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British perfumer Jo Malone on creating fragrances fit for royalty

All her life, British perfumer Jo Malone has spritzed herself with three or four different fragrances every single day — she blends them, applies them to different parts of her body, and even twiddles them through her hair.

In the hands of someone less capable, this may result in an overbearing mismatch of headache-inducing scents. But on the woman behind a fragrance line favoured by the royals, you can only imagine irresistibly enticing notes.

Malone views fragrance like colour, and going by her wildly successful Jo Malone colognes and Jo Loves range, now exclusively stocked in Australia through online retailer Adore Beauty, it is clear her life is full of vibrant, captivating hues.

“When you take your paintbrush and you start to paint your body as though it’s a canvas, that’s when the fun really begins because you are able to take your favourite fragrance but accessorise it, just like you would a little dress or a pair of shoes,” she tells The West Australian.

There was only one period when her life was drained of colour — during her battle with breast cancer, during which she lost her sense of smell.

“Because on chemotherapy, when you are fighting for your life, which I was, lots of different things can happen. And they did,” she says.

“But it made my world feel very black-and-white, I suppose. Fragrance to me is about vibrancy and colour so it drained all of that out of me. I felt like I was kind of, without my sense of smell, I felt more uncomfortable without my sense of smell than I had without my hair.

“My hair, I could put a hat on and I could muddle on. My sense of smell, I could do nothing and I couldn’t taste anything.”

Malone vividly remembers the the moment her most prized sense returned — it was the day after she left her namesake brand, Jo Malone, London.

The new Pomelo fragrance from the Jo Loves collection.
Camera IconThe new Pomelo fragrance from the Jo Loves collection. Credit: Supplied

She sold the brand, which carries the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite fragrance, Orange Blossom, to beauty and skincare giant Estee Lauder. “And that day I woke up and I thought ‘(husband) Gary’s making a cup of coffee downstairs and the fridge door is open.’ I could smell everything, but really differently. Like an intensity, like a wind had just come into the house and I could suddenly smell everything really powerfully.”

When her sense of smell returned, her preferences hadn’t changed. She still despised vanilla and adored citrus and orange blossom.

It took years, but Malone eventually returned to creating fragrances with her new line Jo Loves, admitting she became braver in stripping the fragrances of any support.

Her friend Jayne Demuro, who was head of beauty at Selfridges at the time, paid Malone a visit when she caught wind that she was creating again.

“So she comes one evening, it was in October, and it was a rainstorm in London like you’ve never known. And she walked into my offices with a rain mac on drenched. And I saw an opportunity,” Malone says.

“As I hung her coat up, I picked up a bottle of Pomelo and I coated her coat in this Pomelo fragrance. And she said, ‘What’s that smell?’ And I said, ‘it’s called Pomelo.’

“The next day she called me and she said, ‘Jo, I walked down the street, someone asked me what I was wearing. I got into the lift this morning, everyone asked me what I was wearing. Please can we have the privilege at Selfridges of launching Jo Loves?’

“And that is the power of fragrance.”

Malone describes Pomelo, a citrus fragrance with staying power that doesn’t disappear in the top notes, as hope and belief.

“Pomelo is like a golden ticket that gave me a second chance,” she says.

“I mean, it was a brave thing. God, can you imagine if she’d gone, ‘Oh my God, what have you done to my rain mac?’ But she didn’t.”

Somehow, it’s hard to imagine an alternative scenario where her new line was anything short of triumphant.

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