This is an episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast, which features candid conversations about how today’s trends are shaping the future of the beauty and wellness industries. More from the series →
Jo Malone, CBE, was born special.
She was born with synesthesia, a perceptual phenomenon wherein one sensory stimulation can create involuntary experiences for another. For Malone, this means she can experience smells visually. Malone parlayed this uniqueness into creating Jo Malone London, a global fragrance brand that The Estée Lauder Companies bought in 1999 for an undisclosed sum. Malone left the brand in 2006 after a breast cancer diagnosis, which rendered her unable to smell at the time. After a 5-year hiatus from fragrance, she reentered the category with Jo Loves.
“I’ve learned over the last few years that fragrance is not a business or a career. To me, it’s my best friend and the thing I love doing most in the whole world,” said Malone on the latest episode of the Glossy Beauty podcast.
Jo Loves has become a Gen-Z favorite. And it’s notable for its fragrance paintbrushes, released in 2017, and an in-store tapas bar concept to introduce customers to scents in a playful way. As the brand steadily expands internationally, it’s also adding more hospitality partnerships including Shangri-La The Shard in London and the Park Lane New York. For Malone, the goal is to change the world through fragrance.
Malone spoke with Glossy about how she restarted a brand from scratch, why Dubai inspires her creatively, what she thinks of clean-beauty fragrances and why she aspires to create 101 fragrances. Excerpts below have been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
On launching Jo Loves
“Two weeks after leaving [Jo Malone London], I woke up one morning, and suddenly I could smell everything. … I’m an entrepreneur, a retailer and a creative person. And I wanted to return [to fragrance]. So one night, around the kitchen table eating supper, we started again with Jo Loves.
When you sell a business with your name, you are always part of that business, and that business will always be a part of you. But how do you move on from that? Should you be able to still be that person? And the answer is, of course, yes. If all we do is replicate things we’ve done, nobody will ever move on, and the world will never change. But I couldn’t use Jo Malone, though I was Jo Malone. I didn’t want to be the cream and black box anymore. I’d done that. I wanted to do something new and something different. I love the chase of business. And I couldn’t change my name. But [when] we had a name [Jo Loves], we had to IP that and protect it by trademarking it worldwide before we had sold one bottle of fragrance. That’s not normally how it happens. … We funded everything ourselves. We didn’t have a business partner. We rented a small studio, so we had no shop to begin with. It was a strange experience. And there was a time when I wanted to quit for about a year because it was so tough and so hard.”
Fragrance as a format for storytelling
“I’m a scent storyteller, the gatekeeper of scent memories. Each fragrance is a story. I wanted to connect with the consumer in a very different way. And I wanted to bring Cirque du Soleil to fragrance. And the tapas bar enabled us to do that. When we first moved [into our storefront] at 42 Elizabeth Street in London, I walked in and I had the vision of a tapas bar. We have a big red glass, “J” tapas bar. We serve tapas for your nose — nothing to eat. Your shower gel comes from cocktail shakers poured into martini glasses. Your bath cologne comes from steaming tajines with chopsticks. We paint you with fragrance. It’s free of charge. And we call it our first kiss — the moment the brand kisses you for the first time.”
Entering the hospitality market
“I wasn’t sure about the idea, but it has been amazing. I wanted to bring all my senses into the hospitality industry. At The Shard, we started off [celebrating the launch] with some cocktails. Then we expanded to the Shangri La in Oman, and I took over the spa, the bar and the restaurant … It’s an emotional story connection between hospitality, scent and the consumer.”