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When Francesco Clark was paralysed after a tragic swimming pool accident, he never imagined he would go on to found one of the world’s leading botanical skin care brands. In 2002, Clark was working in his dream job at Harper’s Bazaar US as an assistant in the fashion department. “I was a 24-year-old assisting on shoots with Gisele Bundchen and Marc Jacobs and shooting couture with John Galliano,” he says, on a recent morning in New York. “I was meeting all these visionary people and I had just received a promotion.”
To celebrate, he drove from Manhattan to the Hamptons, where he had rented a summer house for the weekend with friends. It was a perfect spring day, so when he arrived he headed straight to the pool. “I dove into what I thought was the deep end but it was actually the shallow end,” he says. “My chin hit the bottom of the pool with such force that it shattered two vertebrae in my spine. I was paralysed and under the water and then someone walked into the house. I said ‘Call 911, you just saved my life’.”
Rushed to the hospital, he was told by doctors he had a spinal cord injury and would never walk again. “It felt like the worst scene from the scariest movie you’ve ever seen,” says Clark. “It was the worst thing you can imagine multiplied by 10, because it was like ‘Now I have to tell my family and explain how I will endure this. I have to figure out a way to make this work.’”
As he learned to accept his injury and maintain a positive outlook, Clark noticed that the accident had also taken a toll on his face. His skin had stopped sweating and releasing toxins due to his paralysis, resulting in rosacea, congestion, fine lines and increased sensitivity. “Not only could I not move or feel 98 percent of my body, but my skin had lost the ability to communicate with my brain,” he says. “I tried everything from prescriptions to $3 face creams to $300 face creams, but nothing worked on the wrinkles, sensitivity and redness.”
In desperation, he turned to his father, Dr. Harold Clark, a physician trained in Western medicine and homeopathy, to help him formulate a solution to rectify his skin. Over four years, the pair painstakingly trialled various blends of essential oils and extracts in their home kitchen. Finally, after 78 different formulas, they cracked the code and cured Clark’s skin with one based on jasmine absolute, the rare oil that naturally balances the complexion.
“My fine lines and wrinkles receded, the redness subsided and the bumps in my skin went away,” says Clark. “I went back to looking the age I actually was, but my skin also looked fresher and had a bounce to it.”
Today, jasmine absolute is at the heart of Clark’s Botanicals, a collection of 13 herbaceous blends that employ the healing properties of the essential oil derived from nocturnally-blooming flowers. Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immuno-stimulating, the range includes serums, masks, moisturisers, cleansers and lip balms. It works to calm and heal a broad spectrum of skin types, from young to mature, oily to dry, and normal to sensitive.
“It’s efficacious for every skin type because it naturally balances the skin and brings forward its inner glow,” says Clark. “It’s great for ageing skin because it contains collagen, it’s great for acne because it’s anti-bacterial and it’s soothing, so it’s good for rosacea.”
The first blend of Clark’s Botanicals went from a prototype to being put into production after Clark’s sister pulled a sample out of her handbag during a catch-up with Clark and his former boss, US Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey. “My sister said ‘He’s making this with my father in our kitchen,’ and Glenda looked at my skin and said ‘If he’s using it, I have to use it too.’”
Three weeks later, he received a call from Bailey’s assistant requesting samples to feature in the magazine’s September issue, prompting Clark to nail down a name, manufacturer, packaging and distribution for his fledgling cream. Madonna emailed shortly afterwards requesting products, stores expressed interest in carrying the line, and, in 2005, the brand began selling on a dedicated website.
As the business has flourished, most recently in Australia where Clark’s Botanicals is now available exclusively on Mecca.com.au, so has its founder’s profile and philanthropic endeavours. Clark serves as a National Ambassador for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which works towards curing spinal cord injury, and donates a percentage of profits from the brand sales to the organisation.
“This is an idea that literally started from my hospital bed in my home and everything about it has a meaning,” Clark says, looking back on his remarkable trajectory. “What began as a physical cure became an emotional and psychological recovery for me as I moved from my former life in fashion to a new life in beauty.”
Story by Georgina SafeJuly 2018
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