Robin Manoogian recalls the decade she spent working with the queen of soul

By Colleen Kratofil Ellen Piligian
August 17, 2018 03:20 PM

As friends, family and the music community mourn the loss of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who died on Thursday at the age of 76 from advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, her longtime fashion and beauty collaborators are also remembering the legendary star they knew and loved.

Much like her larger-than-life voice and stage presence, Franklin was similarly drawn to bold style and beauty looks, says her longtime makeup artist Robin Manoogian, who opened up to PEOPLE.

Manoogian worked with Franklin for a decade, from 1994-2004, after meeting by chance at an event. Manoogian, who owns her own salon, worked for the local ABC affiliate WXYZ TV in Detroit and was on-hand to do makeup at a 1994 Detroit auto show charity event where Franklin was performing. Before the makeup pro even finished doing Franklin’s makeup, the singer asked Manoogian if she was free to do her look for the upcoming Grammy Awards (where she picked up her lifetime achievement award).

Aretha Franklin with longtime makeup artist Robin Manoogian
Courtesy Robin Manoogian

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What resulted was a 10-year working relationship, where Manoogian was by her side for every major gig Franklin performed, including events at the White House, Saturday Night Live and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

“She was quirky. She would dance to her own tune,” Manoogian tells PEOPLE about Franklin’s sense of style. “When she performed at the Grammy in the ’90s, it was the grunge movement, all neutrals, matte, brown, taupe makeup,” but Franklin took her look in another direction. “I took about 10 cabs to every costume store in the city because she wanted glitter. On her face, on her lips… She wanted color and glitter,” Manoogian remembers.

Courtesy Robin Manoogian

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She recalls another time when Franklin performed at the Music Hall in Detroit on Valentine’s Day and instead of wearing traditional pink and red colors, she chose yellow and turquoise. “It amazed me that she just wanted to do what she wanted to do,” Manoogian says. “Whatever was the trend she’d always fly the opposite. That’s how she rolled.”

Courtesy Robin Manoogian

And just as Manoogian was always by Franklin’s side, the music icon treated her makeup artist with the utmost respect.

“I was treated so special,” she recalls. “She’d always put me on the same floor as her in five-star hotels so I was nearby, and after every performance she’d invite me to the afterparty or dinner. She was always very gracious.”

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While traveling with Franklin, Manoogian was able to meet many of Franklin’s famous friends (including Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones and Bill and Hillary Clinton) and no matter how famous or powerful, Manoogian says she could “sense the level of respect they had for her.”

Courtesy Robin Manoogian

“I remember that Bill Clinton was a big fan and they would all just fawn over her and praise her,” she recalls. “As the English bow down to the Queen, everyone in the music business virtually stopped and took a bow to her. She commanded such respect and you could feel it in the air when other people came into her presence. She usually just sat very quiet and to herself.”

But despite the glitz and glamour, Manoogian says music was always the main priority for Franklin. “She always took an extra day for her rehearsal. She took it very seriously. And the joy of just watching her sit at the piano, she was in her glory. I think when she went to the piano that was her solace,” Manoogian says.

Courtesy Robin Manoogian

To this day, Manoogian is thankful for everything Franklin gave her. “It exceeded my own career dreams,” she says. “I don’t know how I was lucky enough.”

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