Imagine the kind of confidence it requires to sing, “I’m every woman, it’s all in me” and mean it. On a winter evening in Los Angeles, Chaka Khan is the embodiment of that feminine power. Upon her arrival at the Chateau Marmont, she apologizes for her cold, though over the course of the night, her lightning-quick wit and undeniable star quality—best exemplified by the dramatic deployment of a handheld fan between dustings of vibrant crimson blush along her cheekbones, chin, and collarbone on set for Vogue—belie any trace of feeling under the weather. There’s also her magnetic ability to dole out valuable advice ranging from homeopathic health rituals (water for antiaging, turmeric for inflammation) and the best eyedrops money can buy (a strangely minty formula she picks up in Japan) to horoscope-driven relationship tips (a Capricorn with a Capricorn? Honey, look out). This soon earns her the nickname “Chakapedia” from the small crew.
At 64, Khan is her own most trusted makeup artist. “Mostly I taught myself. I have put my makeup on in the back of limousines, on the way to gigs,” says says, adding that long hauls on tour and onstage have proven what works best when it comes to comfort, lighting, and, yes, sweat. The secret lies in a balance of revealing and accentuating different parts of her face and décolletage.
Khan’s freckled nose, for example, remains nearly entirely makeup-free, save for a highlighting swipe of gold powder down the center, while her complexion gets a clever lift from an eyebrow-thickening pencil in a warm brown shade a few ticks lighter than her own hair. Her rosewood eyes are exaggerated with heady applications of a jet-black waterproof eyeliner that refuses to budge.
“Go cuckoo,” she says, “as thick as you’d like.” Then, drawing back from the mirror, the 10-time-Grammy-Award-winning singer—whose forthcoming album, a collection of Joni Mitchell covers, is due out next year—takes in the eye-widening effect. “Sultry, right?” Unquestionably.
When the occasion calls, the Queen of Funk can, of course, dial up her makeup all the way to diva by thickening her eyeliner still further and defining her jawline with a deft application of contour. Sweat-proof powder is pressed into her skin, then brushed off with the clean side of a fresh makeup sponge to eliminate any excess.
As for that iconic lip color? It starts with a deep purple MAC pencil, blended inward to frame the edges of her favorite bold magenta lipstick—an Urban Decay shade called, appropriately, Firebird—for an ombré finish. Liquid gold pigment, traced along the inside of the eyes, ensures she’ll captivate any audience. With a quick shake-out of her famously high-volume curls, Khan is ready for the final percussive finishes of perfume (bam!), fan (bam!), megawatt smile (bam!). Now that she has the attention of the room, she leans in demurely, softening her voice for one last piece of advice: “Always look your best.”
By Mackenzie Wagoner|VOGUE