Has the scent of a stranger ever made you think of somebody you once knew long ago? Or have you ever smelled something lingering in the air and found yourself transported to a fleeting moment far, far away? That’s because smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than our other senses and has the power to evoke memories with just a whiff.
As Jo Malone, CBE, Founder & Creative Director of Jo Loves, tells us, “When I create fragrance, I’m telling you the stories of life. For some people that will be a photo album, or a book, or a piece of music, but for me, it’s all about fragrance. Scent is incredibly powerful, and we’ve really seen that in the last 18 months. Through the power of scent, people have really been able to grasp back pieces of life.”
With scent’s power to transport you, to define a moment, or to capture the essence of a memory, Savoir Flair launches a new series called #ScentStories. In this emotional series, we’re speaking to a wide range of people to tell their life stories through the scents that mark their memories. In the inaugural edition of #ScentStories, we are honored to speak to the fragrance queen herself, Jo Malone. From moments that made her smile to more testing times and everything in between, this is her scent story.
The Scent of Home Is...
‘Pomelo’, which was my first fragrance for Jo Loves. It’s really sharp but dries down into this beautiful, very rich citrus with woods. My house is all white, with white beach floors and white shutters. We call it ‘The Little Beach House’ in London. When my son Josh was tiny, I washed the wooden floors with a very diluted solution of ‘Pomelo’, so the house always smelt of it. The dog’s bed was washed in it, even the dog was washed in it! A very light solution, of course. It’s a smell that always reminds us of home.
When Josh was about six, we were having dinner and suddenly there was this really acrid smell of smoke. He looked out of the window and said, ‘Mommy, there are lots of fire engines’, and our building was on fire. That night we lost everything. I ran from a burning building with our dog up my jumper, my son and my husband in tow, holding my hairdryer.
We watched our house burn, and it was really traumatic for my son. We rented another house, and he hated it and cried and cried and cried. One day I said, go to school and when you come back – I give you my word – it will feel like home. I ran to the office, picked up a big canister of ‘Pomelo’, and scrubbed the house with it from top to bottom. The sheets, kitchen floors, shutters, you name it. When he walked through the door, he said, ‘Mommy, it’s home’. It reminds me every single day to dream and to be grateful.
Jo Loves ‘Pomelo’
The Scent of Creativity Is…
Not one note, because creativity is never-ending. It’s the currency of your mind. It’s like running your nose up a piano and smelling all those different notes. It’s a huge mezze of memories and notes and rawness.
Creativity thrives not in the polished finished version, but in this wonderful, surreal world. So, it would be the smell of jasmine marzipan, charcoaled grape skins, Tamboti wood mixed with heavy wild tuberose bulbs… It’s never-ending, never beginning. People always ask me if I can create something different again, and I do. It’s like an ocean’s tide that comes in and goes out and never ends.
The Scent of Love Is...
‘Jo by Jo Loves’. It’s a fragrance I did for me, and it’s mine. I never intended to sell it, but it’s so wonderful to make others smile with it. If I could only take one fragrance to heaven, it’s that. I have passions for certain notes that I always lean towards. They make me feel safe and I know I can do anything with them. Limes, lemons, bergamot, grapefruit, pomelo… name anything citrusy, and I can make it the most intense cologne or the most delicate perfume. You can do so much with them.
Citrus was the first group of notes I came to terms with, and it was in that world where I learned to create fragrance. It reminds me of beaches, freedom, creativity, and white space. Anything is possible in a white space. You can be anything, do anything. But when clutter comes in, it muddles my head. Grapefruit is a clean canvas, and it speaks to me and says, ‘Look what you’ve done with this note in your life. Look what you’ve achieved, look who you’ve become’.
Jo Loves ‘Jo by Jo Loves’
The Scent of Family Is...
This really made me think because we’ve got our own identities and don’t wear the same scents. My husband Gary loves rich, regal colognes, I love ‘Jo by Jo Loves’, my son wears ‘Ebony Wood’, which I created for Zara, and the dog smells of digestive biscuits [laughs]. But then I remembered a moment we had on holiday in Portugal. Every year we’d rent this beautiful house on the lake. It was always full of laughter and we had loads of people to stay. It was gorgeous.
We always took a boat out for the day, and one evening we were sitting out at the front and I realized that the three of us were such adventurous people. We’d all followed our dreams. I could smell the salt of the ocean rising and as I looked out there was a pod of dolphins swimming alongside us as the sun was setting. And then, for just a second, in this whirlwind of adventure, I could smell all of us. Then the moment was gone. It disappeared. It was the wood of the boat, the salt, the smell of us as a family, all combined. It makes me so emotional thinking about it because it was one of those fleeting moments that’s gone the second it’s arrived.
The Scent of Childhood Is…
Fresh flowers. My first job was in a flower shop, so the scent of childhood is all about flowers and entrepreneurialism. I was told I was lazy and stupid at school. I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until I was much older, but at school, I couldn’t read properly, couldn’t write, couldn’t tell the time, or tell my left and my right. I was made to stand on my chair and was told I’d make nothing of my life. Although dyslexia took something from me, I had my sense of smell. I thought everyone could smell the way I could. I’d smell the dog and say the dog’s sick, and I’d turn out to be right. And that happened many, many times. I can even smell illness in people, but that’s another story…
In our garden, we had these beautiful rose bushes that grew proper English roses. The garden would smell of the most unbelievable lemon-scented geraniums, roses, a greengage tree we had at the bottom of the garden, the compost heap… I’d go out and smell it all, and I still do. ‘No.42 The Flower Shop’ is the smell of that first job.
Jo Loves ‘No.42 The Flower Shop Fragrance Paintbrush’
The Scent of Relaxation Is…
Spas. That smell of geranium, camphor, orange…all those essential oils. I love pampering. In Montana, there’s a spa at the ranch, and I’m always the first one to book all the massages! It smells of incense and gorgeous things. They put your feet in lavender water to wash them, and they open the shutters so you can smell the mountain air coming in before your treatment starts. I promise you; I go somewhere I can’t even tell you. That smell puts my mind and body into a sort of trance. I love those clean peppermint smells and herbaceous notes like rosemary and lavender.
The smell of relaxation also takes me back to Parrot Cay, a beautiful island in the Turks and Caicos where ‘Pomelo’ was born. The minute you get there it’s the smell of geranium, mint, and peppermint. The smell of a spa. Everything smells of it, and even your clothes are packed in white tissue scented with it, so when you leave there is a constant reminder.
The Scent of Happiness Is…
Orange blossom. It always makes me smile. It’s one of those notes that you can do anything with. Orange blossom and grapefruit are my best friends in fragrance. We had orange blossom trees on our terrace before the fire, and the smell when they were in bloom was incredible. As the sun went down, they let out this beautiful song.
Many, many years ago when I first started creating fragrance, I went to Grasse, even though my husband Gary and I didn’t have a penny to rub together. We had no training, nothing – just a dream I had in my head. There’s a perfume museum there that has a little garden, and if you go in May or June, it’s in full bloom. It’s all terracotta walls, turquoise blue rustic shutters, and when you walk in there’s this incredible smell of orange blossom, rose de Mai, and a little bit of jasmine. That’s the smell of Grasse.
If you were to clap your hands, the air is so heavy with fragrance you feel it move, which is why we created ‘Orange Butterflies’. It’s about blue skies and golden butterflies. It’s the scent of happiness and laughter. You just can’t be miserable smelling things like that.
Jo Loves ‘Orange Butterflies’
The Scent of Sadness Is...
One I struggled with because I don’t associate sadness with scent. I had to really dig deep, but then it came to me. It was taking my son to Harvard University. He’d never lived away from home or gone to boarding school, and I never had a nanny, so when the day arrived, I was in pieces. He was leaving home.
He walked through the gates with his cases, and I knew that it was the end of an era. He didn’t turn back to say goodbye because he was caught up in the moment. The only thing I had was the smell of his cologne – ‘Ebony Wood’ – and it got fainter and fainter as he walked. Then he turned, waved, and said, “’ love you mom’. Then he was gone. My husband said, ‘Okay, let’s go’, and I said, no, just one more minute, I can still smell him.
The Scent of Travel Is…
Things don’t always have to be pretty and perfect, and the scent of travel is those imperfect smells that really stamp their identity onto you.
Those imperfect smells. My nickname is ‘bloodhound’, and I’m always asking, ‘What’s that smell?’. It can be anywhere, and all three of us are like that. We’ll be by the canal in Venice or in a gallery, and something will capture our attention. Every year we go to Bozeman in Montana and ride horses in the mountains, and the smell of the ranch… I can’t even describe it. I did a fragrance called ‘Smoked Plum & Leather’ but it doesn’t get near what it’s really about. The leather of the saddle, the rawness of life. Things don’t always have to be pretty and perfect, and the scent of travel is those imperfect smells that really stamp their identity onto you.
One of the happiest moments was a holiday to Thailand where our friends got married. For me, Thailand is the power of lemongrass and the smell of mango. There were these amazing ladies who cooked for us, and one day they came out with this huge platter of freshly cut mango with grated lime, and it was one of our favorite moments.
Jo Loves ‘Mango Thai Lime’
The Scent of Success Is…
The beginning of your journey, and for me that was being in the laboratory with Madame Lubatti when I was a little girl, making my first face cream. There were big glass jars everywhere with every ingredient you can possibly imagine. When I go into laboratories now, I become that seven-year-old again, asking can I smell this? Can I smell that? I’m not even looking at the quality of the ingredient, I just want to smell it.
She was an incredible woman, and she’d lift the lids off the jars and tell me to smell what was inside. I learned to use the language of fragrance, and I could tell the difference between Chinese camphor and peppermint when I was just seven.
Success is only good as today, that’s its life. It lives for 24-hours, what are you going to do with it? I don’t believe you can carry success through from one day to the next, because it makes you complacent and arrogant. Also, what’s unsuccessful today, you can leave today. Pick it up again tomorrow and try to make something good out of it. It’s very much a mentality.
The Scent of Power Is…
The Bush in Thula Thula. I have many loves in my life – family, fragrance… but I love animals. In another life, I would have gone into conservation. We actually have an elephant family who lives in Thula Thula in South Africa – a herd that was rescued 21 years ago. The matriarch is the key to a successful herd, they lead them. I completely identified with the matriarch Frankie, who has sadly passed away. The more I learn about elephants, the more I know I was an elephant in a different life!
One morning we were out in the bush, and suddenly the driver said to me, ‘Gentle, Jo, quiet and gentle’, and I could feel the herd coming. It was the first time I’d met elephants and they were literally right behind us. Two young bulls were fighting, and I was so scared, but he assured me they wouldn’t hurt us. They got closer and closer and the trees were coming down. I was petrified. Suddenly Frankie tooted and one of the females came and put her trunk on the truck, and the boys stopped fighting.
I’ve learned more about leadership and how to run a company through the power of elephants than I have done from any person.
They were so close to us, and I could smell the power. Power is not about fighting – it’s these magnificent creatures who didn’t want to hurt us. I’ve learned more about leadership and how to run a company through the power of elephants than I have done from any person. People are so destructive, and elephants aren’t unless there’s a really, really good reason to be. So, the scent of power for me is the Tamboti wood that grows in the bush, the freshness of the morning as it comes alive, and the warm amber skin of the elephants.
The Scent of Excitement Is…
When I create something and then finish it. I always think I am the only one in the world who has smelt this. Just me. It’s this wonderful feeling of accomplishment and excitement, knowing I am the only person in the world who has smelt it.
I also get very excited in markets. It takes me back to when I did markets with my dad. Not just markets in Dubai, but across the world, like in France where you have the tiny strawberries and the tomatoes, and everything smells amazing. Everything in France has this unbelievable integrity to it, and that kaleidoscope of smells you get as you walk through a market often gives me ideas. I get unbelievably excited. Whenever my husband and I go to a market, we enjoy it, and then we find somewhere to sit. I’ll have a drink and sit and make notes and enjoy it. That’s excitement, and it makes me childlike again.
One of my favorite things to do in the Middle East is to visit the spice markets. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop! I love getting the boat there, and I’ve done that so many times, but I still feel like an adventurer going to find something. And I always, always do.
The Scent to Avoid Is…
Be who you are and be confident in what you stand for. Whether that’s in fragrance or in people, I judge both in the same way.
Sickly, fake smells. That boiled sweet feel you can get with vanilla, for example. Vanilla is great if you use the bean deep in a fragrance, but those sugary, sickly smells are fake to me. I feel like they’re trying to be something they’re not. I don’t like people like that, and I don’t like smells like that.
The other thing I can’t bear is blandness and dullness in fragrance. If you are going to be a rose, be a rose. If you’re going to a blade of grass, be the blade of grass. Be who you are and be confident in what you stand for. Whether that’s in fragrance or in people, I judge both in the same way.