About Jo Fairley

JO FAIRLEY is co-author (with Sarah Stacey) of the world’s bestselling series of beauty books, The Beauty Bible (most recent title: The Anti-Ageing Beauty Bible. She edits (with Sarah Stacey) the accompanying website, www.beautybible.com. A former magazine editor (Look Now, Honey), she has freelanced for everyone from The Times to YOU Magazine where for nine years she was Beauty Editor. (And has written about everything from Romanian orphans to sumo wrestling, via interviews with Yul Brynner and Bette Davis.) In 1991, Jo also co-founded Green & Black’s with her husband Craig Sams, and – in a continuing spirit of enterprise – opened an 11-room boutique wellbeing centre, The Wellington Centre, in their home town of Hastings. For fun (and reflecting her enduring love of fragrance), Jo – several times winner in The Jasmine Awards (the fragrance industry’s ‘Oscars’) - writes a scent blog, www.thescentcritic.com.

Posts by Jo Fairley

Smile, Please!

three diffrent flavoured toothpastes on a green background with mint leaves

I’m always fascinated to talk to fellow entrepreneurs. I first stumbled across Lebon in Paris, in the new Printemps beauty store – and realised it was one of those ‘duh-why-didn’t-someone-think-of-it-before’ products. Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to talk to the creators of the first toothpaste brand that looks as good as it smells, smells as good as it tastes. (And happens to be organic, with it. Which definitely matters to those of us who care about what we put in our mouths.)

So no wonder this up-and-coming brand – created near perfumery’s capital of Grasse, working with one of that town’s leading fragrance houses – is revolutionising the toothpaste market, stocked in 30 countries around the world and in spiffy department stores including Joyce in Hong Kong and Le Printemps in Paris (and of course, right here on VH), just five years after launch.

Lebon turns out to be the ‘baby’ of former art historian and photographer Stephanie Palacci and her cosmetic scientist husband Richard. In fact, they were on a sojourn in Costa Rica, where the couple spent chunks of time with their two children, when the idea came to her. ‘It’s a country where smells are so powerful,’ Stephanie explained to me. ‘It was rainy season, and there were so many scents in the air – the grass, the forest, the jungle, the flowers, all the smells that you have after a tropical downpour. And it clicked for me: I wanted to have that experience when I brushed my teeth. I wanted to bring the beach, the forest, a sunlit afternoon, the joy of travel right into the bathroom for people.’

Both from entrepreneurial families, the couple had previously thought about creating a skincare brand together. ‘But everything has already been done, and we couldn’t imagine bringing something that was better to the market than was already in existence.’ Oral care, however, offered a gap in the market much, much wider than the one in Lara Stone’s smile. Sure, there was a new generation of luxury whitening toothpastes on the market. Yes, natural food stores now offered effective alternatives to the ultra-foaming mainstream brands who’ve dominated the toothpaste industry for forever. But a toothpaste that also whisked you to a desert island, a Côte d’Azur swimming pool or a beach in Rio, just as perfume can…? That had never been done. ‘When I told him my concept, Richard said: “I could do that.”’

At that time, when not ensconced in the jungles of Costa Rica, the couple were based in the South of France, where Richard worked teaching cosmetic science. Tentatively, they approached one of  most prestigious and historic perfume houses, founded in the 18th Century in nearby Grasse, which works with haute couture fragrance names and other leading international perfume brands. (Their identity remains a guarded secret, Stephanie explains – and I’ll let her off for being coy; when big brands get a whiff of start-ups’ success, there’s often an attempt to copy what they’re doing, which can crush a small brand with limited resources.)

Not surprisingly, the fragrance house became as excited by the project as the couple themselves. More surprisingly, Stephanie didn’t use her library of travel photographs as part of the briefing process. Instead, she explains, ‘we talked a lot about my memories of travel and the scent that places conjure up for me.’ It was a given that every fragrance for the range should have mint somewhere in its flavour/fragrance formula. ‘Above everything else, what you want a toothpaste to deliver is a sensation of freshness in the mouth – and nothing does that like mint,’ Stephanie acknowledges. But the complex aromas were built from there.

Tropical Crush, for instance, gives us mint in the background, playing up notes of luscious pineapple– conjuring up memories for Stephanie of drinking cocktails on Brazilian beaches – alongside anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial rooibos red tea. My own favourite, Sweet Extravagance – described by Lebon as ‘haute couture and sexy’ – offers very detectable notes of orange blossom and rose, with just a whisper of cool mintiness; a very different sensory experience, for sure, to the usual tooth-brushing drudgery. And you can turn the page for the globe-trotting stories behind the rest of the collection.

The other ‘given’, for the couple, was that their toothpaste should be organic. ‘I don’t want to have to compromise between my health – or that of my family – and a good, pleasurable moment, brushing my teeth,’ says this mother of two teenagers. The 97% natural formulas avoid sulfates, PEGs, artificial sweeteners, colourings and flavourings (the flavours, which all come from Grasse, are 100% natural, using the best press of essential oils). More recently, Lebon added whitening options to their range, innovatively using papain extract (from papaya) for its natural brightening enzyme effect. ‘They won’t make your teeth unnaturally super-white,’ she says, ‘but they will stop staining from tea or wine.’ The chosen sweetener, meanwhile, is the natural, calorie-free plant Stevia rebaudiana.

For logistical reasons, meanwhile, although the toothpastes – and now mouthwash – are all manufactured in France, the Palaccis relocated to the countryside outside Brussels. ‘From the office I can see cows and lambs,’ smiles Stephanie. ‘But I’m 20 minutes from the Eurostar or from flights to many different destinations. Brussels is a hub, whereas Provence just isn’t. And besides,’ she adds, ‘with a growing business and a family that was growing up, I needed the support system of being near my family.’

For world-class shoppers and brand aficionados, meanwhile, there are two last factors which make us happy to trade up from our usual toothpaste choices to Lebon – despite the fairly hefty price tag. (Though in my experience, a tube of Lebon lasts three to four months. As a fragrance-lover, I definitely spend way longer brushing my teeth now my toothpaste makes me close my eyes and think of St. Tropez or Costa Rica than I did before. And what price a great smile, eh?)

Lebon toothpastes also look completely fantastic – almost certainly, the first toothpastes on the planet which will have you re-arranging your bathroom shelf, to show off your toothpaste. They couldn’t do a better job of catching the customer’s eye from across a store. But in common with many start-ups, Lebon didn’t realise quite how clever they were being there, either. ‘It’s the icing on the cake,’ Stephanie maintains.‘It just reflected our aesthetic and our taste. People often talk about how cool the packaging is, now – but we haven’t been to business school and we certainly never used a focus group. We simply did what felt and looked right, to us.’

But what customers will also notice about Lebon is that they’ve taken inspiration from the fragrance industry when naming each toothpaste. ‘You don’t buy a perfume that is just called “Rose”, do you?,’ notes Stephanie. So Lebon offer us Cap Ferrat Mood, Back to Pamplelonne, Fearless Freedom… I wanted to recreate the experience I had when I put on my Hermès Un Jardin en Mediterrannée,’ explains Stephanie. ‘The name already gets my brain working in a particular way, I know what to expect… It takes me somewhere, even before I’ve sprayed my fragrance, and I wanted Lebon to offer an experience like that.’

We’re all used to our fragrance transporting us to far-flung places, as we dab and spritz. How exciting for perfume-lovers that the formerly mundane task of brushing our teeth can has been pimped into a magic carpet ride, too. Just don’t blame Stephanie Palacci if there’s a queue for your bathroom, from here on in.

I asked Stephanie to share her other travel inspirations for the Lebon range…

Cap Ferrat Mood ‘This is the freshest one. Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat is a peninsula in the South of France; there are a lot of pine forests where people walk and jog. The mixture of different mints conjures up the freshness of that, but with a touch of vanilla for sweetness. A great kick-start to the day.’

Villa Noacarlina ‘A combination of my children’s names, Charline (now 16) and Noe (13). We were staying in Costa Rica and we had cinnamon candles burning in the villa, so we recreated that in this toothpaste.’

Une Piscine à Antibes ‘Conjuring up the famous pool at the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc hotel in Antibes, looking out over the blue Mediterranean, where we love to swim.’

Sweet Extravagance ‘A reminder of a visit to Hollywood; there’s so much glitter there, and this combination of rose and orange blossom seems very extravagant, yet also has a delicate side.’

Le White ‘With antioxidant sweet mint, from Morocco, to evoke Moroccan tea.’

Fearless Freedom ‘This is more a mood than a place, from one of Richard’s ideas – designed to make you feel strong and courageous, with its powerful blackcurrant note.’

Back to Pamplelonne ‘Pure sunshine. When we visit Le Pamplelonne beach, we always have mango salad: little slivers of mango, layered with mint leaves. For me, this instantly brings back walking along sandy Mediterranean beaches.’

Shop the full range of Lebon toothpastes, here.

Jo Fairley’s Desert Island Beauty Picks

top down view of a vynyl record player with recond ontop and orange label in centre

So this is what happens when you shout at your radio. Half-joking. (Well, completely joking.) As a Desert Island Discs listener from the age of knee-high (my mother never missed an episode), I was standing in my kitchen listening to it on catch-up. (Thank heavens for podcasts.) Now, that week’s castaway happened to be someone I knew – but in truth, they weren’t being that interesting. So I said out loud (and quite loud) to my radio: ‘When are you going to ask me???!’

Which meant that naturally, when just four days later an e-mail landed in my inbox titled: ‘Desert Island Discs’, inviting me to be on the programme, I did wonder whether my Pure Evoke radio had (like Apple’s Alexa) somehow been listening to my every word and communicating directly with Radio Four.

I promptly hyperventilated, repeated ‘OMG’ about 73 times (I was away from home at the time), then rang my husband in tears. Because it is, quite simply, one of the most exciting things ever to have happened to me. An amazing honour. Something that has literally made the huge amount of hard work I’ve put into my various businesses (Green & Black’s, the Beauty Bible website, my bakery and wellbeing centre and The Perfume Society) all worth it. And completely surreal, actually – not least when I discovered after the show aired that it is the most listened-to radio programme in the world.

I had no idea quite how time-consuming the experience would be, however. Ever since then, the emails, Insta-messages and Facebook Messenger missives have been pinging constantly. I’ve reconnected with two (nice) old boyfriends, a couple of other long-lost friends and had no less than five missives from fellow pupils of the school I went to (and dissed in my broadcast), telling me they also had equally scathing put-downs from the same Scripture teacher who told me I’d never amount to anything. (And I quote: ‘Jo Fairley, if you ever make so much as a Girl Friday, I’ll eat my hat.’).

Now in my case, that ignited rocket fuel under my chair to prove her wrong – but some of the others weren’t so resilient and took years to get over the blows to their self-esteem. There was even one e-mail from a (slightly older) pupil who’d been told she would ‘burn in hell’ because a) her parents were divorced and b) she’d been spotted dancing on Ready, Steady, Go!

The recording experience itself – fuelled by squares of Green & Black’s and tea served in a Desert Island Discs mug – was beyond fun. Lauren Laverne is loveliness itself and if you listen, I think you can hear what a hoot the whole recording was. Although afterwards, the fear set in. Because it would, I think, be impossible to ‘fake it’ during the interview – it’s like sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch, with the music triggering heart-felt emotion as only music can. Only unlike that private experience, you suddenly realise your soul-baring is about to be shared with millions of others. I hadn’t realised until after the show aired that I’d basically been holding my breath for several weeks.

It got me thinking, though, about how the ‘desert island’ idea could be applied to other areas of life. Food, for example. (Miso, peanut butter, ACTUAL butter, Green & Black’s Sea Salt chocolate, veggie sausages, my home-made fennel pickle, Marmite and Brillat-Savarin cheese – though that’d pretty soon be making a break for it, in the heat! – would all be in my Desert Island pantry.) And naturally, it got me thinking about my beauty must-haves.

Now technically, I’m only allowed a single ‘luxury item’ on the island – and it turns out, I wasn’t the first guest to say I wanted to take my pillow, as my choice. But I happened to be listening to an old episode in which the ‘inventor’ and debut presenter of DID, Roy Plomley, allowed legendary film star Marlene Dietrich to take a whole box with various luxuries in. (And do listen to the show in the podcast archive – she chose an Adam Faith record, among others!). So, working on that basis, here’s what I’d stash in my desert island ‘vanity case’…

This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray. Even though I’ve a hunch my pillow will help me to drift off in my shell-bedecked, palm-frond shelter, I’d feel slightly insecure if I didn’t have this to hand for insomnia emergencies. (I’m thinking: weird rustlings in the undergrowth.) Just the best sleep-beckoning spray ever.

Coola Face SPF30 Mineral Sunscreen. This summer 2019 skincare must-have (for me) will be coming with me. A light-as-air, effective sunscreen without the chemical SPF ingredients which have so troubled my skin in the past. It’s a great base for make-up (um, not that I’ll be bothering with that.)

High Strength Hyaluronic Acid Capsules by VH. I’m not quite sure what would happen to my skin if I stopped taking HA – and I’ve no intention of finding out. Skin-plumping, joint-easing, eye-soothing… If I was really limited to one supplement for the rest of my life (and I really hope that never happens), it’d probably be this all-rounder.

Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath & Shower Oil. Taking an actual bath might prove problematical but I’m hoping that somewhere on the island there’ll be a waterfall and I can smooth this into my skin and shower before bedtime. I rely very much on its legendary, soothing blend of vetiver, patchouli and sandalwood to calm a whirring mind. (I’d find being alone on the island pretty stressful generally, so I’d better have a vat of this, I think.)

Alida Foot File. Because – as I never tire of telling people – happy feet make a happy woman (in this case, a happy castaway), and nothing buffs them more effectively than this Beauty Bible Award-winner.

Neurophroline Serum by GoW for VH. My new fave skincare treat. With a wonderful slippy texture, definite firming and brightening powers, this will help counter some of the skin stress caused by UV exposure – which is going to be pretty unavoidable.

Thyme Out. To tackle all those mozzie bites, scratches (from foraging for my dinner), nicks and general skin niggles. (And also because I worry that the itchiness Thyme Out has essentially been keeping under control for months might boomerang back if I dared to stop using it.)

Guayusa Leaves. I rely on this for daily get-up-and-go to help me tick things off my ‘To Do’ list and keep me generally going like the Duracell Bunny. And I’m going to need every bit of energy to build the raft which – as someone who is most definitely unsuited to roughing it – I’ll need to get me back to civilisation, a comfy bed, hot and cold running water, fluffy towels. And to my husband – who as several million Desert Island Disc listeners now know, is truly ‘wonderful’…

The Food Of Love

A row of carrots long ways cut in halfand resting on dirt

If ever I write a cookery book – and I guess with 25 books of varying kinds under my belt, it’s not entirely beyond the realms of possibility – then it will be called ‘Dried Onions & Donald Trump’. I realise that this may not be the catchiest title for a cookbook ever, um cooked up, but those are the two key reasons why I have truly embraced the kitchen, relatively late in life. And am experiencing the greatest, most unexpected joy, as a result.

First up, I have an allergy to chopping onions. Not the usual tear or two, but a Niagara of them which completely obscures my vision, sluices my mascara into my socks and puts me at risk of cutting my finger off, at any given moment. And since most savoury dishes have onions somewhere in their foundations, this used to be a real problem when it came to making everything from soups to casseroles via good old gravy. So I just didn’t. I mostly delegated making dinner to my husband, who has the ability to look in the fridge and rustle up a three-course meal when I look in the same fridge and the only thing I can think to make is a restaurant reservation.

But one life-changing (and marriage-changing) day surfing the internet, he found a source for organic dried onions (Just Ingredients, if you’re interested). OK, so they’re not going to cut the Dijon when it comes to recipes that require that lovely caramelly, slithery-finished, sweet type of onions – but a soup, a stock, a risotto, a casserole? Perfectly adequate for adding the right amount of onioniness. (I think I may just have invented a word there.) We buy them a kilo at a time, and I now make dinner more than he does.

Because the other factor in sending me scurrying into my bunker, sorry, kitchen, was Donald Trump. Basically, I decided that it was the only place I felt safe after he moved into the White House, like a sort of Smeg-equipped air raid shelter for the 21st Century. I have barely emerged since. Or at least, if I’m not in the office, I’m probably in the kitchen. No sooner are my eyes open on a Saturday morning than I’m downstairs making a batch of ‘Crackola’ (as the family have dubbed my can’t-stop-eating-it granola – or rather, Samin Nosrat’s granola recipe, from the excellent Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.) Out comes the state-of-the-art Titanium Kenwood mixer, a generous gift from a beloved friend (and right up there in my Best-Ever Pressies Hall of Fame). Into the oven go two trays of Crackola. 45 minutes later, we’re burning our fingers picking out caramelised pecans from those foil-lined trays, and everyone’s happy.

Each week, actually I have to make more and more, by popular request from family and friends. Ditto: fennel pickles. Ditto the newest addition to my repertoire, home-made ricotta – a culinary conjuring trick worthy of certification by The Magic Circle, yet so, so, soooooo easy. So easy that I’m actually going to share it with you here. Take two litres of whole milk and a bit of salt. Heat to 85 degrees (using a jam thermometer to measure – and don’t let the milk get hotter). Add 50 ml of white wine vinegar, stir for one minute, and hey, presto! ACTUAL CURDS. Three hours later, strain the lot into a colander (I just use a linen drying-up cloth), squeeze out the last of the whey, add more salt to taste as you fluff it up with a fork. That’s it. And I cannot tell you how blown away everyone will be.

The ultimate joy of cooking for me, though, is making food to make other people feel better. Bone broth for the poorly. Tempting, easy to digest dishes for the shell-shocked bereaved that they can pop in the oven and feed everyone with no more effort than turning a knob. Ditto food for people who’ve just moved house and can’t even find the kettle. (It happens.) And in the case of a young woman in my life who’s as close to a daughter as I’m ever going to get, who had a baby late last year and whose husband travels a lot for work, ‘A Year of Pie’. Comfort food is her favourite type of food. And is any hot dish more comforting than a potato- or pastry-topped pie…?

So that was Lily’s Christmas present – I designed an actual scroll on my computer and tied it with a ribbon – and I’m proud to say I’ve barely missed a week. And that way she knows, and I know, that there’ll be at least one good, hot, nutritious, organic, (and gluten and dairy-free) meal, made from scratch with fresh ingredients each week. And I honestly get the kind of pleasure from making that pie for her family each Saturday that once upon a time, long, long ago, I used to get from a Saturday morning of clothes-shopping in the boutiques of Brompton Cross.

I bought a great cookbook recently, with the rather wonderful name Extra Helping. (The title’s a play on words.) Its author, Janet Reich Eslbach – who I instantly deemed a kindred spirit – believes that through food, we can rebuild community. As she observes: ‘Growing and welcoming babies, nursing them through insults, moving house, suffering losses of near and dear ones, and all the other facts of lives… the things we survive have one common thread: if we got through it, we must have eaten something. The only thing that compares to the satisfaction of eating what’s just right for you in a particular moment of need is… the relief of not needing lift a finger to make it appear. How good it feels to be fed!’

Funnily enough, though, I wasn’t so good at feeding myself until very recently, when I stumbled upon another book I’m going to recommend, Signe Johannson’s Solo: The Joy of Cooking for One, which is filled with recipes for one person that are way, way more interesting (but not that much more hassle) than my go-to solo dinner halved-and-herbed tomato, baked potato and lashings of salty butter. It’s definitely pimped meals on nights when I’m home alone, with Signe’s great recipes for (among other dishes) miso ramen, Cuban-inspired rice and beans or courgette and ricotta fritter. (I happen to have a handy source of great ricotta…) Because if you are going to devote any time to cooking (and thereby caring) for others, you’ve really got to fuel yourself, too. ‘To secure another person’s oxygen mask, you must first apply your own,’ observes Janet Reich Elsbach. Well, quite.

The bottom line? If Donald Trump does hang on in the White House in 2020, I’m armed. With my rolling pin, my whisk, my Nutribullet, my Titanium mixer. And an arsenal of dried onions…

How To Save Yourself

Pile of Clothes on the floor

Life, I’ve decided, is too short to spend dithering over what to wear. And so I post the question: how long did it take you to get dressed this morning? Two minutes? Ten minutes? Half an hour…? Over a lifetime, dithering over clothes all scarily adds up, so it seems. A couple of years ago I was almost struck dumb by a survey which totted up that women on average spend almost a year – yes, a whole, precious year of our lives – deciding on our outfits. Read More…

Actions For A Better World

actions-for-a-better-world

Around the time that Donald Trump got elected, an old saying from Barbara Bush – the white-haired, be-pearled wife of George Bush Sr. – started doing the rounds. It couldn’t have come at a better time for those who, like me, felt shell-shocked by what felt like a seismic and entirely unexpected world event. (Even if my very wise American husband not only predicted a Trump win, but put enough money on that outcome to pay for Christmas that year. I still haven’t dared tell my stepchildren that The Donald paid for our turkey and their presents.) Read More…

Owning The Room

Golden three tiered stage with lights and confetti

If you’d told me as a young woman that one day, I would be able to stand in front of an audience of 14,500 women, deliver a keynote speech and love every single minute of the experience, I’d have laughed in your face.

Public speaking? I’d honestly rather have run a 10k – in the opposite direction (away from that podium), at that point. And anyone who knows me, knows how much I hate running… Like most people, I found the idea of standing in front of any kind of audience heart-stoppingly terrifying. I was that creature with palpitations, clammy hands, a lump in my throat, suffering stage fright at having to stand up in front of any kind of audience beyond my nearest and dearest. Read More…