Emmanuel Colon had just two weeks to style a Met Gala look for one of his longest-term clients, beauty influencer and entrepreneur Jackie Aina, when her invitation to the gala arrived late.
It was the first time he styled someone for fashion’s biggest event, held this year on Sept. 13. The theme was “American Independence,” a theme that could vary drastically given the person in attendance.
Aina decided to pay homage to Barbie, and from there, it was full speed ahead. He and his assistants looked for Black-owned fashion designers and eventually found Brooklyn-based Fe Noel, who created a silky, pink, ’90s Barbie-inspired dress for Aina.
The look, which the designer described as the “perfect mashup of glamour meets girl next door,” to fashion website Women’s Wear Daily, received acclaim from Vogue magazine.
“It was a lot of praying,” Colon says. “I was like, ‘If I do not nail this first Met Gala look, I am going to crawl under a rock forever.’ ”
But Colon, 32, kept cool under pressure and made it work.
And now, he says it’s his best work to date.
“I loved everything about it,” Colon says, in a video call from Los Angeles. “I loved how quickly and beautifully it came out.”
It was a career highlight for the 2008 McCaskey High School graduate, who started off working in retail, and now works with stars like Saweetie, Machine Gun Kelly and more.
But, his progress from aspiring stylist in Lancaster city to celebrity stylist known as Manny Jay in Los Angeles didn’t come without its hurdles.
In 2009, Colon came down with a fever, and he says he knew something was wrong. And it was: Colon, then 19, was diagnosed with leukemia.
That life-changing moment inspired Colon to pursue his dream of working in the fashion industry with fiery passion.
After two rounds of chemotherapy, Colon quit his retail job and moved to New York City to jump-start his career. Shortly after moving there, he was able to work under “Sex and the City” designer Patricia Field.
“Nothing will stop him. He’s determined, and he will get what he wants,” says Aracelis Garcia, Colon’s childhood best friend.
Garcia has had a front-row seat to much of Colon’s journey; when Colon moved to New York, she joined to pursue a career as a professional dancer. When he moved to Los Angeles to grow his clientele and personal brand, she followed to be a travel nurse.
“You have to move to grow,” Garcia says.
Before long in Los Angeles, Colon had his first celebrity client: “Orange Is the New Black” star Dascha Polanco, who played Dayanara “Daya” Diaz in the series. Since then, he has worked with numerous celebrities, including rapper Machine Gun Kelly, R&B artist Ann Marie, actor Skai Jackson and more.
Consistency is what moves him forward in his career, Colon says. And, continuing to create, even if things don’t go his way.
“It’s not a race, it’s a marathon,” Colon says. “So I can’t look to the left or the right and worry about what everyone else is doing. I’m just focused on what I gotta do.”
Colon’s breakout moment, he says, is when he started working with rapper Saweetie in 2018. He was the first stylist to work with her. She’s best known for her debut single “Icy Girl,” which went platinum, as well as her collaboration on the viral song “Best Friend” with Doja Cat.
“That was the moment that people had started to notice me,” Colon says, adding that he knew Saweetie was going to be a star the moment he laid eyes on her.
Colon started to work with beauty influencer Aina in 2019, and has since become her main stylist. He works every event with her, from red carpets to personal styling, to working with Aina’s candle company, FORVR Mood.
Aina is Colon’s most involved client to date, and one of his favorite people to work with. Colon also credits Chicago R&B artist Ann Marie as one of his favorite clients; between Aina and Ann Marie, he says he gets to fulfill many of his stylistic dreams.
His dream clients? Nicki Minaj and Rihanna.
“Everyone knows this, and I would say it from the top of my lungs: I still want Nicki Minaj. I am obsessed with Nicki Minaj,” Colon says. Recently, he worked with her wig designer, Arrogant Tae.
Colon also loves Ariana Grande; he worked with her as an assistant stylist for one of the Billboard awards. “She was so sweet, so pleasant, so cute,” Colon says.
He keeps a Polaroid photo of him and Grande together as a reminder of the experience.
“That’s how you manifest it,” Colon says with a laugh.
Colon takes inspiration from archived looks, citing singer Aaliyah, a ’90s R&B singer who died in 2001, as well as Marilyn Monroe and Madonna. He cherishes the authenticity of their fashion and wants to bring it to his own work.
While Colon lives in Los Angeles full time, he still visits family in Lancaster a few times a year. Colon says his dream would be to buy a house in the county.
“I can travel around the world and go wherever I want, but nothing’s like being home in Lancaster,” Colon says.
Colon says he loves Lancaster, and credits it for giving him an edge in a cutthroat town like Los Angeles.
“Coming from a small town and having big dreams of living, that’s different,” Colon says. “I’m the first generation in my family that did something like this. That’s my motivation.”
Garcia, Colon’s longtime friend, says the designer is incredibly driven.
They met in fourth grade at Wickersham Elementary School after she heard he was making fun of her eyebrows.
She confronted him, and they have been best friends ever since, Garcia says. She’s not surprised he ended up being successful in his career.
When things got tough during childhood, Garcia says they would always talk it through and keep an eye on the future.
“He’d be like, ‘When I make it big, I’ll have an assistant.’ You speak things into existence,” Garcia says.
And others can do it, too. Colon says to use social media to stay connected and put yourself out there, and not get discouraged if things slow down.
“Continue creating,” Colon says. “There’s going to be some really cool moments in your career, some mediocre.”
Consistency has gotten him this far, Colon says. And he has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Colon is still accepting new clients, and is “interested in seeing what will happen in the next few months.”
One of Colon’s biggest upcoming projects is working with Mefeater, a Black-owned entertainment and fashion magazine.
“I feel like I’m manifesting everything that I wanted to do with my career,” Colon says.