Jay Manuel: The Book, The Beginning & Giving Back

Jay Manuel headlined this summer’s Hamptons Fashion Week with a book signing for his 2020 novel “The Wig, The Bitch, & The Meltdown,” a satirical look behind the scenes of “Model Muse,” a fictional reality model competition. 

Manuel is no stranger to a reality model completion, having been the artistic director and a co-star of “America’s Next Top Model” for 18 seasons. He’s also been a world-renowned makeup artist, designer and stylist, and a fashion correspondent for E! for years. Now he has added published author to his impressive resume. And it’s quite the page-turner — a twisted tale of jealousy, blackmail, ambition, mystery, and revenge.

“[Hamptons Fashion Week Founder Dee Rivera] reached out to me to do my signing as part of one of the events and thought the book would really fit,” he said on how he became involved with Hamptons Fashion Week. “To be honest, I was kind of nervous because everything I had done for my book — I did a lot of press — was virtual. That was the first one where I got to be with people face-to-face.”

The event took place on Sunday, August 8, at a brunch and book signing held at Isaac Boots’s Torch’d Shoppe in Wainscott. More than just a book signing, guests enjoyed bites, shopping, and even an impromptu dance party. 

“It was really exciting to see people and chat with so many people,” he recalled of the day. “Fern Mallis being honored, she’s a really good friend. I was really happy to see all of that.” Mallis was honored with the HFW Fashion Icon Award.

Manuel is based in New York City and Connecticut, but visits the Hamptons to see friends. We spoke to the fashion star about his book, how he got his start in the industry, and the philanthropic work he does for Operation Smile.

The Book

It all started when he began outlining the story in 2014, inspired by his time on “America’s Next Top Model.” 

“Inspired by” being the key phrase. The book is a work of fiction, although it isn’t difficult to see which characters are inspired by the actual cast.

“I wanted to fantasize some of the story and really focus in on some really important character pieces for my protagonists, antagonists, etc., and really show some interesting dynamics, which we are now talking about. I wanted to look at how the entertainment industry as a whole deals with intersectionality and Black women’s identity without kind of it being this heavy piece. It seems like it’s a fun, kind of wild ride, but there is a gravitas to the piece. There are some very important core themes.” He described the book as a “journey of self.”

The story is told through the eyes of the moral compass, Pablo Michaels. He juggles his role as best friend to the “ruthless yet vulnerable antihero” Keisha Kash, his supermodel boss. He’s also the man everyone turns to at work when there is a crisis. All while he tries to hold on to his own soul. The book offers a behind-the-scenes look into backstage of a fashion/reality TV world, and it’s as fascinating as it is fast-paced. 

He started doing research and really dug into different psychological profiles, reaching out to the acclaimed Dr. Ramani Durvasula for help. “She’s a psychologist who specializes in treating patients who have suffered narcissistic abuse,” he said. 

During the process, he had expected to hand the book off to a ghostwriter after he had compiled extensive notes and created the character profiles. 

“I had done writing at NYU,” he said, “but writing a novel is different … I just thought ‘Who am I to write fiction?’”

He shared his research and the work he had done with a writer friend and he recalls her saying, “Jay, would you write the book? You’ve practically written it. What are you doing?” 

With that he took on the challenge. He wrote the novel himself and the final product is something he’s “really proud of.” 

“I think it’s something I was supposed to do later in life,” he said, even thought he had studied writing at NYU. 

Jay Manuel (left) at Hamptons Fashion Week. Photo by Alexa Kay Ondrush

The Beginning

The turning point was when he was attending NYU, he explained. 

His private voice teacher — Manuel had also studied music at NYU and sung in the Mendelssohn choir as a young teenager — was cast in Martin Scorsese’s “Age of Innocence,” where she played an opera singer. The studio wanted photos of her, so they sent her to the well-known photographer Christian Steiner in Manhattan.

“Fashion and makeup were always just kind of a hobby and a passion,” he recalled. His teacher asked for his help with the shoot. Steiner approached him after and said he was always looking for future help. 

“I said ‘Oh no. I’m a series musician. I’m going to NYU now.’ He gave me his card and kind of chuckled at me. I would have chuckled at me too,” he recalled, laughing. Manuel called him up a few months later thinking he could do some work for extra cash. 

“Literally, my third shoot with him was for the Metropolitan Opera, album packaging, Luciano Pavarotti in a character role. You kind of fake it as you make it when you’re younger,” he recalled.

An agent saw his work early on and the rest, as they say, is history.

Soon after, Manuel wanted to break into cosmetic advertising, but was told he needed to have previous experience, despite having an already impressive resume. So while on a shoot with Bridget Moynahan, who was working as a model at the time, he asked her if she would do a test shoot and she agreed.

“Here I had this famous face, so I shot these mock cosmetic ads, laid them out, like a finished piece,” he said. The photos jumped to the front of his book and that’s how he locked in his first job for Revlon. 

“I’ve just been so blessed to work with so many creative visionaries, to be able to work with all of the great photographers from Annie Leibovitz to Richard Avedon to Herb Ritts,” he recalled.

Another defining moment was when he received a call from Kerry Diamond at Harper’s Bazaar who called to book him for an editorial, and continued to tell him he was going to get his dream, he reminisced.

“I always wanted to work with [photographer Francesco] Scavullo, but he had been retired by the time I was in that world, but they brought him out to do one big story,” he said. 

But it was “ANTM” that made Jay Manuel a household name. The show, which was hosted by Tyra Banks, launched to huge commercial success and became a global phenomenon. Manuel was the show’s Creative Director and appeared in every episode during his tenure.

He discussed how he met Banks for the first time. He would see her while working out at the Reebok Sports Club on 67th Street. 

“We didn’t really speak or acknowledge each other because that would have been strange — she was working out with a trainer and what have you,” he said. “But what ended up happening around that time, she was presenting at the GQ Magazine Awards and her makeup artist missed their flight. She needed someone very last minute and her hairdresser, who worked with me a lot, was like ‘You should try working with Jay.’”

At the time Manuel had been working with Iman and other prominent supermodels.

“Basically it was like this trial thing, which I had never really experienced,” he recalled. “At the time I was a really sought after makeup artists, but I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll go.’ I had always admired her.”

“She loved what I did and literally the next week I was booked with her to shoot for Victoria’s Secret … And then from there we were working all the time.”

When Banks came up with the idea for “ANTM,” “I remember she called me at 6 in the morning and she was in LA. I picked up the phone saying ‘My God, what’s wrong?’ And she had this idea.”

Giving Back

Manuel has been a smile ambassador for Operation Smile for the past 12 years. Coming from a medical family, he explained why it was an important cause for him to support. 

Operation Smile has provided hundreds of thousands of safe surgeries for those born with cleft lip and cleft palate. He had gone to one of the fundraising galas where he met co-founders, Dr. Bill Magee and Kathy Magee. 

“They’re such incredible human beings. It’s literally $200 in terms of hard costs to save a child’s life … You really change, not only their lives, but the entire family dynamic,” he said.

The foundation creates solutions that deliver free surgery to people where it’s needed most. As one of the largest medical volunteer-based nonprofits, Operation Smile has mobilized thousands of medical volunteers from a wide range of medical specialties from more than 80 countries.

He noted that all of the physicians, anesthesiologists, and others involved pay for their own flights, making it so all of the funds raised go directly to surgery. 

Because of the direct impact the foundation has with the children and their families, he said, “It was an organization that I really felt like I wanted to be part of.”

What’s next?

What’s next for Jay Manuel? Will there be a sequel to his debut novel?

“There is a resolve and an ending, but the way the story sits, it can definitely continue,” he said of the book. “It kind of begs for a part two.” 

Manuel has started to outline the continuation, but put it on pause and is now working on another story idea. He’s also co-writing a thriller film with the writer friend who urged him to write his debut novel himself.

“There will be more stories for sure. I love storytelling. I love reading. I love a great story,” he said. “Working in the world of imagery you become a storyteller of sorts, and this is definitely another evolution.”

Jessica Mackin-Cipro


Jessica Mackin-Cipro is an editor and writer from the East End of Long Island. She has won numerous NYPA and PCLI awards for journalism and social media. She was previously the Executive Editor of The Independent Newspaper.

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