Inspiration Behind Clark's Botanicals
by danine Alati
Francesco Clark, creator of the skincare line Clark’s Botanicals.
In the Hamptons 10 years ago, Francesco Clark accidentally dove into the shallow end of a pool and cracked his chin on the bottom. The incident left the 24-year-old paralyzed. But he remained conscious, and even while submerged in the pool, as his lungs filled with chlorinated water, he knew he was going to survive.
That same fighting spirit prevailed at the hospital when he had a collapsed lung and paralyzed vocal cords and doctors told him that if he lived, he’d likely never speak, breathe on his own, or move his body again. Defying the odds, Clark’s condition miraculously improved through regimented daily physical therapy and participation in experimental treatments and studies.
Now, not only has he survived, but he has triumphed—breathing, speaking, and moving parts of his body. And through a series of serendipitous events, Clark launched a skincare line called Clark’s Botanicals.
Although he didn’t set out to start his own business, it evolved out of necessity. Due to Clark’s paralysis, his skin was unable to release toxins, which caused an awful condition that no products on the market could seem to heal. The former fashion assistant, accustomed to being surrounded by beautiful people, fell into a depression. It took the death of Christopher Reeve to jolt him back to reality.
“I made a subtle shift in my mind,” Clark recalls. “I had been relying on Christopher Reeve and others to find a cure [for spinal cord injury]. I decided I needed to become more of an advocate myself, to be part of the solution instead of wallowing in my own self pity.” That one defining event prompted Clark to take action: He wrote his memoir, Walking Papers: The Accident that Changed My Life, and the Business that Got Me Back on My Feet, became a national ambassador for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and founded Clark’s Botanicals. Working with his father, a medical doctor who was also trained in homeopathy, they concocted a skincare formula that eased his condition.
Clark recalls when his former editor at Harper’s Bazaar first saw him after his accident: “She said I looked better than I ever did before!” And she demanded that he share his secret with her, which prompted her to feature his skincare solution in the magazine. Within three months Clark had sold his line to Henri Bendel, Fred Segal, and C.O. Bigelow. Now, Clark’s Botanicals products are sold at 140 stores in the US and abroad including White’s Pharmacy in East Hampton. Business is booming, as he reveals that his customers are “fiercely loyal,” with a 98 percent retention rate. Clark donates a portion of all proceeds to the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
“Clark’s Botanicals is about rebalancing your skin,” he says. “You project the way that you feel, which is healthy, vibrant, and fresh.” While he says the products are made for anyone who wants great skin, typically Clark’s Botanicals satisfies the 16- to 40-year-old female demographic. “The younger generation will buy our Anti-Puff Eye Cream, and then her mother will try it and buy our Nourishing Youth Serum,” Clark says. “It’s a family affair of testing and buying.” White’s Pharmacy, 81 Main St., East Hampton, 324-0082
photography by Rob Bennett for The New York Times (clark)