The British perfumer founded Jo Malone London in 1988, moving from home-made creams to best-selling fragrances in a short span. She stayed on as creative director when she sold the company to the Estée Lauder group in 1999, but then quit the industry altogether in 2006 because she temporarily lost her sense of smell following a battle with breast cancer. Malone launched her second business, Jo Loves, in 2011, with the popular Pomelo perfume. The mother-of-one attended the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai in March, to discuss her memoir Jo Malone: My Story
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you be?
Exactly where life wanted me to be. I love my home and I also love travelling, but wherever I am, I want to be with my family. I don’t care where in the world we are, as long as we are together.
If you could invite anybody to dinner, whom would you put on your guest list?
I would invite Coco Chanel, Moses, because I want to know what happened when the Red Sea parted, and a great politician, maybe John F Kennedy. Also someone involved with riding horses, and [zoologist] Dian Fossey because I love animals. And Steve Jobs. It would make an interesting dinner, wouldn’t it? But I would definitely want my husband there because you need someone to climb into bed with after and go: “Wasn’t that a great evening?”
Are you a collector?
I am. I collect perfume bottles – old, new and different-looking. Also, I have a big shelf in my room where I keep all the beautiful notebooks I collect, and I put my thoughts in them. And I love cashmere wraps. I pick one up from wherever I travel, and they often have the scent of whatever I was working on at the time.
What was one piece of advice that really resonated with you?
Be who you are. The most important thing in life is to be happy; not to be wise, or famous, or rich. And happy, contented people don’t run away from who they are. I’m not frightened for anyone to know that I come from nothing. I’d rather be the person I am, even though it’s not always comfortable to have others know your vulnerabilities. I did The Oprah Winfrey Show a couple of times, and I remember I went and had lunch with Oprah in her apartment, which was magical. And she told me: “You know, honey, own everything you do and stamp your identity on everything you do.” This was great advice, and I have held true to it.
What makes a great fragrance?
That’s a hard one for me to answer. Maybe what makes a great fragrance is that when I smell it, it’s full of integrity and truth and realness. And when I smell it, it unlocks everything and takes me right back to a special moment.
Is there a particular note you favour?
Orange blossom. When I die, I’m going to take orange blossom with me. And I love really bitter vetiver and really aggressive grapefruit. If I had those three notes, I could spend the rest of my life creating fragrances, and I would create something different every single day.
You built Jo Loves from scratch. How big of a challenge was it the second time around?
It was so hard. I felt really vulnerable. And in my book, I talk about the struggle because that sense of reinvention is hard, but it’s not impossible. You have to face your most negative moments to get through it. I heard the most amazing quote the other day: a river does not cut through rock because of its power, but because of its persistence. And that describes the last three years of my life.
What would you say is your key strength?
Passion, resilience and creativity are my three best friends. I have a passion for life and people. I’m very black and white, though; if I don’t like someone or something, I’ll walk a million miles away from it. Also I’ll never quit – I may talk about it, or feel like doing it, but the physicality of quitting is not a part of my mental make-up. And I love spending time with my creativity. It’s the combination of these three qualities that can make me very formidable.
You’re an ambassador for the British Film Institute. What is your favourite film?
I love, love, love movies. Recently, I enjoyed Lion with Dev Patel. I also loved The Sea of Trees, which is about a man who goes into a Japanese forest to kill himself. It’s very dark, but so brilliantly made. I love visually beautiful movies, and my favourites range across the spectrum – from The Hundred-Foot Journey to The Sound of Music.
Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, May 11.