Her makeup artist, Derrick Rutledge, is waiting, too. He just flew in to do her after working on Michelle Obama in the East Wing. After New Orleans, he’s scheduled to fly out to do Oprah Winfrey before returning home to Washington.
But first Rutledge has to persuade Khan to open the door. Finally, after 15 minutes, she does, and Rutledge distracts her by talking about two of her favorite subjects: tennis and shopping.
Within 30 minutes, Khan emerges, reddish mane flowing, lips sensuous in burgundy, looking glorious in a lace dress and carrying a hand fan.
“It wasn’t a good day,” Khan later admits. “I was nervous about speaking, but he calms me. He knows what to say to me.”
Rutledge has worked for Khan for 15 years. He knows what his client and close friend needs: a hug and some orange juice. “I’m more than just makeup,” he says. “I’m there for support as well.”
Rutledge is the man behind the look of some of the world’s most famous names. A leading makeup artist, he gets as much as $15,000 for a day’s work and boasts a coveted client list, including two of the nation’s most photographed faces, Michelle Obama and Oprah, as well as singers such as Patti LaBelle, Shirley Caesar and CeCe Winans. Just last month, his work was on the covers of Essence and AARP, which featured Obama, and O, which featured, obviously, Oprah.
A makeup artist does intimate work. More intimate than a hairdresser or personal assistant. Like an artist caressing a canvas, Rutledge touches and transforms faces, erasing flaws and reshaping contours. He brings out beauty, confidence, the sheen of stardom.
At a little after 9 p.m., with the audience roaring, Chaka Khan takes the Superdome stage. She’s a vision of wild beauty. Her boundless alto soars across the adoring, raving fans.
From backstage, Rutledge watches her on a monitor. “Yessss. Work, Chaka,” he cheers.
Had life dealt him a different set of cards, he’d be up there maybe, or on some stage, delivering arias as an opera star. They said he had the voice, he just didn’t have the beauty. He has battled obesity all his life — at his heaviest, his 5-foot-7-inch frame carried 565 pounds, with a 72-inch waist. At 50, he sometimes walks with a cane, or two, the result of mangled bones and cartilage from a lifetime of excessive pounds. That weight has defined his destiny.
Rutledge escapes pain by creating beauty. Life in his makeup chair is flawless. There’s no ugly here. No teasing.
* * *
In a fashion studio tucked away in a meatpacking district of Chelsea in New York, Rutledge is working on Winfrey as the media mogul prepares to shoot covers for her O magazine. Winfrey has used Rutledge since she saw the first lady on the June 1, 2009, cover of Time. “I said to myself, ‘Who did that?’ ” Winfrey recalls.