We all have that one person we long to meet for various reasons. This can be an influencer, mentor or just someone you look up to or admire and want to be like when you grow up. I have long had such a one. Her name is Joanne Leslie Malone. She is fondly known as Jo Malone MBE – Yes, she is a Member of the British Empire. I will briefly tell you a bit about her so that you understand why she inspires me, before I get to the gist.
Jo is a British Perfumer, who has been described as an “English Scent Maverick”. She is responsible for some of the world’s best and most loved fragrances. Jo’s, is a story of humble beginnings. Born and raised in a council flat in London, in a home where money was scarce, she was born with a learning disorder called Dyslexia. As a result, she has problems reading, writing, telling time and differentiating her left and right hand side. All these challenges combined, culminated in her dropping out of school. She often tells of how she once worked as a florist but was later fired.
In spite of all these misfortunes, Jo Malone was born with an extraordinary sense of smell. She started making bespoke fragrances from her kitchen table. Selling them door to door until the demand for the products grew exponentially. That is how the UK high street brand, Jo Malone London was born. Her Jo Malone London empire grew to be a global brand that it still is today. In 2007, she was sadly diagnosed with Breast Cancer and then decided to sell the business to Estee’ Lauder for millions of British Pounds.
She battled with cancer and later overcame. She lost her sense of smell along the way but later gained it back slowly. She recounts, in her autobiography, “My Story”, how she lived with the regret of having sold off her business. She especially regrets having agreed to a clause of not being allowed to do any fragrance creation for a period of 5 years following the sale. After the lock out period had elapsed in 2012, she eventually bounced back with a new fragrance brand called Jo Loves, which she operates from her only store on No. 42 Elizabeth Street, London. Today, Jo Loves is a resounding success and can also be bought on all Emirates Flights worldwide.
Back to the main story…I have long admired Jo for her tenacity and entrepreneurship genre. She is one in a million. I am a fun of her creations, both under Jo Malone London and Jo Loves. A couple of times I have been to her Jo Loves store in London, Belgravia, to buy her fragrances and hoping to meet her but she is not there whenever I am there. Then I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 World Retail Congress, held in Dubai at the Madinat Jumeira. I knew she would be there as one of the speakers. According to the agenda she was going to speak at 11:30, sharing the stage with Sir Ian Cheshire, the Chairman for Debenhams, Terry Lundgren, Chairman for Macy’s, Patrick Chavanne, Executive Director Marketing for Marks & Spencer, CEOs for Morrisons, Mothercare and over 130 other speakers from around the world.
The defining moment was day 1. I deliberately wore a Jo Loves perfume earlier that morning. During tea break, I quickly had some Arabic coffee, briefly networked then went back to the empty Auditorium. I had just settled in my seat, when I looked to my right and saw sitting across the auditorium, the lady I have been dying to meet. There was a Journalist from the BBC sitting behind me. Unsure of how to approach the opportunity, I said to her, “I can see that’s Jo Malone sitting over there. I really would like to greet her. How possible do you think it will be?” “It should be possible, it depends… if she has security detail or not”, she answered. I told myself, this is the moment. It is now or never. I got up and walked towards where Jo was sitting. I tapped the lady she was sitting next to and asked her if it was possible to have a word with Jo Malone as I had been dying to meet her.
The lady was very warm and receptive. She said “sure, you can see her after she delivers her speech”. At that point Jo Malone looked in my direction and smiled. She said to me “I smelt your perfume when you passed.” Beaming with joy, I smiled back and told her, “Yes, it’s Green Orange and Coriander I am wearing. I am a great fan of your fragrances Jo, is it possible I can have a quick chat with you, please”? She smiled and said “not a problem. Afterwards.” I thanked her. At this point the lady I had asked permission from extended her hand to me and said “I am Charlotte by the Way” and I also told her my name and thanked her. “Please do come when she finishes presenting”, she added while giving me her business card. “I definitely will”, I responded. “Make no mistake, I will be right back”, I thought to myself.
After Jo spoke, she left the stage and sat next to Sir Paul Smith (Founder of British Shirt Makers, Paul Smith). Shortly after that Sir Ian Cheshire the Debenhams Chairman was next on stage moderating a panel discussion. At this point one of the Sheikhs of Dubai walked in to listen to one plenary discussion on Mall Development in the UAE and then left immediately after. I was amused I must say- the number of eminent people that this congress, which is a global benchmark for retail excellence attracts. Just like that…of course the following day, tabloids like The Gulf News carried the story and had him on front pages.
At lunch break, I had the opportunity to chat with Jo Malone briefly and took some pictures with her. The following day I was privilege to be among the few women invited to attend the International Women in Retail Reception at the Burj Al Arab – one of the world’s 7 Star Hotels. It was an evening of networking with very accomplished women in retail from around the world. Cocktails and snacks on the 27th and top most floor, in the “Gold on 27 Bar”. Jo Malone was the highlight once again. She was interviewed by Alison Tay, a prominent Middle East based journalist. The best part of the evening, apart from networking was Jo demonstrating how the complimentary fragrance tapas is done at Jo Loves. She massaged my hand and painted my neck with fragrance to demonstrate. I had an opportunity to chat away with lovely Charlotte, who happens to be Jo Loves’ Communications Director and Jo Malone MBE’s confidante and another of Jo’s friends based in Dubai.
That, ladies and gents, is an example of how fragrance can speak for you. Select your fragrances carefully. The fragrance you wear says something about you without having to speak. I sure knew how to catch Jo Malone’s attention. You need to learn the art of connecting with people. I just passed and she smelt me and that’s how I got to finally meet the person whose life story motivates me profoundly. Who have you been hoping to meet in order to get that breakthrough? Dress appropriately for your meeting with them – wear the right attire and most importantly, fragrance. Even Esther, in the bible (Esther 2:12) had this wisdom.
Collections of Jo Malone London and Jo Loves fragrances are stocked by Knightsbridge Place at Hotel Intercontinental, Lusaka Zambia. The 12th Edition of the World Retail Congress will be in 2018 in Madrid Spain. Will you be there?