Meet Carl Ray, Michelle Obama's Go-to Makeup Artist

Washington-based makeup artist Carl Ray shares his secrets


Michelle Obama, wearing Gucci, on The Ellen Show. Picture / @theellenshow

Behind every Instagrammed gush about first lady Michelle Obama's fashion-forward looks, there's a glam squad. Washington-based makeup artist Carl Ray is on the team. He's the guy who wields the glosses and highlighters that make the 'grammers swoon test.

Of course, there's plenty he can't tell us about his VIP clients, who range from seasoned pols to dewy brides (hey, even if you don't have a Secret Service detail, you expect discretion from someone who's seen your 6 a.m.-no-undereye-concealer face). But we caught up with the peripatetic makeup guru on his way to the gym for coffee and a little bit of dish.

How did you get your start in the biz?
I used to do my mother's makeup. When I was 14, my parents were going through a divorce and I'm an only child. I'd watch her doing her makeup, and I asked if I could help her because I thought I could do a nicer job for her. I became a resident makeup artist at local beauty store EFX, which is now Bluemercury, and from there I became the resident makeup artist at the Four Seasons for 16 years. This was before there really were makeup artists in this city. Now there are a ton. But back then, it was more of a New York-L.A. thing.

So you probably worked with a lot of traditional Washington types there.
Yes, lots of that. But I had the opportunity to work with some very interesting people who came through the doors of the Four Seasons - authors, politicos, actors, you name it.

READ: What Next for Michelle Obama?

Getting in someone's face can be a pretty intimate thing. How do you get people to trust you?
I just go in and be me.

Do people tell you stuff? I mean, you know what they look like without makeup! Are you part therapist?
It's a lot like being a hairdresser - people talk. But no, I try to be really professional. I want to build relationships and have someone as a client.

And how did you get the gig with the first lady?
I received an email asking if I wanted to audition for the role. I went in and did my thing, and it worked out. It's been a complete honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She's very special.

How willing has the first lady been to break out of the traditional Washington look? You certainly see that in her fashion choices.
She's just super authentic to herself. Her look is positive and very polished.

What about your other Washington clients - are they more willing these days to experiment with their looks or try trends?
My clients are doing more reaching out; they're watching makeup tutorials online. Makeup seems to be very relevant in our society, and there's a comfort with that more than there used to be. It's a way to express yourself, and it's a way to present yourself. It's a feel-good thing - if you look good, you feel good.

READ: Hillary Clinton's Style Evolution

Do you do men's makeup, and is that the next frontier for Washington: men in makeup?
I'll do men for TV, or a groom if he's cut himself shaving or something. But more than that, I don't know! I often wonder that! Some eyeliner would be so cool. You never know.

What's a day in your life like?
I like to get up and go to the gym or Soulcycle; sometimes I do both in one day. Go to the White House, go to the salon. And that's it. A lot of moving and grooving. It's a physical job. I'm cleaning, and prepping, and breaking down and building up.

So you're pretty fit.
I watch what I eat and get lots of rest and drink a lot of water. I have to take care of myself in order to take care of others. I'm doing exactly what I always wanted to do. It's like my dreams came true. Making women feel beautiful ... it's just the best.

What's next for you?
Well, I'm doing Anna Wintour's makeup tomorrow!

OK, one last Michelle Obama question. What have been your favorite looks of hers over the years?
I like them all - she's been dynamite all the way across the board. But I really liked the Italy state dinner. I thought she looked gorgeous. And at her DNC speech I thought she represented women to the highest.

Do you get questions from other women, like "What lipstick is she wearing?"
Yes, but I'll never tell.

- The Washington Post

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