that there is a writer in me which I never thought existed. When I start writing these stories, I am really in the moment. Yes, I am a dreamer. I love being able to love. I love being in love. And the whole thing about love. So funny, my
19-year-old son has just walked in with my lunch that he has made, walked out and he is having a giggle to himself as he is listening to this!
How do you look back on your journey as an entrepreneur?
I came from nothing... from a poor and humble family. I was the sole breadwinner from the age of 11-12. I have three things that make an entrepreneur... passion for what you do, respect for creativity. It is the greatest currency that we have in the world and if ever there was a time to invest in creativity, it is now because that is our future. And, resilience. I am a gut person... which is not a popular thing at the moment. Everybody wants everyone to think and feel the same way. We need to be able to think differently. I am a great believer in walking into your dreams. I started two new companies this year. We made it happen.
A scent for the day for her: Vetiver Pamplemousse, in citrus
A scent for the day for him: Amalfi Sunray
A perfect first date gift: Waterlily Tea Dress
An all-time favourite perfume: Jo by Jo Loves
A classic fragrance: Chanel 19 or Christian Dior Diorella
A Jo Loves woman: Audrey Hepburn
A Jo Loves man: Jesse Owens