scent memories

Jo Malone Loves the Smell of Elephants

Photo: Courtesy of the Masons

Scientific studies confirm that, of all the senses, smell offers the best recall. In “Scent Memories,” the Cut asks people about the scents they associate with different times in their lives.

Next up is British perfumer Jo Malone, CBE. The Jo Loves founder recently teamed up with global retailer Zara on Zara Emotions by Jo Loves, a collection of eight fragrances that will help you remember what traveling is like. With scents ranging from citrus-y Amalfi Sunray to refreshing Waterlily Tea Dress, there’s not only something for every mood, but in every form your heart could desire — including candles, fragrance brushes, body washes, and holiday-ready gift sets. The Cut recently caught up with Malone to talk about spa holidays, decorating with fragrance, and why you should smell an elephant.

My first scent memory: I can’t remember one single one, I think because I’m governed by my nose; it’s like my little compass all the time. But I can remember the smell of laundry because my mum had a skin-care clinic and there were always sheets being washed the whole time. Also, the smell of my father painting — his oil paints, and the smell of a coal fire. There was no central heating in our house, so you would light a fire. Those smells are really reminiscent of my first memories when I was a child.

Happiness smells like: Happiness for me is the smell of home. We have wooden floors in our house, and they’re all washed with Jo Loves Pomelo cologne. I travel a lot, and when I walk through the door, I just smell home. I instantly feel safe, and it just makes me smile. It’s the smell of happiness, security, sense of family, and coming home.

Love smells like: Holding my son for the first time when was born. He had this smell of, like, these warm, amber crystals, and I remember him being swaddled in a white blanket. I can smell it right now as I’m talking about it, but I wouldn’t know how to capture it, it’s just the smell of your child, your newborn baby. He smelled like it for about a month, and then one day it just disappeared completely. It was on one blanket for a while, and then that disappeared as well. I couldn’t create it, but if I smelt it again, I would know it.

Heartbreak or loss smells like: A smell can bring the feeling of heartbreak or losing someone so vividly into the present. My first one would be the smell of my grandmother’s apricot madeleines. She used to cook these amazing honey cookies with apricot jam, and if I smell them, I immediately think of her, and I feel the loss, but I also feel the joy of having her in my life. My mum was the smell of Carven Ma Griffe, the fragrance. If I smelled it now, it would be as if she’d just walked into the room. She also used to make this amazing rosemary-lavender body oil. My dad, he wore Christian Dior Eau Sauvage cologne and when I smell that, it reminds me of his silk shirts. He was always painting, so there’s the smell of his oil paints; I used to love that smell as I walked into the house. And the smell of Golden Virginia tobacco, because he used to roll his own cigarettes. If I smell that, I feel like he’s standing next to me. I used to sit there and roll his cigarettes with him as a 5- or 6-year-old child. I’ve never smoked in my life, and I never would, but that smell reminds me of his presence and him not being there anymore.

Friendship smells like: I love grapefruit. I love citrus notes. I love very clean, fresh cologne notes, and I’m my happiest when I’m working with those, so friendship is definitely there. We have these amazing friends — they’re our closest friends — our families have all grown up together, and I think it’s the smell of their house. It’s a beautiful water mill, and it’s in the country, and it sits on the river. As you walk through the door, there’s always a fire burning. It doesn’t matter how hot or how cold it is, you can smell the smoke of the fire, and she always has white Casa Blanca lilies on the dining table, and she’s the most incredible cook. Actually, in lockdown, it’s the thing I have missed so, so, so much. The one thing that I long to walk back into: Sunday lunch with Marco and Betty and the family at Whitewater Mill. That’s the smell of friendship.

Success smells like: Often the most successful things I’ve done are things that don’t sit nice and neatly together; they’re higgledy-piggledy if you know what I mean, and I think success is a bit like that. It’s about hard work and taking different pieces of your life and making them work for you. So, to me, success smells like a meze — a beautiful meal of hundreds of different plates, different tastes, different foods, and different smells. It’s like a banquet of different notes.

The worst smell is: It would be a sticky vanilla, the smell of people’s breath when they’re smoking. I can’t bear that smell, and I can’t bear the smell of wet washing once it has dried and it’s gone stale. Those three together would be the worst smell. They actually make the hairs on my neck stand up. Sticky vanilla makes me cross. I just can’t bear those candles that you burn that smell like toffee and sweet things, you know what I mean? I just want to push it out. It makes me angry [laughs].

My ideal vacation smells like: Citrus, citrus, citrus, citrus. All the happy things and the happy holidays I’ve had have always been about things like pomelos, limes, mandarins, bergamot … anything with a citrus content. I love the smell of geranium as well; that’s very prominent. I think it’s probably the spa bit of the holiday … You know when you walk into a spa, and it’s got that slightly menthol-y kind of geranium smell to it? The smell of lavender; I love the smell of camphor, as well, which is such a strange thing to like … You know the smell of Vicks? Yes, I like clean smells. All of those remind me of holidays with a focus on well-being.

My home smells like: I have a house with three floors, and each floor smells different. The drawing room often has much heavier notes, the dining room, always citrus. It’s all wooden floors — we don’t have any carpets or curtains. It’s all shutters. It’s like a little beach house in the middle of London, and it has the smell of a beach the whole time. I use fragrance like most people use art. They’ll put a piece of art in the room to bring it all together — I’ll use the sense of smell to bring the art alive in our home. I’ll use it like color. On my floor, I’m actually burning a Waterlily Tea Dress candle at the moment, which we did for Zara, and it’s the smell of fresh water lilies and cut grass, and it’s such a fresh, clean smell. Since it’s Christmastime, we’re about to put our tree up tomorrow, and I’ve got all of the Christmas Tree Room Spray that’s going to go all through the house, along with Log Fire candles.

The first thing I smell in the morning: My husband makes the most amazing fresh coffee in the morning and these wonderful fresh juices with mint and fresh berries. I get woken up by the smell; a really nice wake-up call.

The last thing I smell before I go to bed: I always spray the bed with cologne in the evening as the bed is turned down. I hate being hot, so I’ve still got the air conditioner on, believe or not, because I like being icy cold. I climb into bed and you can smell the ice-cold cologne in the sheets. That and toothpaste — the smell of mint from brushing your teeth before you go to sleep.

A scent or smell I love that others usually don’t: I love the smell of animals. I’m an animal lover. I love to smell my dog. She a 17-year-old Border Terrier, and she smells like dried Digestive biscuits. She’s sitting right by my feet right this moment, and I love the smell of her after we’ve gone for a walk in the morning. I’ll just smell her and think, Oh my god, she’s so gorgeous. I love the smell of elephants. I’m involved in a conservation project in South Africa called Thula Thula, and the elephants smell of Tamboti wood. It’s this amazing wood you can burn, but you have to be a bit careful, because it’s slightly hallucinogenic. But elephants don’t have a bad smell at all; they smell like a warm, crystallized amber — it’s a bit like the newborn baby smell in a weird sort of way! Their skin is warm and they’re very, very quiet, but as they walk past you, there’s this amazing, majestic smell of amber and Tamboti wood. I also love the smell of horses when you’re riding them out in the fresh air; the smell of their mane, the smell of the smoke and the wild sage in the air in the mountains in Montana. Some people may think animals stink, but not to me; they smell like little pieces of heaven.

I smell like: Something different every day. My body is like a little laboratory. I’ll test on average between ten and 20 different accords all over my body, and when I run out, I go and shower, clean my skin, and start again. So I’m like kaleidoscope with hundreds of notes playing with each other the whole time, but I think it depicts my character. I’m a real free spirit, and I love to live the next adventure, and I’m always looking for notes that voice that. I also love to love and love to be loved, and love is very much connected with orange blossom for me. Whenever I smell it, it conveys passion; that all-encompassing love that motivates you to get up and walk toward somebody and wrap your arms around them or tell them you love them, so there’s always orange blossom on my body somewhere. I’m always searching for love along the line.

Jo Malone Loves the Smell of Elephants