The Incredible and Industrious Jo Malone CBE on Artful Inventions and How She Keeps Curious

Lovin' on Jo Loves and Jo Malone CBE.

Earlier in May, Jo Malone CBE graced us with her presence for the opening of Jo Loves in Malaysia. The brand was launched back in 2011, and now 13 years later has reached our shores. While this venture may be in its infancy, her name is definitely not. The British consummate scent artist is not only revered as a perfumer, but is also an inspiration to many women entrepreneurs. At the launch event, local businesswomen were toting around their earmarked copies of her autobiography Jo Malone: My Story, with their eyes on the prize: Jo Malone’s signature.

After exiting her eponymous brand, she took a five-year hiatus. Now, she’s back and better than ever, ready to shake up the fragrance world. In fact, she already has. Her latest invention, the Fragrance Paintbrush, is exactly what you’re picturing in your mind. It may be an unconventional method of application when it comes to fragrances, but not for Ms. Malone. If you look at fragrances as a medium, it’s no longer a stretch to dream up this item. But when she presented the concept, she came across sceptics—which is very much the case whenever you have a lightning bolt of an idea (read below to see how she responds to naysayers.)

She’s now based in Dubai, and this new environment spurs her to create more, with a whole new energy and perspective. As a person, she truly has a zest for perfume—and it’s not just because her favourite class of notes to work with are citruses. Even in her seventh decade, she continues to maintain a youthful air about her, as well as her sense of curiosity.

Keeping true to the shopkeeper within her, she more than just gave us a peek into her story; she dedicated a chunk of time to showing us around the store. Manning the fragrance tapas counter, she pulled up whimsical methods of application of all things Jo Loves. The brand’s creations were uniquely applied hot and cold (according to your preference, of course), bath fragrances presented via cloud steam, soaps served in a martini glass, and body lotions whipped into a cloudy texture.

How do you maintain such fresh eyes in the industry, especially after all the years in the game?

I don’t look at what other people do, full stop. I don’t follow a trend. I’d much rather be a leader at the front than follow. I see life with fresh eyes. The stories you read were authentic. Each one of these fragrances is a person or a moment to me. I can look at it, or smell it, and it takes me right back to that moment when I created it.

I always believe that there’s still so much to do. There’s still so much discovery to be made. Travelling and looking at different cultures really fuels my creativity. Meeting great people, doing the things that we did last night [launching the store in Pavilion Damansara Heights], taking risks.

On this trip alone, I’ve done all kinds of different things for the first time. I went to a university in Thailand, speaking to students who were about to graduate, and I had them all wearing coloured glasses from the Guggenheim Museum. I was explaining creativity and I was getting them to smell the same fragrance but looking through coloured glasses. Each one of them had a different approach to it. What I was trying to say is, that’s the world I live in.

What’s your favourite class of notes that you like to play around with the most?

That’s easy: citrus. I can make it jazz music, I can make it liquid cashmere. Citrus has so many facets, from the blossoms to the leaves. I think you can do so much—you can make it floral, really heavy floral. But I love it right at the top, and right at the base. That’s kind of my favourite way of using it.

⁠⁠Now that you’re based in Dubai, how has this affected your life?

It’s honestly changed me as a person. I feel like I’m 30 again. I know in my head I’m not, but creatively, there’s such a freshness and excitement for adventure and life. Dubai has brought me to life. There, fragrances are not just a product; it’s a culture, it’s a way of life. They scent their body from head to toe, which is this whole concept now I’m bringing, which is “scent underwear”. Dubai is a banquet of opportunity. Everyone gets on with their lives; we work hard and enjoy life.

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I just feel like I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I’m the best person I’ve ever been. I wake up smiling every day. I live by the beach—I always have to be near water when I’m creating. So I’ll sit by the beach, by myself sometimes, all day long with my notebook, my little bottles, my papers, and I sit and I smell. Sometimes someone would come up, and ask “Are you Jo Malone?”, and I’d go “Yeah, do you want to have a smell with me?” It’s a beautiful life. I go to bed smiling.

⁠⁠How does your fragrance routine differ from your younger days and now?

I think in the beginning when I started out, it was youth. I would be scared of certain notes. Now, you can see it in the Jo Loves collection. Amber, Lime, and Bergamot was the first one where you can see me changing. It’s actually the first one I worked on when I landed in Dubai. The next one, I really just went to the other side of the spectrum and got to really playing. It’s dark, but it’s full of life. It reminds me of that moment when you sit under the stars, or you sit against a red sofa on dark wood floors, and you’re just thinking about life. It’s rich, it’s regal. With this new one, you will really see the Dubai Jo starting to rise.

Layered candles: how did that happen, and why?

We’re always telling you a story. It could be about me, or about life, anything. We’ve just done this beautiful spring candle, where it starts with orange blossom, gardenia, and then it goes to a beautiful tuberose. She sings to you, then you feel like she’s disappearing from the room, but then the elder sister steps in and takes over. So you’re not just getting three notes. You’re getting six in total, and it’s almost like a piece of music, and it blends.

When I say “It’s so obvious,” my husband would reply, “It’s obvious to you, but it’s not obvious to 99.9 per cent of the world.” Layered candles, to me, are the most obvious things to do. I love the artistry and I love playing. With all these undertakings, I always focus on never being dull, and never being predictable. I think that’s who I am at the minute. That’s definitely what Jo Loves is all about.

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How did the idea of the fragrance paintbrush come about?

That was the golden ticket. My CEO had said to me, “I want you, for once in your lifetime to change the way the world does something.” It’s about a paradigm shift, which means you change the habit of something. Covid was a paradigm shift for us—we all had to start living in a different way. But from a positive perspective, I was thinking “What can I do in my industry to change it?” My mind is always thinking, and trying to find that moment of creativity.

I sat with the marketing team with the idea, and I was ready to teach people to, instead of picking up a bottle and spraying, pick up a paintbrush and paint themselves. I was so excited by this. But they all thought it was gimmicky and an awful idea. I was so crushed by that. So I went out, had a little cry, dried my tears, came back in, and went, “I don’t really care what you all think. We’re doing it.” And I singlehandedly pulled it all together, because my product development head wasn’t with me at that point.

For me, I could see the end concept of the fragrance paintbrush, before the product was even in my hand. I can see exactly where it needs to go. As a founder and a creative director, that’s my job. If I believe in something, I’ll walk with it. Today, Gen Z and Gen Alpha think this is the coolest product, because you can play around with it, applying it cold and hot, and they can paint on their body and hair with it. They become scent artists themselves.

If there’s a concept that you could bottle up, what would it be?

I’d like to create an exhibition of art, but for your nose. I know how crazy that sounds, but I already have some ideas. I can already see it, and who I would work with. In Sydney, we met this amazing artist, and we were having dinner in a gallery. He had taken pieces of art, broken them up, and recreated them. I have synesthesia, so colour smells to me. I would love to actually work on an exhibition to inspire people to see that we don’t just have the five senses, we have so many more.

21 scents in, what is your hope for the future of Jo Loves?

I want it to be global and one of the best in the world. I want to continue to be able to be Jo, the person, the creator, the shopkeeper. I want to inspire another generation of entrepreneurs. The path that I have carved out is for them as much as it is for me.

Shop Jo Loves at Sephora MY.