Even Michelle Obama Turns to Rihanna for Life’s Biggest Events

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Yesterday ushered in a new era of more humane, decent, and glam politics. Lady Gaga served us Hunger Games District One chic; Emma, daughter of very first second gentlemen of the United States, Doug Emhoff, made all of Brooklyn feel seen in crafty Miu Miu; and the White House coat game is now unparalleled between First Lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. But one woman, nay icon, nay legend, won the inauguration: Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama.

From the head-to-toe plum and burgundy ensemble by LA-based Sergio Hudson to the bounciest curls in all the land, this was MO’s event (and—oh, yeah—also the swearing-in of President Joe Biden). Her secret? The millennial women triumvirate of Pat McGrath, Glossier, and Fenty freaking Beauty. To see how the beauty look came to be and find out how to potentially recreate it at home, we chatted with the man behind the vision, the former First Lady’s longtime makeup artist, Carl Ray. (You may recognize his work on a certain ELLE cover.) Below, Ray breaks down the steps for achieving your very own MO glam (perhaps for a Zoom meeting), plus the process of creating such an iconic beauty moment.

I started thinking about the look weeks in advance. I knew she would be wearing a mask and a monochromatic outfit. I wanted her to have a powerful beauty look that would need to be achieved by playing up the top half of her face.

Yes, absolutely. I knew that since her whole face wouldn’t be visible, the eyes and lashes would be the star of this particular look!

You know, I haven’t really thought about a name for the look, but it was definitely smokin’!

The entire glam team has been working together for some time. We each have our own creative elements that we bring to the look and all complement each other. We really allow each of our creative outlets to shine to make the former First Lady look and feel her very best.

I don’t generally time how long it takes but allow myself 30 to 1 hour. I can work quickly with her given how long we have worked together.

We always have fun in the chair! No music this time – we just laughed and caught up on life. I’m very lucky to be able to call the former First Lady both a mentor and friend.

It’s such an honor. I am humbled to be able to work with such a strong, confident, and iconic woman that is a role model to so many women everywhere. I knew that this was a monumental day for our country but particularly for women. Her entire look really was powerful and I am so glad that people loved it.

I knew this particular event was going to be televised not just in the US but across the world, and given his historical occasion particularly for women, her makeup glam needed to stand out for TV, but I still wanted a gentle elegance. I went with a classic smokey eye that I felt was just the right amount of glam for a daytime appearance. Again, inaugurations aren’t your everyday daytime event, so we were able to dial it up a little more than a normal daytime look while still keeping it timeless and classy.

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