How Jo Malone created over 40 fragrances in 2020
The London-based perfumer says her Zara collab and being homebound taught her to work harder, push herself
The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, possibly more so than any of our other senses. This is something we have come to deeply appreciate during the pandemic, Covid-19 induced anosmia or no. Perfumer Jo Malone knows this connection well, having launched two successful fragrance businesses and currently enjoying the rewards of her collaboration with high street giant, Zara. When we meet on a Zoom call, Malone, 57, talks about her “year within four walls” with her husband and son, likening herself to an athlete “practising and practising and working every day”. Zara has been receptive to her creativity, she says. As for Zara Emotions, the first collection of eight fragrances that launched in India in December 2020 is budget-friendly and delivers a fair bit of the Jo Loves experience.
Best known for Jo Malone London that she sold to Estée Lauder in 1999, the fragrance maven introduced Jo Loves in 2011 and her Pomelo wasted no time in becoming a classic. But the entrepreneur has been open about her struggles after Jo Malone London, what with the five-year non-compete clause. “With Jo Loves, it was like starting from the beginning. It demanded so much more from me. Working with Zara, I’m on the top of that mountain again, and every day I see opportunity,” she says, adding, “I’m braver and stronger. I used to create three to four fragrances a year but now it’s probably 40 to 50 a year.” In her house, where the floorboards are washed with a solution of her Pomelo cologne, Malone has turned one floor into her workspace. This is where everything is archived “because there are just too many products” and each fragrance, once created, has a family around it: candle, shower gel, hair cologne, paint brush.
Smells like London
“I think the quietness and isolation [of lockdown] has really caused something in me to come to the surface that I didn’t know existed. So you’re going to see in 2021 all of that creativity and storytelling come to reality,” says Malone. Known for her clean and unforgettable unisex perfumes — Red Truffle 21 with green fig, bitter citrus and pine is a personal favourite — and her clear bottles, Malone has something new for Jo Loves fans. “I have created art for the bottle [not clear glass this time]. It is a very masculine, rich fragrance with notes I have not used before. You can feel the heritage and the spirt of London, and the things I love about this city. It is about looking up and dreaming again,” is all she gives away about the perfume to be launched in March-April in the UK. While citrus and the Orange Flower have been her all-time favourites, she says it is this new fragrance that will always remind her of 2020.
Gatekeeper of scent memories
In the past, Malone has talked about struggling with dyslexia and using her nose as a compass. Her favourite scents can go as far back as her grandmother’s madeleines and the flowers in her mother’s garden. She admits she is partial to the smell of digestive biscuits because of her border terrier. And the Tamboti wood and warm crystallised amber of the elephants she has met at Thula Thula, a conservation project in South Africa. “Scent has always appeared in my mind like colours… I even dream in perfume,” she was quoted saying in Stylist magazine four years ago. Calling herself “the gatekeeper of scent memories” she says her stories force you to remember “the great things of life”.
As it did for most of us, last year taught Malone to work and live differently. “My team and I created even while not being in the same room and it has shown me the most powerful way of working that I’ve ever known,” she explains. New Jo Loves stores were launched in Dubai and China despite the lockdown, where she checked every detail virtually. Malone places emphasis on experiential retail — popular concepts include letting customers create their own scented candles, and a Fragrance Brasserie Bar with a ‘tapas menu’ encourages you to try out her scents in creative ways. While the candles and another successful product, her Fragrance Paintbrush — a paintbrush-style scent applicator — are yet to come to India, Malone hopes to be present when the latter launches. “I want to be there in India to show you how to paint your body with fragrance, so it becomes a new form of a tattoo. You can paint Monet’s water lilies all over your body. It’s a whole new way of wearing and looking at fragrance,” she continues.
Message in a bottle
The pandemic has brought with it heartfelt stories about the impact of scent and memories, especially among people in isolation. Malone recounts one of them about a friend who made pillowslips with pictures of her family and sprayed it with a Jo Loves fragrance they used often, Pomelo. “It was like a love letter for her mother who lived in a [nursing] home. Her mother put those pillows on her bed and could still smell her family, although she couldn’t touch them and hold them,” she says, concluding, “It is a privilege to be able to unlock those memories, to be a part of the intimacy of a family, and bring people together.”
“Personally 2020 has been the year of citrus for me,” says Malone, recalling how she craved grapefruits, limes and pomelos. “I shied away from anything too scented or heavy florals. Although, in the next Zara collection you will start to see my personality change a little bit.” From the existing collection, Malone picks The Waterlily Tea Dress, with primary notes of bergamot, spearmint and musk, for it reminds her of “The Great Gatsby, with vintage jewelled dresses, Louboutin shoes and champagne”. Fleur D’Oranger, her favourite, with orange flower, neroli and ylang ylang, would be about the celebrations of life “from weddings to Sunday lunches with the family, sitting in the South of France”. But Vetiver Pamplemousse is what she wears every day. “It is like a white cotton shirt, a quiet whisper that says ‘I’ve been here every day and every day we have survived’.” The fragrances in this collection are delicious and yes, sillage and longevity are an issue for some of them. That’s when you need a reminder that your Zara Emotions eau de parfum is the same price as a Zara top and that the candles are less than half the price of what you’d get at Jo Loves.
THIS CANDLE IS A WINNER
With the category of candles and home fragrance going through a renaissance of sorts right now, Malone is ready to teach clients to use scent like colour. “We have a whole lot of layered candles, and there is one we have done for Zara, where the top is Vetiver with Pamplemousse, and as it burns you feel the grapefruit leading you; she’s kind of walking out and then the power of Ebony Wood starts to kick in. And you feel the relationship between the two fragrances as they are fighting and competing to be the one that is present in the room. It is probably my most favourite candle among the ones I have created. So sensual but so clean and full of memories.”
EYE ON TOMORROW
The ‘English scent maverick’ who has battled cancer and was awarded Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or CBE, in 2018, for her contribution to the fragrance industry, observes that while her business has “literally catapulted”, nothing can be taken for granted. “I’m working hard to make it a success for tomorrow, and that is our work ethic at Jo Loves,” she signs off.
Zara Emotions 40 ML at ₹1,590 or a collector’s set of eight at ₹9,990.