As the image expert behind some of the most powerful, recognizable faces in Washington, Carl Ray is no stranger to campaign stops and black-tie events. His work, however, could not be further from the fields of politics and policy.
“I’m an artist, and my passion is makeup,” says Ray, the exclusive makeup artist at George at the Four Seasons Salon. “I just love what I do, which is to make my clients look good, and to make them happy.” The only child of an itinerant military family, Ray discovered his love for the beauty business during his teenage years as he watched his mother apply her makeup in the mirror. One day he asked if he could help her, and the result was a makeover that garnered compliments from friends and inspired Ray’s career trajectory.
Two decades ago, Ray moved to Washington and began work at EFX, the luxury beauty boutique (today the space houses Bluemercury). One of his early clients was a Washingtonian editor who was so impressed with Ray’s work on her wedding makeup that she featured him in a glowing piece inside the magazine. He clipped out the article, walked it over to the Four Seasons salon, and landed a job.
During the past 16 years at George, Ray has steadily built a client list that reads like a who’s who of global influencers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Sir Paul McCartney, philanthropist Melinda Gates, TV personality Paula Abdul, Queen Noor of Jordan, and former President Bill Clinton, to name a few. Then there’s his most prized client, whose office came calling almost three years ago: First Lady Michelle Obama. “She is a joy to work with,” he says. “And she has amazing style.”
Despite the status of the company he keeps, Ray has no airs about him. Congenial and good-humored, he still marvels at his “dream job,” making over the first lady over for various occasions such as black-tie events and official appearances.
While he favors a red-carpet-ready look for everyday wear (nude lipstick and a smoky eye), Ray never uses a heavy hand. “I like women to look natural and healthy,” he says, adding that Washington women are improving their style and, with it, their makeup. “They are getting better,” he says. “And I am here to help.”
When asked what he hears during the appointments of his A-list clients, Ray readily admits he’s often privy to their personal affairs. But don’t ask him for any secrets. “I sometimes hear things from women before their husbands hear it,” Ray says with a chuckle. “But I take it all in and it stays. I’m like a sponge.”