Stroll through most upscale department stores and you’ll find Jo Malone London—creams, candles, soaps—in Jo Malone’s signature scents, such as Lime Basil & Mandarin or Pomegranate Noir or Geranium & Walnut. Her story, published this winter by Simon & Schuster, starts with a few surprises. Such as? Such as, she made her fortune by selling off her company, and its name, in 2006; and that she was raised in a working-class environment with few privileges but one advantage, her instinct for scent. As Jo Malone: My Story says in its prologue, she’s back in the scent biz with her new brand, Jo Loves. Here, in her own words, is the woman behind those delights.
SMELLS UNLOCK my every memory, like I’m moving through a sensory doorway to the past where all my senses translate into a scent or an aroma, conjuring a vivid recall. Transported to a specific time and place, I’m suddenly seeing, hearing, tasting and touching everything around me. this link between the sense of smell and human emotion would be one of the truths of fragrance I would come to understand, and it’s well known that Marcel Proust was the first to write about this phenomenon. But no description better sums it up than the one from Patrick Süskind in his novel Perfume: ‘Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will . . . it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.’
We breathe them in to be stored in our subconscious, for remembrance, for nostalgia, for the truth of how we once felt. Smells are our olfactory reminders—emotional threads from the past that tug on us from nowhere. and all I have to do is close my eyes, and my nose will take me back.
Eau Sauvage, a cologne by Christian Dior: unmistakably Dad, with his starched collar and crisp, white shirts ironed to within an inch of their life. He’s sitting in his armchair, right ankle resting on left knee, creating a cradle between his legs. He called this his ‘dip’—the spot where I would sit, listening to his stories, facing his moustached smile, seeing the reflection of myself in his black, thick-rimmed glasses. This was my favourite place in the world.
Joy by Jean Patou: the grace of Mum, and her signature floral fragrance—an invisible vapour trail of jasmine and rose, as much a part of her elegant uniform as the Yves St Laurent-dominated wardrobe, Jaeger velvet skirts and beautiful silk shirts she saved up to buy. And then I’m five again, hugging her legs, not wanting her to go to work, looking up at her as she stands at the mirror in her bedroom, applying her Revlon burnt orange lipstick, setting the pearls in her ears just so.
Even as a little girl, I knew from Mum’s choice of fragrance what her mood or the occasion was: Je Reviens by Worth—headed to work, serious, professional; Joy—going to london, feeling confident, out to impress at somewhere fancy; Ma Griffe by Carven—summer time, a spring in her step, holidays in Cornwall; and Mary Chess Tapestry bath oil—Friday night, unwinding, time to herself, the scent that infused the rest of the house whenever she took a bath. She also used the same talcum powder, and I can still see those snowy footprints leading out of the bathroom, across the landing, into the bedroom.
Whatever she wore, its composition nearly always contained notes of jasmine and rose, and I could often smell her before seeing her, either as a reassurance that she was close—upstairs or in the garden—or the relief that she was coming home, as confirmed by the sound of her high-heeled boots clipping up the garden path. As soon as she stepped inside, I’d run to her before she had time to take off her forest green, hooded cape, and she’d sweep me up in her arms, eager to express how much she’d missed me. Mum didn’t return to work until I was four or five, but I understood the urgency for her to earn a wage.
I didn’t smell much money in my childhood.
From Jo Malone: My Story by Jo Malone. Copyright © 2016 by Jo Malone. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.