Born c. 1964, in England; daughter of Peter (a painter) and Elaine (a facialist) Malone; married Gary Willcox, 1984; children: Josh.
Office—Jo Malone, The Old Imperial Laundry, Warriner Gardens, London SW11 4XW, England.
Worked as a facialist out of her apartment in London, England; began mixing bath oils for clients in her kitchen; opened first eponymous store in London, England, October, 1994; opened store inside Bergdorf Goodman, New York City, 1998; sold share of company to Estée Lauder, 1999; opened New York City store, 2001; introduced skin–care line, 2002.
Jo Malone's eponymous line of fragrances lured a cult–like following of celebrity customers to her London, England, store in the mid–1990s. Malone had began concocting her addictive, nature–based signature scents in her kitchen some years before, but when beauty–industry giant Estée Lauder acquired a stake in the company in 1999 for an amount rumored to be astronomical, she gained access to state–of–the–art laboratories.
A Town & Country profile by Pamela Fiori described Malone as "a walking advertisement for the brand—understated, modern and seemingly uncomplicated." In interviews, Malone has been forthright about her less–than–posh childhood while growing up in a council flat, as England's post–World War II government–subsidized housing units are called, in Bexley Heath, a town in Kent. Born in the early 1960s, she learned her trade at an early age: her mother was a facialist, and worked for a woman who owned a small skin–care line marketed under a specious aristocratic title, Countess Labatti. Malone often went along to the Countess's apartment, which served as the company headquarters, and as she recalled in the interview with Fiori, "When I was nine years old, the countess said to me, 'I want you to make your first face mask.' And I did, under her tutelage. She also told me, 'Life has something very special in store for you, so if you are going to do something, do it brilliantly.'"
When Labatti died, Malone's mother took over the business and Malone continued to help out. She also learned entrepreneurial skills from her father, an artist: she accompanied him when he sold his paintings at the local weekend market fair. In her teens, she began making and selling her own T–shirts. "I am intrigued by the whole concept of buying and selling," she told Financial Times journalist Kate Burgess. "I love creating something and making someone want to buy it. I am a merchant at heart."
In her early twenties, Malone followed in her mother's footsteps and became a facialist. Her style emphasized massage and various aromatic topical ointments. Unable to afford her own business space, she worked out of her apartment. As her business grew, she came upon the idea of giving her clients a small token of appreciation, and began mixing batches of bath oil on her stove. Her first was a nutmeg and ginger concoction, and her clients loved it. "Then a customer bought 100 bottles to put by each place setting at a party," she recalled in the Financial Times interview. "Eighty–six people came back to me for more." Soon, Malone's husband had quit his job as a surveyor to help bottle and sell her wares.
Malone began making perfumes as well, though she had no formal training. Her scents had only one or two notes, in contrast to most fragrances, which have a complex blend of light, medium, and heavy notes. Malone's line featured lime, vetiver, mandarin, and other scents, and they could be layered with one another. The fledgling business took off, and her husband—weary of working long into the night in their apartment—found and renovated a London retail space that became the site of her eponymously named store. When it opened in an upscale shopping area in October of 1994, lines of customers formed down Walton Street.
Malone's line became a favorite of fashion–industry insiders and celebrities. Serena Linley, the daughter–in–law of the late Princess Margaret, was an early fan, and as was Isabel Ettedgui (the wife of clothing designer Joseph Ettedgui), who helped create Malone's signature cream–and–black logo for her squarish, vintage apothecary–style bottles. Another devotee was Dawn Mello, president of luxe Manhattan retailer Bergdorf Goodman, who signed Malone to a deal that brought her line to the Fifth Avenue store in 1998. Soon, the Estée Lauder company began making overtures, but Malone was initially reluctant to give up a company she had founded in her kitchen in 1983, no matter what the price.
Estée Lauder chair Leonard Lauder, however, allayed Malone's fears by reminding her that his mother had also started her company in her kitchen. The deal was announced in late 1999, and it allowed Malone to retain creative control while freeing her and her husband from the financial stresses of running a transatlantic business. It was, she told Burgess in the Financial Times, "like a weight had been taken off my shoulders. And I am still very much involved. I have total autonomy. After all, Lauder bought my expertise in creating fragrances. They bought what is in my head, not what is on the shelf at the moment."
The Lauder deal helped Malone obtain counter space inside upscale American department stores Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, and she was also able to open her first freestanding American store in early 2001, located in New York's landmark Flatiron Building. There, one of her first successes remains one of the top sellers: Lime, Basil & Mandarin. Other top sellers include Amber & Lavender, the coffee–like Black Vetyver Café, and French Lime Blossom, which was inspired by a walk along Paris's Champs–Elysées. Malone admits to finding ideas for new scents from rather unusual sources. "The inside of a horse's harness might give me an idea for a new fragrance," she told Simon Brooke of the Daily Telegraph. "The other day I was in a Chinese restaurant and the smell of ginger tea suddenly inspired me."
In 2002, Malone's company launched a skin–care line of cleansers, moisturizers, and specialty products. The elixirs used many of her trademark ingredients, from lavender to eucalyptus, and she tested batches at both the modern laboratory facilities she now had access to via the Lauder partnership, and also at home in her kitchen, as Fiori found her doing with some vitamin E serum when she interviewed her. Reminded of the countess's prophetic words to her as a child, she conceded, "I know I have a gift," she told the Town & Country writer. "But in the end, I'll always be the girl in the store making face creams. That's really who I am, and that's just fine with me."
Chain Store Age, June 2001, p. 114.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), November 10, 2001.
Financial Times, July 26, 2000, p. 17.
Harper's Bazaar, November 2000, p. 160.
People, August 10, 1998, p. 75.
Town & Country, April 2002, p. 132.
W, December 1999, p. 156.
WWD, May 10, 2001, p. 3; May 23, 2001, p. 26S; February 1, 2002, p. 4.