Cosmetics maven Cristina Carlino had an epiphany five years ago on Christmas Day. She was in a serious relationship, but it turned out her partner was not, so she was alone on a holiday hike in the Arizona desert. Devastated by her parents' divorce and seemingly alienated from her siblings, Carlino felt completely alone.
In a split second, she looked up and saw a rainbow. "Something in me completely shifted, as if I had a healing."
That was the beginning of her new philosophy of life--and a new line of cosmetics called Philosophy.
The 38-year-old Carlino, who in 1990 developed the BioMedic line sold in plastic surgeons' offices, is in a new phase of her life--one that emphasizes inner, not outer, beauty. She refuses to join a gym or to diet. "I am unwilling, at least at this time in my life, to worry about my appearance that much."
The 3-year-old Philosophy line reflects that belief. A moisturizer is called "hope in a jar"; a sun block is "complete me"; an enzyme scrub is "deeply superficial"; a wrinkle cream is "help me."
The line sells at Barneys New York, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and other upscale stores, but Carlino also likes to sell on QVC from time to time because the cable network puts her in touch with women like herself who feel alienated from mainstream beauty culture.
For each product, Carlino has written an essay about inner beauty. "Help me" is followed by "help me help myself, so that I may help others."
Part of her philosophy is that we are all children defined by color--colors of the rainbow, not skin pigmentation.
Red, for example, is about security and balance, yellow symbolizes power (Michael Jordan and both Clintons are archetypal "yellows"), and green signifies love. Carlino is admittedly an "orange." Orange people are all about self-care.
Carlino's latest Philosophy product is "highly pigmented bubble baths" so that people can meditate on the various "issues" in their lives, as represented by the various colors in her line.
Carlino's book on color, "The Rainbow Connection" (Doubleday 1999), presents, she says, a highly simplistic view of life; it's just her way of dealing with a complicated world. Carlino has had to deal with more than her fair share of issues in life, saying, "I've walked through this world as a beast."
At 4, Carlino had to get eyeglasses. Later she wore orthodontia for four years. At 11, she got severe acne. And by 15 she weighed more than 200 pounds.
Today, there is no sign of "the beast" in the 38-year-old. Still, she sees herself as an outsider more comfortable at her home in Phoenix than in the lunchroom at Barneys in Beverly Hills, where she sat for an interview.
What saved her, she says, was beauty school and, later, working for the very supportive Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. John Williams, tending to his young acne patients.
But Williams' older women clients, many of them former starlets, taught Carlino life's deepest lesson about beauty. "They were my crones," she says. And that lesson, reflected in the company's logo of an ancient grandmother holding a baby, is that people continuously change physically, intellectually and spiritually--and that it's necessary to embrace ourselves through every change.
Barbara Thomas can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.