Royal Oak makeup artist recalls her decade with Aretha Franklin

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Back in 1999, beauty expert Robin Manoogian was in the Hamptons doing makeup for a client when she got the call that another client, Aretha Franklin, was going to be opening for the Three Tenors at Tiger Stadium in Detroit and she needed Manoogian's artistry.

Robin Manoogian, left, talks to customer Rose Temple of Farmington Hills at About Face Beauty Spa in Royal Oak. Manoogian was a makeup artist to Aretha Franklin.

The concert was the next day. 

"I took a bike, a ferry boat, a bus, a cab and a plane, and I made it to her home," said Manoogian, who was Franklin's makeup artist from 1994-2004. Manoogian returned to the Hamptons the following day.

That kind of dedication was all part of the job when your canvas was the face of the Queen of Soul. 

"Those things give you such a boost of confidence that you rise to the occasion, face the challenges, and when you're able to pull it off and just kind of release a big 'phew' and on to the next thing," she said. 

Manoogian, who has her own line of cosmetics, has owned her salon, About Face, in Royal Oak for 26 years. . She's worked with on-air personalities at WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), dating back to 1985 when she would get Marilyn Turner and John Kelly ready for the camera. 

Because of her work in local television, Manoogian was hired to do makeup at the Auto Show Charity Preview in 1994 where Franklin was performing. 

Manoogian said she wasn't even halfway finished with Franklin's makeup when the singer asked if she was available to do her face for the Grammys that March. 

"She was receiving a lifetime achievement award," Manoogian said. "And that was just a big thrill, absolutely. That was the beginning of a 10-year career with her. Ultimately, I had a great team to back me up, because I had responsibilities of the live newscasts."

Before the 1994 Grammys, just 10 days after meeting Franklin for the first time at the Charity Preview, Manoogian got a call asking her if she could drop everything and do Franklin's makeup at a secret event in Chicago the following day. It was Oprah's surprise 40th birthday show.

"It was all Oprah's favorite people," she said. "Just being backstage and around all the excitement. I've always loved the pulse of live TV, as a kid I always loved television, and to actually be around it was definitely enough that it motivated me and put a smile on my face throughout."

Through working with Franklin and WXYZ, Manoogian has also brushed the faces of some of the most high-profile people of the 1990s and 2000s, including Bill and Hillary Clinton. She did then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton's makeup for the cover of Newsweek photo shoot. The headline read, "Can He Beat Bush?" Clinton autographed the magazine cover for her, writing "to Robin, thanks for making me look better."

Manoogian said her life has been so fast-paced that she's hardly had an opportunity to sit back and think on it all. 

She accompanied Franklin everywhere, from the White House — "Bill Clinton was a big fan of hers" — to the Kennedy Center Honors to "Saturday Night Live," where she remembers Mike Myers and Dana Carvey running around at rehearsals. 

True to Franklin's style, Manoogian said she always looked in the opposite direction of trends. In the 1990s, when neutral tones and matte makeup was in style, Franklin wanted glitter. Later, at a fundraising event on Valentine's Day, instead of red or pink, she chose to wear yellow and turquoise. 

"You get a sense that she knew who she was, what she was about, what she wanted to do, and you just played along," Manoogian said. "The only way I knew I was doing the right thing is, most often, she would tell me about the next upcoming date."

Twitter: @melodybaetens