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Jo Malone during an interview with Gulf News in Dubai Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

If there’s one thing you should know about perfumer Jo Malone CBE, the woman behind one of the most recognisable brands in the world, is that she loves a good story.

Whether it’s about her own fairytale rise to fame — from a South East London council house to a vast global business — or about the magical inspirations behind her perfumes, Malone is brimming with anecdotes.

During an interview with Gulf News at a beauty event at City Centre Mirdif on March 17, the warm and friendly Malone didn’t hold back from sharing those stories with us.

She lit up from within as she talked about everything from perfume notes and her love for Dubai, to being proud of the brands that she built — Jo Malone London, which she founded in 1990 and sold to Estee Lauder in 1999; and Jo Loves which she created in 2011.

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Jo Malone during an interview with Gulf News in Dubai Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

“The way I look at it is — because I’m a very visual human being — is I’m the mother of both,” she said. “But one has gone off to university and has grown up and doesn’t need me anymore, and one is still at home.”

While some might not know that Jo Malone London isn’t her baby anymore, it’s not an association she views with any negativity.

“I sold it and it belongs to somebody else... But I’m proud that I’ve done that,” Malone said. “I still walk past the shop and have that little word in my head thinking, ‘you’ve taught me so much’. And I don’t regret that. Not for a second.”

Her love for Dubai

Malone, 58, has been all over the world thanks to her global brand and during her interview she revealed that she’s a bit of a Dubai veteran.

“I’ve been here 14 years in a row and I love it. And I’m actually considering, would it be good to come live here for a bit? I’ve been here a week and I feel like I’m my best self,” she excitedly said. “Businesses is so [fast] moving here... you know you can feel an energy. And I can be so creative — I don’t know why and I don’t question it either... I feel very entrepreneurial here.”

Small beginnings

Jo Malone in a file photo Image Credit: GN Archives

Malone was an open book as she talked about having dyslexia and overcoming hardships from a very young age.

“I was a young girl with a whole heap of dreams. I’d come from a family with very little money. So from the age of 11, I had to put food on the table,” she said. “I had a tough upbringing, but a happy upbringing, to say the least, But it made me. At the age of 18, I was already starting a first entrepreneurial business. I left school at 15, no qualifications, no uni, nothing. Just this gut feeling of business and I’ve still got it today.”

The start of her brand

Malone said she never intended to start out in the perfume business, as she had been working as an aesthetician prior to that.

“I ran a small skincare clinic and I would make little tiny body lotions and bath oils and give them away to all the people that came for their faces. And one day, one lady bought 100 bottles,” she said.

“I go around the world telling my story and I can see people come alive with the story, because it’s so relatable to people... it hits right there in your heart. And you think ‘if she can do it, I can do it’. And I love that,” Malone added.

She said that the brand grew into greatness because it all came intuitively to her.

“My husband [Gary Willcox] is my business partner — still my husband, still my business partner and my best friend. And we opened up our first shop and then within five years it was so successful,” she said. “We were doing things that no one had ever done because we had no protocols, we had no strategy — I would feel it, create it, sell it — it was just such an easy process. And as the business got bigger and bigger, our pool of money got smaller and smaller. So within five years, we’d sold to the Estee Lauder Corporation. And life changed from that moment.”

No regrets

Asked if there was anything she wishes would have been done differently, Malone said no — even when it came to her bout with breast cancer in 2003, which she beat a year later.

“I’m not somebody that looks back. I’ve always got my eyes looking forward. Because if you look back, you trip yourself up. Would I have done things differently? Yes, of course,” she said. “Some of the things I’ve said to people I regret, but the things that have happened to me I wouldn’t change... even my brush with breast cancer, it changed me — it made me see life differently.”

Starting over

Jo Malone at Cosmotel 2022 City Centre Mirdif-1648372493366
Jo Malone in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Malone sold her first business to Estee Lauder in 1999 but stayed on as Creative Director until 2006 before starting over with Jo Loves.

“This second business has been much more challenging, but much more rewarding,” she said. “It’s been a whole different emotional journey in getting there so I don’t regret things. I would have done things a little differently if I’d sold my company again. I still would have sold it to the Estee Lauder Corporation — I think they’re an amazing family — but I probably would have sold it slightly differently with connections with my name.”

What is THE Jo Malone scent?

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The Jo Malone line on display Image Credit: Supplied

“This is my fragrance I did for me, it’s called Jo by Jo Loves,” she said as she generously sprayed this journalist and the photographer with a large, red bottle of perfume. “It’s a mezze of grapefruit... this is the fragrance I did for me and was never going to sell it. And then every time I wore it, I would make another 10 bottles and give it away until we got to the point where I was giving away a 1,000 bottles a month. My husband went ‘we’re putting that on the shelf’.”

She then sprayed another layer of perfume from a beautiful golden bottle — her latest launch — and it too had a wonderful story to it.

“It’s a beautiful gardenia, called Golden Gardenia. And basically the story is about looking at yourself and saying I like who I am,” she said. “It’s giving an Oscar to yourself saying ‘you know what? Don’t be the best for someone else, be the best for yourself’. It’s about positivity, creativity... don’t run your life for what you think people want you to be.”

An emotional pandemic

Malone was candid about having struggled through the pandemic on an emotional level.

“The first year I found pretty easy to cope. With the second year I really struggled — I struggled creatively and I struggled mentally,” the perfumer said. “I had challenges with anxiety... why? I love people, I like being around people. I like conversation. So I need to be inspired to be innovative, be creative... but I’ve come out here [to Dubai] and I’m just loving it.

On working with Zara

At one point in our conversation, Malone excitedly brought up the fact that she does the perfumes for fashion outlet Zara and told me she’d find me later to show them to me herself — and she did! She walked me over to the store and sprayed me with an array of her more affordable creations.

“We’ve just done one called Magnificently Dubai. I did Fabulously London, which is one of my favourites,” she said. “I’ve done 42 fragrances for them. And I’ll have the next two collections ready from here. And then an amazing collection we’re doing for Jo Loves for next year. So I’m here to work and whenever I’m by water, I can think clearly.”

Celebrity perfumes

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Jo Malone during an interview at MCC in Dubai 17th March, 2022. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Asked about her thoughts on celebrity-led perfumes, Malone was all for it.

“There’s room for everything. And you know, what celebrity fragrances have done a lot of good. And I know people who are celebrities who have created their own [fragrance], I’ve created them for them. So I think there’s always room for all of us. Fragrance is art,” she said. “For me, the person wearing the fragrance is the celebrity. That’s how we approach it.”

The future of Jo Loves

Jo Malone
Jo Malone Image Credit:

Malone shared that there’s an exciting project she’s working on that people won’t be expecting from her.

“We have a very new avenue that we are about to launch in the UK. And then we’ll take it around the globe. And it’s something that no one would anticipate that I would do,” she said, adding that her creativity knows no bounds.

“I feel there’s one more piece I feel I’m about to do. I don’t know what it is,” Malone added. “There’s just something out there for me and I can almost touch it... I want to have enough space with what I’m doing to be able to do whatever it is — that last missing piece.”