The word ‘remarkable’ doesn’t begin to do justice to Jo Malone. This is a woman who, from straitened beginnings, created the eponymous global brand – only to sell it to Estee Lauder, and then walk away altogether. She’s back, with a brilliant new brand, Jo Loves, and her memoir (which she describes as “a thank you and love story – and incredibly honest”) Jo Malone: My Story. And what an incredible, inspiring story it is.
Why was this the right time to write your memoir?
When I came through cancer and then left Jo Malone, I was in a deep valley. I had terrible anxiety; I had lost my identity and my best friend. You can’t write a book from that point. It doesn’t matter if you have highs and lows, you write the book when you’re standing on a mountain again. I had five years when I had the time to write it, but I wasn’t ready to unpack the emotional baggage.
Then I had a phone call from the World Retail Congress, saying they wanted to honour me. And I said, “Oh, I’m not part of Jo Malone anymore, I’ve sold it” but they said, “No, Jo, we’re honouring you as a person as to what you’ve given the industry”. It was that point when I thought, ‘Now I’m ready’.
You built this hugely successful business, which quite literally had your name on it – what made you decide to walk away from it?
I fought cancer. Things happen to us in our lives that change you.
I had built this business that I loved (and still do) and my life was so remarkable that I pinched myself every morning. Then this curve ball came from nowhere. I was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. I fought it for a year; I had chemo every 5 days. That has to change you. My son was three years old. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t want to be travelling the world; I wanted to be with him.
I didn’t die. He’s now grown up and I’ve been there every single step of the way so I don’t regret a single thing. But I did walk away from my best friend and I didn’t anticipate how I would lose my identity. I thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.
You had to wait five years (of contractual gardening leave) before you could start again, was that difficult?
I hated them. The only thing I can do is create fragrance and cosmetics - and I couldn’t do it. I’d fought for my life in order to live it – and then I’d taken myself out of the game. I remember being in Selfridges and picking up a pot of face cream and bursting into tears. But if I hadn’t left, I would never have had the adventures I’ve had. I write a business column for the Evening Standard, I’ve travelled the world, I really don’t regret it, but I would have done things differently. That’s life. As you get older, you think I’d far rather take the risks and have the adventure than play it safe.
And then you created Jo Loves. That must have been a very different experience: this time it came with the weight of huge expectation.
That’s what was difficult – the expectations – and I stood on a stage in my underwear and got it all wrong! My desire, love and what was in the bottle wasn’t wrong – but everything else was. I had to re-arm myself; find out who I really was. Now I’m so brave. This was always about building another global brand – it’s not about a hobby, I want to change the world again! I knew I had to come back and try again, even if I failed. Regret for me is worse than failure.
What are you three secrets of building a successful business?
Passion. If you don’t feel it, no one else will. You’re the founder; the heartbeat.
Resilience. Don’t be afraid of tough times. Don’t always look at things life tells you are weakness, because they might just be strengths. Dyslexic has given me this incredible ability to think differently.
Creativity. Respect it. You don’t own it, but let it walk alongside you and if it starts to whisper in your ear, be ready to listen.
You supported your family from a very young age – did you know what you wanted to do when you were grown-up?
I would never have dreamed of this. I just didn’t want to live hand to mouth. I remember scraping the ice from the inside of the window one winter and saying, “I am not going to live like this.”
What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Don’t be in such a hurry – enjoy the moment. One day you will change the world and everything you dream about will come to pass. And the love that you hanker for? You will find it and marrying him will transform your life. Hang on in there!
What’s your greatest achievement?
The love of my family and that includes people I consider my family.
When are you happiest?
Friday night dinner, ‘round the table with all my friends. I always think, ‘This is who I am and who I want to be’. And when I’m creating fragrance.
Who or what are the loves of your life?
My dog. My friends. My family. I love the people I work with: they are a joy to spend time with. We feel like a family. And the wonderful people who taught me: Evelyn and Leonard Lauder, Rose Marie Bravo.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
Don’t judge people on your own standards. People have been the greatest asset of my life and they’ve also been my greatest disappointment. I wish I could switch that off. But people make mistakes. Also, I trust everyone on day one and that’s probably not the smartest move.
What keeps you awake at night?
If I’ve upset someone or I’m having a disagreement with someone I love.
What qualities do all your friends share?
Kindness, humour and compassion – and they’re all creators.
Choose six women - dead or alive - to have dinner with: who and where do you go?
I’ve got too many! Audrey Hepburn just after Breakfast at Tiffany’s because I’d love to hear the stories about what it was like to make.
Coco Chanel. I want to ask: tell me where you were when you created Chanel No 5.
Adele. I love that woman because she is who she is.
My mum – We didn’t quite see eye to eye and I would love to sit down with her and tell her I really loved her.
Maggie Smith as her character in Downton Abbey.
Dian Fossey, the zoologist. I’d love to know what motivated her.
Carrie Bradshaw, the character from Sex and the City.
Charlotte, my PR, we’ve had so many adventures together.
We’d have dinner on Parrot Cay on the beach. Adele would sing; Chanel would make sarongs; I’d create the fragrance.
What are you reading/watching/listening to right now?
Reading: I’m currently going through cookbooks.
Watching: Victoria – I love Lord M.
Listening to: Adele, always.
What’s your desert island beauty product?
Shiny Chanel lip gloss.
Over or under dressed?
Night in or night out?
Autumn or Spring?
Impossible. I love both, but spring for new beginnings.
I go see movies by myself sometimes and I’ll watch two back to back!