Michelle Obama’s Most Iconic Beauty Moments, According to Her Makeup Artist
Last October, when First Lady Michelle Obama showed up to her final state dinner in a (now legendary) rose gold chain mail Atelier Versace number, it was the mic drop heard around the world. Yes, the dress was next-level glam, but as all beauty devotees instantly noted, her makeup slayed. Those smoky lids! That glowy skin!
The overall awesomeness was created by Carl Ray, her longtime behind-the-scenes makeup artist. As Mrs. Obama’s historic run as First Lady draws to a close, we sat down with Ray to get intel on everything from her go-to makeup product to the trickiest look they’d ever pulled off together (hint: It involved a shaky plane landing).
GLAMOUR: With the First Lady, you’ve created some of the last decade’s most celebrated looks. Was makeup always your calling?
CARL RAY: When I was 14, my parents got divorced. I used to watch my mom do her makeup when she was getting back on the dating scene, and I remember thinking, I could do a better job for her. I was already an artist, and that’s when I realized I had a talent that could help people. It was a good feeling.
GLAMOUR: You’ve been everywhere with Mrs. Obama. And the whole world is watching. How do you keep reinventing her look?
CR: I consider context first—the dress, audience, setting, climate, time of day; what’s the culture of the country we’re visiting? I love taking beauty cues from the women around the world. During a trip to Cuba, I was inspired by the bright pop art colors, so I gave her a vivid coral lip. When she travels to India or Morocco, where women wear dark-rimmed eyes, I experiment with deeper eyeshadows. Mrs. Obama is a great collaborator. We clicked immediately, from the first time we worked together, at the 2009 Easter Egg Roll at the White House.
GLAMOUR: Does she feel a responsibility to look a certain way, as a role model for young girls?
CR: She’s always conscious of setting an example. For Mrs. Obama it’s about being polished in an authentic way. She always looks like herself. To exude the confidence she shows the world, she has to feel great in her own skin.
GLAMOUR: And what look do you think makes her feel that way?
CR: A beautiful nude lip gloss. Peach, pink, nude-nude—she’s tried them all.
GLAMOUR: Have you ever secretly wanted a makeup do-over?
CR: I’m always happy with the looks we come up with. But once, I was scared that I wouldn’t have her ready in time. We were on a flight to her 2016 DNC speech, but there was a bad storm, so we kept circling Philadelphia. The clock was ticking, and I kept trying to touch up her makeup so she’d be ready the instant we landed. But the turbulence made it impossible! Mrs. Obama was holding my hand steady, like, “Let me help you out,” so I could apply lip liner. We couldn’t stop laughing. I’m just relieved I didn’t get anything on her dress.
GLAMOUR: Looking back, what are the most memorable moments?
CR: I’ll never forget the 2016 state dinner when the Obamas welcomed the former Italian prime minister and his wife. That glimmery Atelier Versace gown was a statement, so I came up with an eye look that was equally high drama and fun. I blended a shimmery shadow over a dark smoky eye. It looked incredible. Also, the 2012 Inauguration. I was touched to see Mrs. Obama looking so radiant, dancing with the president. We went to, like, 10 different balls and events that night. It was such an honor to be there with her, to be a part of history.
GLAMOUR: So what’s next?
CR: I’ll still work with Mrs. Obama as we’ll both still be in D.C. But I’m also going to have time for other bookings…so look me up!