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EXCLUSIVE: Jo Malone proves she’s still the scent savant

After more than thirty years in the business, Jo Malone is still the undisputed perfume prodigy.

Sitting at the very tip of a dauntingly high building, Jo Malone – the undisputed fragrance aficionado – shows me what her scent synaesthesia is like before I even have a chance to ask.

She points behind me to a modern art piece that is hanging on the wall, it’s a smattering of colours but to Jo, it’s already eliciting an operatic-like multitude of scents.

“Chilli…” she says, trailing off… “and crushed green leaves, I can smell cassis, Turkish delight and velvet.”

Like a conductor at the helm of an orchestra, I watch her arrange a symphony of scents that only she can see and smell. Whilst most fragrances around the world are developed by a team of trained “noses” in lab coats, Jo’s fragrances are deeply entrenched in memory and an exceptionally rare ability to smell beyond human capability.

“I create it in my head and then I’m able to translate it,” she says, describing the way colours and textures elicit scents to her.

Jo is a marvellous mix of both a savvy, driven businesswoman and a wonderfully creative scent savant. She launched her eponymous brand Jo Malone London in 1990 and then Jo Loves in 2011.

When you smell a Jo Loves fragrance, it hits the back of your throat as your senses dive to the bottom of a fragrance iceberg, luring you to follow layers upon layers of decadent scents that weave a familiar and intriguing story.

Jo Malone
Jo Malone’s superhuman sense of smell has made her the undisputed fragrance aficionado since 1990.

Whether you’re a fragrance expert or you’re a total beginner, you’ll know that the experience of a Jo Loves fragrance is a unique one – and there’s good reason for that.

Jo Malone’s maverick-like sense of smell has a somewhat whimsical imaginary friend aura that she describes to me.

“My earliest memory of scent would be as a young child,” Jo says. “I would always know when it’s going to rain, I would know when it was going to snow, but I think my earliest memory would be of rose petals in the garden.”

Jo tells The Weekly that whilst she came from a background of little money, she was rich with a wealth of creativity from both her parents. Her father painted and was a magician, and her mother was an esthetician. 

“I can always remember the smell of my dad’s paints, the watercolours and even the paintbrushes,” Jo says. As she breathes in, I watch her expression shift as the recollection of those scents transports her back to her youth. 

Snapping back to the present, she adds, “I thought everyone could smell the way I could.”

By 15, Jo had left school and began working in a flower shop near Covent Garden. This part of her life is memorable for a litany of reasons. Jo’s job in the florist was less about earning pocket money and more of a necessity than anything else.

“I was the adult in the family from 11 years old, so I had responsibility, but I think working in a flower shop gave me the chance to really be my own age.”

Here, in this unassuming flower shop, Jo’s remarkable sense of smell was treated to a fragrant flurry of fresh flowers every day, laying the fertile grounds for the empire which was to come. 

Memory is a keystone ethos of Jo’s approach to fragrance, so it’s therefore no surprise that Jo Loves has a fragrance called ‘No.42 The Flower Shop’ – an ode to the magical and whimsical job that indulged her olfactory senses. 

In Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, his narrator is instantly and involuntarily swept away by a flood of memories when he eats a tea-soaked madeleine. It’s not only a seminal piece of literature, it’s an utterly universal experience that articulates the intrinsic link between scent and memory.

When we inhale a scent, it travels right to our limbic system, which houses the regions related to emotion and memory – which is why fragrances can trigger deep recollections and strong emotional responses.

Having such an adept sense of smell, Jo’s fragrances with Jo Loves are not just wonderfully fragrant, they’re rich with a story told by a mosaic of scents.

Jo tells The Weekly that one of her most powerful memories that is linked to scents is the birth of her son Josh.

“When Josh was first born, I had been so traumatically ill throughout the pregnancy that I didn’t want to see him. That night he went into the nursery because I was very poorly and I worked out that night that we would have him adopted – I mean it was absolutely crazy,” Jo recounts.

“The next day, a nurse wheeled him to the side of my bed and left the room for a second. I said ‘No, no, no, take the baby’, but then I looked at him and my whole body filled with love.”

“I leant over and I smelt his head, I can still remember the smell,” she says. “It was like this amber-y cashmere smell, a natural baby smell. It was just so beautiful.” 

Scent has weaved itself through every important moment in Jo’s life, so when she woke up just weeks into her treatment for breast cancer in 2003 with no sense of smell, she was devastated. 

“I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even tell Gary. That was part of the reason I left Jo Malone London and Estee Lauder,” Jo says, referring to the sale of her eponymous brand. “I had lost who I was.”

But as with every powerful memory of Jo’s she knows exactly where she was and what scents were lingering the day her smell returned eight weeks later.

“I was lying in bed, and it was early morning, the dog was on the end of the bed,” Jo says.

“I suddenly woke up, and I could smell the fridge door open and I could smell everything inside of  the fridge, the tomatoes, everything.”

The old adage of ‘stop to smell the roses’ is exactly what Jo did once her scent returned. She says that her superpower came back stronger and different, which inspired her to create new types of fragrances for her burgeoning brand Jo Loves.

“I never stopped that passion and longing to speak to my best friend.”

A Jo Loves fragrance for every one of life’s big moments

Jo Malone

01

Amber, Lime & Bergamot

from $239 at Adore Beauty

Best for: A first date

Your scent can make the biggest first impression on a first date. The Amber, Lime & Bergamot fragrance from Jo Loves is the perfect aroma for a first date. The citrusy notes of the lime and bergamot evoke freshness whilst the amber adds a depth of warmth – making for a memorable first impression.

Jo Malone

02

Pomelo

from $239 at Adore Beauty

Best for: A big job interview

For your first impression at a big job interview, you want to exude energy of being refreshing and uplifting. You can do this subtly through a citrus fragrance like the Jo Loves Pomelo scent.

Jo Malone

03

Jo by Jo Loves

from $239 at Adore Beauty

Best for: A memorable everyday scent

Jo loves to layer and experiment with a bunch of fragrances, but at the core of what she calls her ‘scent underwear’, is the fragrance she wears everyday which is Jo by Jo Loves. With notes of grapefruit, lime and guaiac wood, Jo By Jo Loves is a perfect scent for when you’re straight out of the shower in the morning.

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