It’s the skincare powerhouse that counts Michelle Obama, Madonna and Julianne Moore as fans, but how much do you know about Clark’s Botanicals? The cult line, beloved of the fashion pack, came to the world’s attention back in 2009 when Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey tried an early sample and in a fairytale moment, was so impressed she insisted on shooting it for the September issue. The brand’s origin however, actually came from a tragic experience.
A Life-Changing Moment
In 2002 when Francesco Clark was just 24 and on holiday in The Hamptons, he dived into the shallow end of a swimming pool during a midnight swim. “The moment my chin hit the bottom of the pool, I understood what had happened” explains Francesco. “I had shattered two vertebrae in my spine. I was rushed to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed me with a spinal-cord injury and told me I would be paralysed from the neck down for the rest of my life. I would never move from my bed and I would never be able to breathe without assistance. It felt like a life sentence”
A Spark of Light
Clark suffered deeply, yet somewhere inside he says he knew he was going to be ok. The catalyst for change was the passing of his hero, Christopher Reeve – the original superman and spinal injury activist, whose inspirational life gave Clark pause. At that moment he saw possibilities in front of him, and it was then that he chose to become an advocate for others like himself. “For a long time I did not want to leave the hospital; I was afraid that people would only see my wheelchair. When that changed and I finally looked at the mirror, I was shocked – I didn’t look like myself.” One of the shocking side-effects of his injury was that he could no longer sweat, even in 40 degree heat, meaning his skin could not release toxins. “My skin looked so unhealthy. It was grey, dry and oily with rosacea and acne. I was ready to go out into the world, but I really wanted to feel confident, so I tried every cream, every prescription offered to me. I tried everything from $1 creams to $500 lotions but nothing worked.”
Eventually Clark turned to his father, a doctor and homeopath. “I said to my father ‘Dad, you have to help me.’ We started experimenting with different essential oils and after 4 years investigating 78 botanical ingredients, discovered the amazing benefits of jasmine absolute.” The nocturnally blooming flower has healing and anti-inflammatory properties, and miraculously seemed to worked when nothing else had, to calm and restore Clark’s skin.
“Friends started telling me my skin looked better and asked for samples, then my dad’s patients started using the products and former colleagues began asking for them. People who used Clark’s Botanicals saw that they worked and really changed their skin. The brand grew on its own, completely by word of mouth.”
“Clark’s Botanicals is an organic part of me and my recovery,” says Francesco, who, as well as running Clark’s Botanicals also serves as a National Ambassador for the Christopher Reeve Foundation. “I had to take power over my life, which is a lot of what beauty is. It’s about projecting how you want to feel. I’m still in a wheelchair. I accept my injury, but I’m working at getting better and finding a cure.”
What To Try
The results-driven skincare collection has a real cult following both in the US where Francesco is based, and here in the UK, where those in-the-know cannot live without the Smoothing Marine Cream. The daily moisturiser counts itself among Space NK’s most well-loved products, thanks to the jasmine absolute complex, combined with gently exfoliating glycolic acid which works to fight fine lines and improve the skin’s own collagen production.
The Deep Moisture Mask has such a dedicated following that, as Francesco recounts, “When it went temporarily out of stock, we had a spate of angry phone calls from desperate customers!” It turns out, he explains “that as well as applying it as a nutritive treatment, people use it every day as a calming, plumping moisturiser.” He continues “typically we have people coming to us who have tried a lot of more expensive ranges but who care about formulation. We really listen to our customers; they know about skincare, they command respect.” For those with sensitised skin, Clark’s Botanicals is the Holy Grail, even its retinol products are gentle enough for reactive skin. Retinol Rescue Overnight Cream contains colloidal oatmeal to calm adverse reactions yet works to deliver brighter, more evenly toned skin.
So what next for Clark’s Botanicals? “I’m focused on new product development” says Francesco, “but I will always stay true to our results-orientated, clean and effective ethos. I’m never going to advocate an unecessary 14-step routine; 5 steps is the maximum for most people with busy lives.” And with that, he’s off to play with product, innovate and enjoy another full and inspiring day.