Jo Malone’s amazing nose: ‘I thought everyone could smell when it was going to rain’

The perfumer talks to the Róisín Meets podcast about the nasal talents that made her a millionaire

The founder of Jo Loves, the luxury retailer of fragrances, perfumes, and candles, has written her autobiography Jo Malone: My Story

The founder of Jo Loves, the luxury retailer of fragrances, perfumes, and candles, has written her autobiography Jo Malone: My Story

 

“When you have something like that you think, well of course everyone can smell when it’s going to rain, or of course they can smell when the dog is poorly,” says British perfumer Jo Malone about her nasal talents.

“My nose was like my little compass and it was my means of being able to communicate and learn. Each memory I would lock with a smell connected to it,” she told Róisín Ingle, presenter of the Róisín Meets podcast.

To millions her name means luxury, but from humble beginnings growing up on a council estate, to struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia and leaving school at 14 without qualifications, it did not look good for young Malone on paper.

Blessed with a unique nasal talent however, she made her first face cream in a bucket in her parent’s kitchen at the age of eight. By her early twenties she was running a million-dollar company from the modest home she shared with her husband Gary, with a client list boasting the names of royals, celebrities and socialites.

An appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show catapulted the Jo Malone brand to international fame, but by 1999 she was feeling the business, “getting bigger and bigger and bigger.” She sold it to cosmetic giant Estée Lauder that year but stayed on as Creative Director.

Her son Josh was just two years old when Malone was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and, “everything changed,” including her nose, which was rendered useless by her treatment.

“All I could smell was metal, all I could taste was metal. I couldn’t really do anything and anything I could smell made me violently sick anyway. I remember doing a basil candle which nearly pushed me over the edge,” she said.

After her treatment Malone returned to work but, “felt like a stranger,” in her own business and left it in 2006, agreeing to a five year non-compete clause that she soon regretted.

“I was like a tiger prowling around and growling at everybody. I was bored, frustrated, I was unhappy and I was really cross with myself more than anything,” she recalled.

That ran out now in 2011 and she wasted no time diving back in, “starting from scratch,” with her Jo Loves range of fragrances.

Her latest venture is an autobiography, Jo Malone: My Story – an opportunity to reflect on her success and say thanks.

“I wanted to say thank you and I love you to a lot of people because without them I would never have got there.”

To listen to Jo Malone talk about creating a global brand from her kitchen, her battle with breast cancer, starting all over again, and more, go to Soundcloud, iTunes, Stitcher or irishtimes.com

Jo Malone: My Story, published by Simon & Schuster, is out now.

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