Crafting the Perfect Scent: Q&A with Jo Malone

Crafting the Perfect Scent: Q&A with Jo Malone

INTERVIEW BY Gina Dionisio PHOTOS Supplied

We chat with founder of Jo Malone about her approach to designing fragrance, her love for the colour red, and what inspired her eponymous scent, Jo by Jo Loves.

Crafting the Perfect Scent: Q&A with Jo Malone

What is your process for designing a new fragrance? 

I’d say it’s very similar to constructing a building… but in reverse. We used something called a pyramid which consists of a top, middle and base notes (the base being the foundation of the fragrance). So we have plans. We have a formula, and you have to balance all the notes. For example, if you’re using something like amber you have to balance that note with a floral. If you’re using citrus, you have to use bass notes with a citrus to lift them.

I actually find the concept of top, middle and base notes incredibly boring. I would much rather you understood it in terms of having a conversation when arriving at a party. As you walk through the door someone comes up and introduces themselves to you. That’s the top notes – it’s the first impression. As you’re chatting, you think to yourself that they might be quite interesting. Like a person, the fragrance starts to reveals its warmth as it dries down. That’s what we call the heart of the fragrance or the middle notes. And then the bass notes, which are often woody or spicy, are the equivalent of that person you’ve been chatting with asking you if you want to go and have dinner so that you can really get to know them.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when it comes to designing a fragrance – what in particular inspired Jo by Jo Loves? 

I have something called Synesthesia, which means I ‘smell’ colour. So life, everything around me, inspires me. Like last night when I got out of the car for dinner I could smell an Earl Grey smoke and caramel salt – it was the sea across the road. I’ll take these scents and save them in my memory. I’ll play with all the notes in my head and an idea for a fragrance will emerge. It’s a very unconventional way of designing a fragrance.

The bottle of Jo by Jo Loves is a striking red hue – what is the significance behind the colour? 

To me, red means action. It means it demands a response. It means emotion. It means adventure. It’s like, “get ready”. So, Jo by Jo Loves is my personal scent, and it tells the story of my life through the power of grapefruit. I initially put it in a red bottle because I was the only one who had this fragrance in the beginning. And then I decided, you know, everyone loves it so much so I did a run of 500 bottles. They sold out and it became the top seller of the Jo Loves brand.

The little red dot on the label is like my Nike swish. It means I’ve created and signed off everything from the fragrance in the bottle to the label, and that it’s ready to go to market and for people to enjoy.

How did you select the ingredients/notes for Jo by Jo Loves? 

I have a scent library in my head. Have you ever seen that movie Fantastic Beasts? The main character walks around with a magic suitcase where he keeps all his animals and objects. That’s my head. I have my own world that I can go into and pull fragrance notes from all the scent memories I’ve stored in this library. When I create a fragrance, like Jo by Jo Loves, I write all the scents I’ve pulled on sticky notes. I’ll put down a row of notes and then another, and then I’ll move them around, smelling them together in my head. I’ll construct the fragrance this way and then we go in and tweak it.

And how do you go about tweaking the samples until you’re happy with what will be the final product? 

When I smell these samples I can “see” the holes in the fragrance. I know that it’s missing something and then I’ll start tweaking. I think, OK, that needs cedar wood or there needs to be a white blossoms somewhere in there along with a mint, and I’ll pop it in. For me it’s a very visual process.

Can you tell us a bit more about your approach to sustainability? How did you incorporate this into the design of the Jo Loves brand? 

I think sustainability is not a destination; it’s a journey and something we are continuously working on. The majority of our packaging is made from recycled paper, the ribbon that we use is made from recycled ocean plastic, the cartridges in our Fragrance Paintbrush are now refillable so that you don’t have to throw out when it’s finished, and our candles are reusable. We’re also giving people the option to opt out of our gift wrapping to reduce the amount of resources use.

You can buy the Jo Loves range exclusively via

Looking for more design and architecture inspiration? Sign up to our weekly newsletter, here.