Getting Ready with Emma Sapphire

Celebrating Pride this month, a local drag queen gives a behind-the-scenes look at a pre show beauty routine

A Star is Born: “I’ve always loved the name Emma, [it’s] very European,” Arcos says. “Sapphire is my birthstone, and blue happens to be one of my favorite colors.”

When Emmanuel Arcos first tried dressing in drag for Halloween four years ago, the response to his look was so overwhelmingly positive, it inspired the makeup artist and hairstylist to pursue the art even further.

“You grow into your character and you get more comfortable on stage and really become a star,” says Arcos, who now hosts Latin nights at Gigi’s in Detroit, as well as a Toledo, Ohio, venue as the glamorous Emma Sapphire. “I become a different person when I’m on stage, and then as soon as I step out, I go back to being normal.”

The 24-year-old Canton resident has performed dance routines in homemade fashion designs, impersonated celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Jayne Mansfield, and won 10 titles at drag queen pageants both near and far. But, despite his current success, Arcos acknowledges that joining the drag community isn’t always easy.

“When you start doing drag, the first thing that comes to mind [is], ‘Am I going to be accepted?’ Not only are you gay, but now you’re dressing up as a woman. I was very lucky. My family has always been super empowering,” he says. “[I enjoy] getting to know people who may have never heard about [drag queens] or that have the wrong perception about who we are and what we do.”

The year’s Motor City Pride Festival and Parade, held June 9-10, is one of those occasions where Arcos has the chance to introduce drag to a wider audience. But, before the celebration begins, he’ll first have to work through Emma Sapphire’s multi-step beauty routine, which he does multiple times a week.

“Performing and coming back home at three, four in the morning, having to wake up and go to [a day job] — it does really take a toll on you,” Arcos says. “But we love it.”

Rise of the Contour

“I like to start with a clean canvas, so I cleanse my face. Also, because I have a full beard, I color-correct it with a red-orange [lipstick]. That masks the color. We have to wear this face all night, so for products, we’re looking for something that’s durable, even if it’s expensive. We need full, full coverage, especially for our beard [laughs]. A lot of queens use theater makeup, which sometimes looks very heavy. You’re photographed out of nowhere, and you want to look good. Drag queens have always done contour. Now, I feel like normal culture is incorporating heavier makeup [into their looks]. It’s amazing. We have little tricks with makeup that normal people wouldn’t think about doing or wouldn’t do.”

Achieving the Arch

“I wipe my eyebrows [with alcohol] to make sure there’s no moisture in there — let’s say I’m performing and I start sweating, my eyebrows will come off in no time. Then, I cover my eyebrows with glue because they are very thick. [The glue] presses them down, and creates a layer over them, so when I put makeup on you can’t see [my real eyebrows]. Almost all my shows, I do my makeup in the car, because I work [during the day]. My husband, when he can, he’ll take me, and I’ll do my makeup while he drives. I tell him, ‘I should get an award for doing my eyebrows.’ Most of the times, [the venues] will have a dressing room, and mirrors, and vanities. I would love to [get ready there], but I don’t always have the time to do that. A lot of drag queens that have shows often, shave their eyebrows off. I can’t do that [laughs]. I have a day job. I’d forget to put my eyebrows on, and I’d be walking around eyebrow-less.”

Embracing Color

“I like to put a little bit of white [eyeliner] on my waterline, because it opens up my eyes. I used to never put color on my eyes. It would always just be brown and black. Other drag queens [used to] be like, ‘Your face has no color.’ But you take the good and leave the bad out, because sometimes you don’t get the best advice or not everybody has your best interest in mind.

“Now, my favorite part of my look is my eyes, because you get to really do some cool things. Sometimes you’ll do glitter or rhinestones. The face is always going to look similar. The eyes are really what is going to set your look [apart] from what you did last time.”

Finishing Touches

“I get my lips done, so I don’t have to overdraw too much, but I still do. [My lashes are] a little heavy. I actually don’t use lash glue, because it’s not strong enough, so [I use] hair bonding glue, [which is] what people would use to put on extensions. It’s safe for your eyes, just stronger. The [lashes] really finish the look. They feel a little uncomfortable, but you get used to it. We have to be on stage with a bunch of lights, so [lashes] definitely stand out. There’s queens who will wear four or five pairs. I love putting my lashes on, but when I’m done at night, the best feeling is taking them off [laughs]. We spend hours doing our makeup, and it all comes off in like 10 minutes.

“You kind of get to play around, and figure out what you want to do with your hair. I’m a hairstylist, so I have a bit of an advantage. I can do my own wigs and get a good style down, but it’s super expensive. I have a ton of wigs. I don’t wear blonde very often, but when I do, I like a warmer blonde. I’ll style it on my mannequin head, and then I’ll wear it.”


“I’m very old Hollywood. I love the glamour. Huge jewelry, super big hair, my dresses are always embellished — that’s what I focus on. I don’t believe in beauty don’ts. I think that if you believe in your look, it’s good. You are going to find those [drag queens] that are very old-school, and they only believe in one look, and they think that you should look a certain way and perform certain numbers, but drag is just growing out of its proportions. You can’t have those expectations anymore.”