Vince Spinnato shares an excerpt from his heartfelt and entertaining page turner.
Based in Los Angeles, Spinnato grew up in Vineland, New Jersey and in his endearing foray into nonfiction, charts his pursuit of all things glam and glitz.
Today, Vince Spinnato is the go-to expert in beauty product development, with a career spanning over 25 years in the personal care, cosmetic and fine fragrance industries. Spinnato has formulated and developed hundreds of products for skin and hair care, color cosmetics, bath & body and fine fragrances as well as baby products and pet products…and has experienced the glam, the glitz, and the batshit crazy.
At age 10, he watched TV soaps with his grandmother and became enamored with the characters on The Young and the Restless who owned a cosmetics firm. He vowed he would follow in their footsteps one day and even chose a name—VS Vincenzo—a brand one of his companies still bears.
In his memoir, My Pursuit of Beauty: A Cosmetic Chemist Reveals The Glitz, The Glam and The Batsh*t Crazy, Spinnato shares the inner workings of the multi-billion-dollar beauty industry with entertaining tales about creating beauty products for megastars like Michael Jordan, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Gwen Stefani, Damone Roberts, and scores more. He also shares overcoming incessant bullying, body dysmorphia, trichotillomania and multiple betrayals, to becoming a serial entrepreneur and expert in the beauty industry
My Closet Moment
A pivotal moment in any man’s life is the moment he tells everyone he’s gay. Well, okay, so not every man is gay, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about it.
In high school, I had a girlfriend, so it’s not as if I had a clue I was gay at that time. My girlfriend was a great girl named Cara. We dated from freshman to junior year. Yeah, that’s a long damn time, during which I had no effing idea I was gay. I suppose I was about sixteen years old when I first noticed being attracted to guys, but I was still dating Cara and didn’t know what to think of it. Talk about inner conflict!
On top of wrestling with these conflicting feelings, I had the added joy of what my “friends” at the Catholic school had told me growing up. They’d made it perfectly clear that men being attracted to men was wrong. “It’s an abomination against God,” they’d said. Wow, what a trainload of shit to dump on a high school kid. At the time, I hadn’t yet figured out what I truly believed where God was concerned, anyway. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I fig- ured out that my lifestyle simply wasn’t a match to what the Catholic Church was teaching. It’s as simple as that. Today, I believe in God, but I don’t go to a Catholic church, and therefore don’t live under the Catholic tenets.
By the time I was eighteen, things had reached a boiling point. My feelings were becoming a little clearer in my mind. I was attract- ed to guys, and I knew it.
It was on my high school graduation night in 1993 that I finally came out. I got my friends into a circle and just blurted it out. “Guys, I think I’m gay,” I said. I was terrified of what they might think, terrified of what they might say, and terrified of what it might mean for my life.
They all looked at me and said, “Duh. Don’t you know that?” They had known all along. To them, it wasn’t a big deal. Wow, what a relief that was! Hell, they were happy for me.
The only person who struggled with it was Cara. She and I weren’t dating anymore, but we were still close friends. As my for- mer girlfriend, I could tell she was embarrassed by it. I don’t know, maybe she thought it was her fault or something. But, obviously, she had nothing to do with my being gay.
Anyway, my friends were so happy for me, they threw me a party. A “coming-out” party, as it were. That’s how supportive they were. As the summer opened up, I had a good feeling inside. Although being gay wasn’t going to be easy, it was who I was. It was what I was made of, and for the first time, I felt comfortable in my own skin now that I knew and accepted the truth.
It wasn’t to last. Things changed in the fall of that year when I went to college. To say that the people there didn’t support my life- style would be an understatement.
COLLEGE: HORROR ON CAMPUS
How in the hell I ever got into my college in the first place, I’ll never know. It started in my head, really. I was obsessed with one particular college, a prestigious liberal-arts school in the Northeast. Its prestige is probably what attracted me, but maybe the fact that it was historic, founded in 1773, was a draw as well. I loved the history and architecture. It was very upscale, very classy. The buildings were like castles.
What I didn’t know—what I wouldn’t learn until it was too late— was how racist the place was. Keep in mind, this all took place a long while ago, and I pray to God the environment there has changed. However, back then, there was no diversity on campus whatsoever. Out of a couple thousand kids, only three African Americans had been admitted in the prior five-year period. I’m talking about an all-white student body, one WASP after another. As it turned out, racism wasn’t the only issue. They weren’t just antiblack and anti- Semitic; they were antigay as well. Antigay to the extreme.
Before I take you down the road with me, back to a time and place that nearly cost me my life, you need to understand the backstory.
My grades in high school didn’t exactly suck, but they weren’t great, either. Neither were my SAT scores. So, when I applied to this college, they turned me down without so much as a second thought.
I applied again; and again, a rejection letter. Most kids would have gotten the hint, but me? Hell no. Despite being accepted to other colleges, I was determined to go to that school.
This time, I got in my car and drove to the college. It was about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my home in New Jersey, so along the way, I planned exactly what I was going to say. To my surprise, upon arriving, I was actually able to see the dean of the university himself. After giving him my sales pitch from ten different angles, he relented. He looked me in the eye and said, “Vince, you’ve worn me down with your persistence and tenacity. In a decision I hope I won’t regret, I’m going to accept your application.”
I was in!
I thought that would be the last of my direct contact with the dean, but no. On the first day of school, I found a letter from him under my dorm-room door. Dear Vincent, he wrote, I want you to know that you have the lowest SAT scores of anyone ever admitted to this university. But, you’ve achieved the unachievable: an opportunity to attend this prestigious university. You did it on pure persistence, a trait I admire. But, I have my eye on you. I’m counting on you not to disappoint me.
Not exactly the words I expected on a “welcome” letter, but that letter became a mantra for my life. The words were burned into my psyche: never give up. If I could achieve the unachievable once, why not again? And again? Hearing his words in my head, I’ve had the courage to insert myself in places I wanted to be over and over. I’ve been willing to do anything it takes to achieve my goal. I’ve worked for free, learned the beauty business from every angle, and picked the brains of the best in the business, all to reach my goal of having my own cosmetic company.
I got more out of his terse letter than in all my classes my freshman year. As it turned out, the academics were way, way over my head, but I sneaked by and didn’t let it bother me. Everything was all so new and exciting.
By this time at the ripe old age of nineteen, my ambition for working in the beauty industry had become my fixation, along with my desire to become better looking. I knew I wanted to get a degree, but that was just a precursor to getting into the cosmetic industry. In fact, if I could have gotten a job in the beauty industry right then and there, I would probably have skipped college entirely.
One of the main assets of this college, in my opinion, was that the school was only about a three-hour drive from Manhattan. Since I was so determined to make my dream happen, I began making road trips to New York to interview with the best in beauty. I’d go into Revlon, L’Oréal, Redken, Avon, Lauder, Dior, and Chanel—all the best—and hand them my résumé before trying to speed-talk my way in. I wanted a job, but I was a full-time student. Truth be told, I didn’t know how I would even do the job, should they hire me. I had such a passion for the industry, though, and hoped that passion would come through in the interview process. It never did.
Since I wasn’t able to score a beauty-industry job, I settled into academic life. I got really involved on campus, even being elected president of my freshman class. Even so, there was a huge number of jerks that didn’t like me, all because I was gay. Some of the frater- nities held protests because of my sexuality. Yeah, the social environ- ment there was that screwed up. Just a few years before I arrived, a fraternity had actually had members convicted of arson after burn- ing down the Jewish frat house. It was an obvious hate crime.
Around this time, I also learned that the college was being inves- tigated by the NAACP for its lack of black students. Yet, with all the racism, there was one African American professor on faculty. I was lucky enough to take one of her classes. She taught international relations and was absolutely brilliant. More than that, though, her actions that year actually marked a turning point in my life.
I would sit in her class and take notes as she lectured, but I couldn’t keep up. The pace was just too fast for me. So, I made a decision to try a different approach. I’d stop taking notes. Crazy, right? But, after I stopped taking notes, I realized it was working. I could just sit and listen, and by doing so, I was able to retain about 80 percent more of the class lecture than if I tried writing it down.
However, this brought on a new problem. The professor kept looking at me while she lectured. I think she thought I was not tak- ing her class seriously because I wasn’t writing anything down. The tension between us rose. I was retaining more information, but I was still struggling with the class. Her suspicions soon morphed into anger, and it all came to a boiling point one day.
I knew the tension between us was high, so I set up a meeting with her. I wanted to tell her I was really trying, but struggling with the class. The day of the meeting, I went to her office. Instead of her sitting behind an ordinary desk, hers was twenty feet long and six feet deep. No joke. And, do you know what sat on that massive desk? Nothing but a number-two pencil. It was the most intimidat- ing room I had ever been in. I’m talking crazy intimidating.
She motioned for me to sit, then slid a paper across the desk at me and told me to read. I picked up the paper and noticed the pages shaking in my hand. It was a paper I had turned in to her the prior day, and I guess she wanted to see how well—or poorly—I could read. After I stumbled over reading the first sentence aloud, she cut me off. “You’re dyslexic,” she said.
“What?” I replied, dumbfounded. Dyslexic, what are you talking about?
But, she knew before I knew. I was dyslexic! Holy shit! No wonder I had had so much trouble in school. We talked for a while, and she pointed me to a place where I could get help. I have been grateful to her ever since. That being said, it’s not like my grades improved much after that. Yet, knowing what the problem was helped tremendously.
Freshman year was grueling, but I got by. It was in sophomore year, however, that things took a turn for the worse. I nearly didn’t survive, and I’m not talking about academically; I’m talking physically. The “gay thing” had hit a crescendo, and the haters had had enough of me. That fall, as I ran for sophomore class president, it boiled over.
It was October. I had driven to a Halloween party on the other end of campus, parked the car, and was walking toward the dorm room where the party was taking place. It was dark, and I was alone. Out of nowhere, what felt like a small mob came running up on me from behind. Their hatred went unabated as they severely beat me. In the melee, I fell, hit my head, and was knocked unconscious. I came to sometime later to find my clothes torn from my body, every part of me wracked with pain. I was bleeding, and things had been done to me that I don’t like to talk about. I could barely move.
There was no one around in the darkness. I lay there dazed, mostly naked, and in agony. I managed to struggle to my feet and hobble to my car. There, I wrapped a blanket around myself and slowly drove to the hospital. At the emergency room, the doctor ex- amining me said something I’ve never forgotten: “This is what hap- pens in this town if you’re gay.”
“Really?” I should have said to him. “Why don’t you go screw yourself?”
I had to get out of there. I wanted to go home. I stumbled back to my car, drove to Harrisburg International Airport, and bought a plane ticket to Philadelphia. At the airport, I tried to clean myself up, but I still looked like shit. I just had a blanket around me. I mean, I was practically naked boarding the plane. Thankfully, a stewardess took a fancy to me. She helped me clean up and sat with me for the entire flight. The pilot and copilot were amazing, too. They gave me their jackets to keep me warm.
When I got to Philly, I called my parents and told them I got hurt. The terror in their voices came through. When they picked me up, we drove straight to the Hospital of the University of Philadelphia, where I was admitted. I stayed for about ten days.
I never wanted to go back to that campus. My roommate, Doug, was an awesome guy. He boxed up my possessions and took care of mailing them to me. Later, campus security pulled the surveillance footage showing the attack, and you could see there were about four or five attackers. Unfortunately, it was impossible to recognize any- one in the darkness. If this happened today, the FBI would come in and do a hate-crime investigation, but back then, no one gave a shit. Not in that place.
As for the college, I submitted an official report and talked to a few people from the campus’s administration on the phone. However, they didn’t take what had happened very seriously. To them, it was more like a hazing incident or something. I mean, I almost died, but nothing was ever done about it.
I’m still furious, but you know something? Through the years I’ve endured unfair treatment out the wazoo, but I’ve never let it hold me back. Nothing will. I’ve never doubted that I would achieve my goal, and I sure wasn’t going to let hate run my life.
My Pursuit of Beauty by Vince Spinnato (paperback) is available where good books are sold.