The business Jo Malone is best-known for, Jo Malone London, is now owned by Estée Lauder. She sold it for an undisclosed amount in 1999, staying on as the creative director until 2006. In 2011, she introduced Jo Loves.
As the founder of two fragrance brands, Jo Malone has been immutably associated with perfume for a couple of decades. So it’s not surprising that the print editions of her autobiography — “Jo Malone: My Story,” published in Britain last week by Simon & Schuster, with a U.S. release due next month — have a fragrant twist: A page near the front is treated with Pomelo, a crisp citrus-based scent from her Jo Loves collection, which will waft softly upward to the reader.
The book recounts her life through a business lens, from helping her father sell paintings at a market stall at age 8 to the founding of the Jo Malone brand and, recently, Jo Loves. She also talks about difficult times, such as being estranged from her mother and overcoming breast cancer, topics she refers to with an unflustered air.
“What I want this book to be about is the reinvention of yourself, that nothing is wasted in our life, that every single thing that happens in our life can come out for the good to build you,” Malone, 53, said by telephone from her office in the Chelsea neighborhood of London. “I really want this story to resonate and to be for people to say, ‘I can build my business.’”
The business Malone is best-known for, Jo Malone London, is now owned by Estée Lauder. She sold it for an undisclosed amount in 1999, staying on as the creative director until 2006. In 2011, she introduced Jo Loves.
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“The relationship I have with fragrance is rather like one that you have with your best friend,” Malone said. “When you don’t see your best friend for a while, you really miss them. And those five years of not creating fragrance was one of the most miserable times of my life. I just didn’t know who I was. Deciding to come back and do it again was my only option.”
Like Jo Malone London, Jo Loves includes perfumes and ancillary products such as scented candles and aromatic body moisturizers. But the two brands wouldn’t be mistaken for one another: The original line now includes 32 fragrances and is widely available worldwide, while Jo Loves sells 12 eau de toilette scents and other items in limited distribution.
But the products do share some distinguishing traits: sleek and simple bottles with unisex appeal; deliberately direct fragrance names (such as, in the case of Jo Loves, Fresh Sweet Peas and Smoked Plum & Leather, the collection’s newest offering); and scents that are straightforward but often unexpected, with a quirky combination of notes that may not seem, on first whiff, obviously perfumey.
“The similarity is that they both have the same mother,” Malone said. “They both have that person that wants to push boundaries and say, ‘I know it’s always been like that, ‘But what if?’ I live a life of ‘What if?’”
Her venture is growing. In July, Net-a-Porter began carrying a concise selection of Jo Loves items; last month, Emirates airline added the Pomelo scent to its in-flight duty-free selection.
The brand also has a boutique on Elizabeth Street in the Belgravia section of London, where neighbors include an outpost of the Parisian bakery Poilâne and a shop showcasing statement hats by Philip Treacy. Malone lives nearby with her husband, Gary Willcox, with whom she owns the company, and their son, Josh, 15.
Many industry figures credit Malone’s first brand with helping to pave the way for other niche fragrances and their eventual sale to bigger businesses. For example, Estée Lauder now also owns Le Labo, Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle and By Kilian; L’Oréal acquired Atelier Cologne this year. Manzanita Capital, a private equity group in London, has invested in Byredo and Diptyque.
“She was one of the pioneers of what I think of as the braggart indie set, for the woman who didn’t want to smell like any other woman in the room,” said Jane Larkworthy, executive beauty director of W magazine. “You didn’t smell anything cloying. You just smelled clean and curious, and the curious part is that you were like, ‘What is that?’”
Unlike many other perfumers, Malone had no formal training. While working as a facialist in London, she developed a scented lotion and body oil to give her most loyal clients; the fragrance became Nutmeg & Ginger, the first Jo Malone scent.
“That whole homegrown, homespun thing is really what created her empire,” said Elizabeth Musmanno, president of the U.S. division of the Fragrance Foundation, a perfume-industry organization. “She was naive and open-minded and flexible, like a true creative could be. If you aren’t taught so much, you’re just allowed to work differently.”
While her name is highly recognizable to perfume lovers, Malone seems to be, at her core, not all that different from the scrappy little girl who helped bring in customers to her father’s outdoor booth on cold British mornings.
“She’s so down to earth,” said Sophie Bottwood, senior merchandiser for beauty and grooming at Net-a-Porter. “She speaks so passionately about her brand that you almost forget her history — that she’s Jo Malone — because she is so involved in what she’s doing.”