"My Story" Jo Malone (Autobiography)
Jo Malone's autobiography was published on 6th October 2016 and just before that I heard her talking about it on Woman's Hour (BBC Radio 4). As soon as the interview finished, I preordered the hardback. Not something I do very often! Listening to Jo Malone, I was struck with her honesty, humility, passion and intelligence. Reading her book has only confirmed this further. Without wanting to sound too saccharine - despite probably being very guilty of developing a fan-girl crush!!! -this woman really is inspirational, a wonderful role model for all women and a truly fabulous person.
I've been putting off writing my review as I'm worried I can't do the book justice or that my review will run on into thousands of words. As you can see from the photo, I noted just a few quotes! Well, here goes.....
Jo Malone is the inspirational British businesswoman responsible for creating her globally renowned beauty business and, more recently, her new brand 'Jo Loves'. This, her first autobiography, tells in full her incredible journey from modest beginnings as a teenager, struggling with dyslexia and leaving school with no qualifications, to becoming an international brand name and one of the world's most successful entrepreneurs.
Jo's lively story explores how her fascination with smell teamed with her natural ability to create world-famous blends such as 'Lime, Basil & Mandarin', revolutionised the way we think about fragrance.
Her unique talent for pioneering innovation and originality within her field is unrivalled. Yet, despite her success, she has faced huge challenges with courage and determination, including being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37 and told she only had nine months to live, and her decision to go it alone after selling the original Jo Malone brand to the Estee Lauder Corporation and walking away in 2006. Jo's commitment and down-to-earth approach to life, work and family makes her one of the most likeable and well respected personalities in British retail and her honesty, hard work and entrepreneurial grit are an inspiration to all. (inside cover blurb)
Malone's early family life is quite unhappy. As soon as she was old enough, she was under pressure to take on more responsibility within the household and by looking after her sister as her parent's marriage crumbled and her mother's mental health deteriorated. From the outset, Malone approaches these challenging times with determination and focus, using the housework as a way of establishing order and control. There is nothing pitiable about her, nor is she seeking it.
The one thing her upbringing did reinforce was that "I don't want to live like this when I'm older. I won't. I can't." And that flicker of grit, resilience, hard work and focus is alight. Sadly she does say that she "learned to detach myself and place sad thoughts into mental boxes that I'd push away and refuse to open", but then this also taught her to "not look back and to keep moving forward" which again, reflects the incredible drive Malone has to follow her passion and what has ensured she's managed such a successful company.
Malone is tough on herself. She is meticulous in creating a product with integrity and settling for nothing less than outstanding. When she began to experiment with making fragrances she learnt three lessons:
"always find Tracey (her younger sister) something to do, never take your eyes off the ball, and be willing to toss it out and start again if it's not absolutely perfect."
However, she is not a cold person. The way she talks about her husband and son is extremely warm, moving and loving, showing them to be an integral part of who she is and intrinsic to her life. On many occasions she explains how she would be nothing without Gary's support and love. The strength of their relationship is impressive and I found it very poignant when Malone explained that Gary was the first person to offer her unconditional love, security and constancy.
What I also loved about this autobiography is that the writing is very honest, sometimes blunt, humorous, and exceptionally readable. You can't help but admire and respect this woman and despite her global recognition and wealth, the book is incredibly down to earth and chatty in its tone of voice. Except perhaps when she talks about fragrances and creating oils! Her absolute passion for scents and smells seems to be so intuitive, so overwhelming and such an obsession for her that the passages about this are lyrical and effusive.
"When I start to develop the idea for a fragrance, I am, in my mind, creating a unique character that breathes on its own, with a heartbeat, soul and personality: whispering to me its capabilities, strengths and weaknesses; hinting whether it will be dominant in a room or more reserved, and whether it will turn heads or slowly grow on people. But however it behaves socially, one thing is guaranteed: each one will make its charm and presence felt, stirring moods, memories, emotions.....and our senses."
"I'm like a conductor pulling in different instruments and musicians to create a symphony"
And perhaps the best thing about the book is that Malone includes the failures, the mistakes, the cringing, the moments of sheer panic - all with a light touch of humour and humility. This is particularly pertinent, seeing as she often uses music as a metaphor for her work, when she recounts the moment of the "Jo Malone version of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture" when the bottles lining a beautiful shelf display in the shop had been filled a little too full of oil!
Jo Malone has overcome many difficulties and challenges in her life, but never does she blame, rant or become negative about them. She has a real sense of perspective and appears very grounded. At school, she struggled and although later diagnosed with dyslexia, it was too late to help her with her education.
"There were no neuroscientists referring to the hidden potential of dyslexics, no Alan Sugars or Norman Fosters to trump the stigmas; no books like "The Dyslexic Advantage" to explain how individuals with dyslexia are't defective; they're simple different. None of that."
It was interesting hearing how she had learned to overcome this challenge in her working life and how she and her team sought ways of making spreadsheets, presentations and any documents she may be faced with, accessible for her. This really is a determined woman who seeks to positively solve problems rather than let them floor her. And all this pays off. As she quotes:
"Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life - Confucius"
And she is also a woman who embraces challenges. At various stages of her career she's been dealt a curve ball and had to rethink, re-plan, re-budget, restructure and even start again and every time, Malone starts right at the bottom. She doesn't behave as if she is entitled to anything. As she says when she decides to set up Jo Loves:
"How does anyone get started? Easy. You start by getting off your arse and making difficult calls."
"Skin doesn't recognise class and there's something about the intimate space between the 'face girl' and client that is a great leveller."
The Jo Malone brand is incredibly distinctive, as is her new brand Jo Loves. Malone clearly has a very clear approach to what her brands stand for and her she explains this:
"Simplicity sums up my approach. I believe that the hallmarks of quality and luxury are discernment, not fuss, not razzmatazz, not bells and whistles. Understated. Subtle. Like a scent that gradually makes itself known and quietly commands attention."
The hardest challenge that Malone faced was being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37. Yes, this is a bleak time for her, yes she is desperately ill, yes she describes how difficult, upsetting and dreadful this time was for her but even throughout this devastating ordeal she remains pragmatic, focussed and resolute.
"To ask 'why me?' would be to wish that it was on someone else, and that didn't seem fair. Life doesn't always deal the good fortune cards."
"It's important to share my story......the more we shine light into the darkest, scariest of places, the more acceptable it seems and the less alone we have to be."
And I totally loved this sentence from the end of the section talking about her illness:
"Cancer doesn't define me. It only signifies eight months and three chapters in my life story."
Jo Malone is brave. She is inspiring. She is iconic. She is a fantastic role model. She is a successful business woman. She is an artist. She is a mother and a wife. She also seems like someone you could easily spend an afternoon chatting to over tea and cake- or maybe a glass of wine one evening! I highly recommend this autobiography. I think it's pretty clear how I felt about it and I think I'm probably in danger of being reprimanded by Simon & Schuster for over-quoting!
Oh but I just can't stop.....!! If any book will make you feel like you can conquer the world, this one will! If any person can make you feel like you should get out there and chase your dream, this one will!
"Find a ladder. Or find a way to climb over the wall. Or dig a tunnel. Just find a way."
For Malone it's not about money, status, recognition, fame. She is just chasing a dream to make fragrances, chasing a dream to make something she is proud of herself rather than waiting to be affirmed by someone else. Her use of the words "integrity", "creativity", being "true to yourself", "vocation", "resilience" and "passion" ultimately reflect the fundamental beliefs on which she has built her marriage, her family, her friendships and her business. Even if Jo Malone had not become one of the most recognised brands in the beauty industry - or even since it has -I think we would always find her somewhere, working out of whatever room she could find, doing facials and making people feel good about themselves.
And there is a lovely, genuine sense of humility about Jo Malone too. I want to finish by quoting her last sentence in her acknowledgements:
"Lastly I'd like to express my gratitude to every person across this world who, over the last thirty years, has bought a product I've created, be it a fragrance, a bath oil, candle or face cream - thank you for making a shopkeeper's dream come true."
This is a very easy read, engaging and totally fascinating read. It's like having Jo Malone in the room with you for a few hours, chatting away and provides a real insight into her personal and professional world. I will read it again. And, thanks to the scented page inside the front cover and the sensory overload about her creative process, my Christmas list will be mainly made up of products from her new company Jo Loves!
For more recommendations and reviews, please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)