Blast from the past. I stumbled upon a vintage interview I did with the fabulous Jay Manuel from back in early 2008. I actually had the honor to speak to Mr Manuel over the phone and he’s incredibly fascinating person with an uplifting energy. So here it is. In this interview Jay talks about how his passion for style began, his first break working for a famous opera singer, his own cosmetics line: Manual Override, and what a day is really like for him at a major award show.
Marta Walsh: When did your fascination with style and beauty begin?
Jay Manuel: When I was quite young, Prince Charles and Lady Diana got married and I was obsessed with the train. Also, in high school when I was on a science track and studying pre-med, I was always fascinated with style. My sister and I laugh about it now, if you look at pictures of me and my room growing up, all my walls had magazine ads. I even had double-page ads from Saks Fifth Avenue. I didn’t even know what Saks meant.
MW: What was the first big break in your career?
JM: I have to go all the way back to when I moved to New York and I was going to New York University. My first voice teacher was in a Martin Scorsese’s film The Age of Innocence with Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day-Lewis. She opens up the movie and she came to New York and they needed an imagery of her. They send her to a very well known photographer who shoots classical artists for The Metropolitan Opera and the Gramophone. She asked me to do her makeup and hair even though I wasn’t a hair dresser. She wanted to look like a star, she was a beautiful woman. And I just did it, and after he (the photographer) approached me and said: “You are very talented at what you do. It is not overdone but it is definitely that Hollywood star look. Would you be interested in working for me?” I was going to school at the time and very naïve but I actually called him back 2 months later, and I told him my schedule and that I would love to work for him. And he called me, and I worked for major famous Opera Singer as my first job. Then my second job with him, which was only a week later, was for Luciano Pavarotti for the cover of Metropolitan Opera Il Trovatore album. From there I just start working with lots of classical celebrities, pop culture celebrities and supermodels. I moved up very quickly at a very young age.
MW: How was the concept for Manual Override Cosmetics born?
JM: It is very simple but as a makeup artist I have so many brands sending me products for years. And just going to the stores you see all these products everywhere. The same message is out there. They usually have an inspirational image of a woman, sending the message: buy all these products and you will look like this. No one was really addressing the individual. From being on America’s Next Top Model, I’ve received so many letters from fans and women talking to me about makeup and the problems they were having, things they liked and didn’t like. And I just felt women they like to keep their makeup bags and their makeup drawers and they don’t want to really want to throw away products when they get new ones. They always add to it. So what I wanted to do is to help create the first real complimentary line of cosmetics that is designed to elevate your style. As a makeup artist I was brought to work with many celebrities and models and there is a certain look, especially when you are a celebrity, that you have to maintain. And people know you for that look. And what I want to do is to elevate their look not change it. So this is how I came up with Manual Override which includes problem fixing products.
We just launched a new product that is completely sold out on e-commerce and QVC. It is revolutionary. It is the first complete silicon based concealer without oil. It covers hyper pigmentation and age spots without rolling into fine lines or looking dry. It is doing very very well.
MW: Which product from your line are you most proud of?
JM: I am proud of all the products because they are all innovative and that was the important thing for me. I love the new concealer because even of you don’t wear makeup everybody needs a really good concealer. Especially women who don’t wear makeup, they don’t want to wear powder they want to matte it down. Most concealers are very chalky and roll into fine lines. Creating and developing this formula took almost a year and maybe even longer and it’s been very successful. The other product that I love is called: Radiant Dimension which is based on a very simple concept drawn from my own technique of doing makeup. Lots of people use face powder or foundation powder or liquid and they create a musk effect on their face. And if you don’t wear a lot of eye makeup or blush you can look like you are wearing a mask. And as a makeup artist what I would do is what I call: burning. Shade around the hair line and cheekbones always with a bronzer. But bronzers tend to go very gold or orangey. So I created a product that is silicon based pressed powder, and a complimentary modified bronzer to eliminate the mask effect. It is called Radiant Dimension because it puts radiance and puts dimension to your face where your skin naturally has.
MW: What is a day like for Jay at a major award show such as the Emmy’s?
JM: It’s not very exciting. You wake up to a very boring morning. I usually get up and run. I love live events because it is unedited and you never know what’s going to happen. I really do enjoy doing that. I like to get up and run and eat breakfast. For some reason running really clears my mind. And we get ready and we usually do our rehearsals for the show the day before, so we know kind of what’s going on. We usually show up and depending on what venues we’re at we have trailer that is set up for Ryan Seacrest, Giulianna Depandi Rancic and I. We just walk out, we cheat chat, we have coffee, we get ready, and we get dressed. It is very low key because once you are on there is so much anticipation. Beforehand is pretty boring. The real excitement is when you are choosing what to wear which I usually do couple weeks ahead of time. I choose my own outfit without any assistance.
MW: Which of your many projects have you enjoyed working on the most?
JM: Sometimes it depends on the day because I like the variety of the work that I do. Once you are doing something for a while it’s nice to change it up. But, I have to say, hosting events and hosting live shows, that is exciting for me. I would like to think to continue more of that for sure.
MW: What was your favorite aspect of working on America’s Top Model and Canada’s Next Top Model?
JM: These shows are different. On the American show I produced and was the creative director. On the Canadian show I co-host and executive produced, and I have to say I enjoyed that. Because I really get to on the Canadian show, which was very successful even on an international level, to design every aspect of the judging room completely myself. On America’s Next Top Model I run the finales, the photo shoots, it is still a lot, but it is nice to create an overall look of a show. Certainly for me it’s really being able to, and this goes back for both shows, to really give back. I think I have been so fortunate to work with amazing visionaries like Richard Avedon and Herb Ritts, people who are no longer with us, that taught me a lot. I think it is really important for young upcoming models to learn the same tricks of the trade, that the all business is about smoke and mirrors, and understand it. People have a certain flair for this business especially young models, but there a lot of things that can be taught. That’s the thing that drives me to do these shows season after season: it is giving back. I know the show edits down things and all you can see is me saying things like:” That’s great” or sometimes I’m saying something funny, but really I spend the most time with the girls, 14 hour day is not unheard of. And I really get to teach them, and that’s the part I like.
MW: You have worked with many celebrities throughout your career. Are there celebrities that still make you nervous?
JM: Not really. What allowed me to work in the industry on this level for so long is that I’ve always looked at entertainers as humans who are simply doing their jobs. We all have the same concerns and insecurities. I look at celebrities as just another person. For me the celebrity part wears off very quickly which allows myself to work. You have to let go of thoughts like: “Oh my god, I am working with Jennifer Lopez”, to allow you to work well. Because as a makeup artist and a creative director, celebrities rely on you with their image. Do your job and that’s what they are relying on! Therefore, that moment goes away. So even when I see someone who is on TV but I never worked with and meet for the first time, I don’t get that same crazy energy. This allows me to speak to them a bit more intelligently. Also, celebrities day and day out have people constantly saying to them: “My goodness, I love what you do”, or “I love that movie or show”, and “you look better in person”. And the funny thing is that I get it almost every day. I can’t even go to a grocery store trying to buy vegetables, and everyone has cell phone cameras now. And the most insulting thing people say to me, and they don’t realize it is insulting. They don’t realize they are being insulting because they are kind of shocked to see you in person. So I say to them: Do I look bad when I do my job? And they say: no, no! ? That’s not what we mean. When people say that to you day in and day out, or when they tap you, or pull your jacket to say hi, it does get annoying. When you want to interview somebody, it is the last thing you want to do.
MW: What other passions do you have besides your work?
JM: The thing that I really love to do is to break away. Going to museums and look at art I love, but it is kind of my job. So I like to hike, backpack 7 hour tracks. This is my way of escaping.
MW: What is your favorite place to shop for clothes?
JM: This is hard: Can I say everywhere? What I love about fashion is truly being creative with it. I like to be able to shop low end and high end and mix it up, and putting it together. Sometime people feel that to be a fashionista you must be wearing Prada or Gucci head to toe. I actually wear a lot of Gucci on the red carpet, but at the same time, it is nice to buy things especially on my travels around the world. I bought this jacket recently in Europe, it costed me 140 Euros, not very expensive, but it looks really high end and fashion forward. Everybody comments on it and loves this jacket. I love to just to have fun. Sometimes I like to buy things and change them. I rarely look at a magazine and say I want that look head to toe. I prefer looking at what the designer is doing on the runway, screen graphs, and adapt from that, as oppose to looking at how the ads are put together.
MW: How would you describe your personal style?
JM: Personally I love suits and amazing tailoring. It comes from my grandfather being a tailor. I have many many suits. But I can’t wear that on America’s Next Top Model. I am a jeans and t-shirt guy on my down days. But really I love an amazingly tailored suite, and that’s why I enjoy the red carpet. I will never just wear a black tux because I think it is just boring. Fashion needs to be fun and not taken so seriously. For instance, for this year’s SAG Awards I wore a Gucci tapestry tuxedo, off white metallic tapestry embroidery in it. I ended up in a lot of best-dressed lists and others thought it was too much. But I really think it was amazing. Gucci got a lot of press out of this so they were really happy.
MW: What is your favorite city?
JM: I’m a New Yorker and I love New York. But if I had to travel to a place where I think it’s magical, and because I am a true artist: true old world artisans would be in Venice. I’ve been to Paris and Rome but Venice has this energy that runs through you, and I love it!
MW: What is your philosophy about beauty?
JM: As cliché as it sounds, I really do believe beauty radiates from the inside. Because I know some very beautiful people who aren’t so beautiful because their energy is not. I know there some people who are not traditionally beautiful but their energy blows you over. That’s why I think people are really attracted to energy. Sometimes you meet someone who isn’t really your type physically but there is an attraction there and it’s all energy based. Anybody can be made to look like whatever that star appeal is. If you have the right styling and it’s not overly done. And if you can wear it with true confidence which can elevate how you feel about yourself, you really do start to sparkle. This is one of the reasons I agreed to do the show: “Style Her Famous”. Because everybody has that celebrity they love. You can’t look like someone else but you can certainly borrow their pieces of their style, or how they live their lives, and whatever attracts you to their style, and adopt it as part of your own style. I really love that concept, because I got into this business to empower women. I still feel strongly about this today.
MW: What is next for Jay Manuel?
JM: I actually have some great projects in development, some of it would be in the world of television and some not, but they will make a lot of sense. I can’t talk about it but there would be some exciting things happening this year.
*******Thank you Jay Manuel we love you*****