Jo Malone: The sweet smell of success
10 September 2015
The story of how Pop-Tarts inspired Britain’s queen of fragrance to re-launch her startup portfolio with bespoke candles that are a first for the £90m scented candle market
Jo Malone hates keeping secrets, and she’s been sitting on a particularly juicy one for more than two years.
Behind the scenes, Britain’s queen of fragrance, the nose that launched the global Jo Malone brand, has been developing a new concept at her start-up, Jo Loves.
Her new invention is a do-it-yourself scented candle, which will allow fans to “paint with fragrance” and create bespoke candles to make their homes smell just so.
“I couldn’t tell anyone what we were doing because we’re the first company in the world to do something like this,” she says. “I had to protect the idea but now we’ve patented the concept, I can tell you that our candle shop will launch in May.”
Shoppers take a scented candle base, such as
fresh fig, charcoaled lemon, or cedar wood, then add “shots” of fragrance on top to create a signature scent. “We take a blowtorch and seal the waxes together,” says Malone. “It only takes a minute.”
She had the idea three years ago while staying in New York, she reveals. “I found out about the Pop-Tart studio, where people could go and design their own Pop-Tarts (the pre-baked toaster pastry brand owned by the Kellogg Company) and I just thought it was genius.”
Taking the Pop-Tart model and applying it to candles was not easy, says Malone.
“I’ve burned more candles than you will ever see in your life, hundreds,” she says. “You wouldn’t believe how much you have to think about, from the texture of the wax to the size of the wick.”
According to Euromonitor, Brits spend more than £90m on scented candles each year, and that spend will grow almost 10% this year. This makes the focus on candles a savvy move from Malone, although she claims to mostly ignore market trends.
“I don’t create new products because the market wants them, I do it because something inspires me,” she says. “My team and I have a product development meeting every week but if I try to live market to market, it starts feeling like a job and not a creative process.”
Malone is a true maverick, breaking every rule
for creating a new product or service. Start with a consumer need, the business books advise. Try and solve a problem in a new and innovative way, intone management gurus. But if Malone had listened to these tenets of business wisdom, she never would have created Jo Loves, an experiential “tapas for
the nose” concept, based out of a single shop on Elizabeth Street in London.
The concept was the result of five years’ enforced exile from the beauty industry after leaving her eponymous business in 2006. She had built Jo Malone into a global empire and sold it to beauty giant Estée Lauder for “several million” in 1999, staying on as a creative director.
However, a life-threatening brush with cancer in 2003 forced her to re-evaluate her life and when she decided to leave the brand entirely, her contract banned her from fragrance and beauty stores the world over.
Back for good
The experience was “nightmarish”, according to Malone, who spent the time planning a return to the industry she loved. Leaving Jo Malone, the company she’d founded on her kitchen table in 1994 was like “losing the great love of my life”, she says.
When she was finally freed from her contractual shackles, Malone was inundated with offers to partner with such-and-such brand on a fragrance or launch a range in some department store. She made the bold decision to turn down these requests, all offering
a pretty penny.
“There are no shortcuts when you want to build
a luxury brand,“ she says. “Yes I’ve had some pretty huge offers but you have to take your time if you want to be in luxury for a long time.”
Instead she took a risk and launched her fragrance tapas idea, creating a series of bold new scents along the way, including the bestselling citrusy number Pomelo, and swapping the glamorous life of an ‘entrepreneur in residence’ at a multinational for the hard graft of building her second start-up.
She admits it has been very hard. “It takes a lot of courage to put your life on the line and build
a business,” she says. “It certainly hasn’t been
a breeze and I’ve made lots of mistakes the second time around.”
But after a bumpy start, consumers are now aware that Jo Malone is back for good, and 2015 is shaping up to be a record year for the Jo Loves brand.
Photography courtesy of Pal Hansen