Jo Malone: From a council estate to Estee Lauder

Life's not always been a bed of roses for the fragrance entrepreneur Jo Malone, as she reveals in her candid and uplifting memoir.

by Claire Vero
Last Updated: 25 Oct 2016

I heard Jo Malone speak at a business event back in September 2013, eight months after launching my own brand, Aurelia Probiotic Skincare. Inspired by her words, I hung around afterwards, anxious to give her a selection of my products. However the enormous queue and chronic morning sickness conspired against me; I just about managed to thrust a bag of samples into the hands of her husband Gary.

I never actually got to meet Malone so I was thrilled when her new book landed on my desk. I love reading memoirs and relish the uninterrupted insight into another person's mind. My Story opens with a quote by French author and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Andre Gide: 'Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore,' and Malone's tale is one of pushing boundaries, of taking risks, of determination.

She not only takes you on the journey of her business successes and plaudits but she lets you in on the emotional side of her life, like a trusted friend. And that life has not been straightforward. She grew up on a council estate near Bexleyheath in Kent with a constant sense of struggle and 'just-about-getting-by'. She suffered from dyslexia, her father left, and her mother had a terrible breakdown.

'I felt like I became an adult around the age of 10. From that time onwards, ordinary childhood memories are scant, replaced, or maybe eclipsed, by the responsibility of effectively running our household and taking care of my little sister,' she writes. Malone doesn't shy away from recounting the low points, and the moments of self-doubt. And that's what makes you connect so fully with her story: she's real.

Malone describes the excitement of opening her first store at 154 Walton Street, Chelsea, and her 'name-above-the-door' moment: 'We stood there, half-crying, half-laughing, feeling elated. It felt like we were staking our flag into a personal summit ...' That rang so true to me; we opened our first counter in Liberty beauty hall within 12 months of launching, a first in the store's history. It's still one of our most important retailers today.

I also found myself nodding in agreement as I read Malone's feelings of joy at the sound of ringing tills, the queues outside the door and customers raving about fragrances. I remember hitting our first £1min-sales milestone of Aurelia products; that joy that Malone describes pushed us on to achieve even more.

The second half of the book talks candidly about selling up to Estee Lauder - the deal that 'nobody saw coming'. Malone opens up about her first meeting with Leonard Lauder at his penthouse apartment in the Upper East Side, the 'tossing and turning' over whether she should sell, the morning stroll around Central Park the day after the papers had been signed, and her new-found wealth; 'where to sit on the plane, what holidays to experience, what fashionable clothes to buy'. Then came motherhood - and finding a lump in her right breast.

Reading about Malone's gut-wrenching struggle with cancer - the chemo, the double mastectomy, her son shaving her head ('giving Mummy a buzz cut') - left me sobbing. She writes movingly, but never self-pityingly, of those dark times. She's brings you into her world and it's utterly compulsive. To anyone going through dark or stormy days themselves, her determination and vision are inspiring. She wants us to get up if we're knocked down, just as she did.

We read about Malone's MBE ('When I read the typewritten words explaining how her Majesty the Queen was honouring me with an MBE, I laughed out loud. Someone was clearly having an elaborate joke ...') and reigniting her creative passion to start her latest venture, Jo Loves. With her innovative 'fragrance tapas' experience and 'candle shot' studio, she clearly hasn't lost her entrepreneurial edge. 'I suppose I haven't done badly for the girl who was once told by a teacher that she wouldn't make anything of her life.'

The other day, I happened to notice the Andre Gide quote embossed on a leather book in a bookshop window. I bought two, sending one to Malone with a note saying how she had inspired me; I used the other to write down my vision for Aurelia for the next few years and I'm slowly ticking goals off this list with the help of an incredible team of colleagues. We've won more than 50 beauty awards but we're not stopping there. I hope Malone's fascinating story inspires many more entrepreneurs.

My Story by Jo Malone is published by Simon & Schuster, £20

Claire Vero is the founder and CEO of Aurelia Probiotic Skincare. She was one of MT's 35 Women Under 35 in 2014

Image source: Mohmed Althani

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