He has worked in "the business of managing to aesthetic" for seven years. Manuel is known for his varied artistic palate and innate sense of aesthetics. He has worked as a makeup artist and stylist for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Victoria's Secret, Revlon, and CoverGirl. Manuel has also worked with noted fashion photographers such as Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, and Francesco Scavullo. He has been a makeup artist and stylist to celebrities such as Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Iman, Alicia Silverstone, Rebecca Romijn, Rupert Everett, Bridget Moynahan, Angela Bassett, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mýa, Kim Cattrall, Natalie Cole, Toni Braxton, Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, Vanessa Williams, Patti LaBelle, Rosario Dawson, Pink, David Bowie, and Jennifer Lopez.
Manuel joined America's Next Top Model in its first cycle in 2003 as the Creative Director. For nine years, Manuel featured on every cycle of the show, becoming one of the biggest shows in the United States during this period.After 18 seasons with the show, Nigel Barker and J. Alexander didn't return for the 19th cycle as their contracts were not renewed. Following the announcement, Manuel decided to leave the show. The controversial move by Tyra Banks led to a media frenzy around Manuel and the show. The radical personnel change didn't work and the show was cancelled three years later.
Manuel was the host and lead judge of the second and third cycles of Canada's Next Top Model, a spin-off to ANTM. He also made a cameo appearance in Degrassi Takes Manhattan, as well as playing himself in an episode of the comedy-drama television series Being Erica.
In 2011, Manuel released a clothing line for Sears Canada by the name of Attitude. In 2014, Manuel launched Jay Manuel Beauty, a prestige line of cosmetics based on a new Filter Finish Collection technology.
In 2011, Manuel released a women’s clothing line for Sears Canada, called Attitude Jay Manuel.
Manuel's beauty range was launched with the support of supermodel-turned-entrepreneur, Iman, in 2015 and distributed by her company Impala Inc. According to an interview in Essence magazine, Manuel and Iman met during the 1990s when he was recommended to do Iman’s makeup for a cover shoot.
Jay Manuel Beauty launched in 2014 and the collection consists of a range of products aimed to create a high definition finish, aimed at the younger generation. In numerous interviews Manuel has stated that he wanted to introduce products that gave an Instagram filter finish, without the need for a filter. In March 2015 Jay Manuel beauty was launched on HSN. In July 2016, it was announced that the beauty range would debut on the UK's QVC shopping channel in September of that year.
Manuel serves as a Smile Ambassador for Operation Smile and is actively involved with Dress for Success.
He has hosted the GLAAD Media Awards and also hosted Fashion Cares in Toronto, which benefits AIDS research. Manuel also hosted the American Image Awards, benefitting the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Manuel was born in Springfield, Illinois to a mother of Italian and Czech descent and a South African father of Dutch and Malaysian descent. He was raised by adoptive parents in Toronto where he attended Dr Norman Bethune Collegiate Institute and New York University. Before entering the fashion industry, Manuel was a pre-med student and also studied opera.