It’s hard not to fall in love with Marie Claire Design Director Wanyi Jiang. It might be downright impossible. If you’re not lucky enough to meet the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study alumna in person or haven’t yet come across her film diary on Man Repeller, all you need to fall under the 37-year-old’s spell is a perusal of her Instagram page. Allow me to take you on a journey.
First, look up @wanyizee. She claimed that she came up with that as her Instagram handle before Kanye West came out with Yeezy.
“I just thought it flowed,” Jiang said, eyes dancing.
If you click the link in her bio, you’ll be taken to her GoFundMe page, where she recently started raising money for the nonprofit NoKidHungry. Currently, the organization is dedicating resources to ensure that children who usually depend on school meals are still getting fed during the COVID-19 pandemic. In return for a donation, Jiang will post on her Instagram story a cover of any song the donor requests featuring her own brand of charming theatricalism. For larger donations, she’s been uploading makeup tutorials, from ones for replicating the look of a clown to Kate Moss on a night out.
Flip through the rest of her story on any given day, and you’ll be privy to a delightful menagerie of memes, her thoughts on current pop culture phenomena and Tik Toks — her own and others. Scroll through her feed, and you’ll feast your eyes on her film photography, witty art history references and an eclectic collection of nostalgia posts of days gone by. A particularly hard-hitter are her fabulous self-portraits worthy of the first Marie Claire Design Director to win a Society of Publications Designers award for Best Fashion Spread.
Sporting her signature red hair, cheeks and lips, Jiang glows with a confidence that’s impossible to fake — the kind that comes with knowing you’re doing what you’re meant to do and that you have become who you are meant to be. Her lovingly curated Instagram, however, doesn’t do justice to the hard work it took to get her to where she is today.
Jiang moved to the United States from China at the age of six when her family relocated to join her father, who was studying at Kansas State University. Four years later, they moved to New Jersey, where she spent her formative years drawing, painting and singing along to the soundtrack of “Evita” for hours after school. She dreamed of being an artist or a singer, but her parents insisted she pursue a more traditional path.
So she did. Or, at least, her parents thought she did. Jiang concentrated in “Interdisciplinary Arts and Media,” taking a variety of courses that indulged the artist within her that drew on her same childhood interests.
“[I was] masquerading that I was getting a real business kind of education to my parents because it sounds good to them that I’m going to NYU,” Jiang said. “They think that if you go to a good school, then you’ll be set afterward.”
However, as Jiang soon found out, that’s not always the case. Her first job straight out of college, where she answered phone calls for a post-production company, turned out to be a dead end. Depressed and suffering from crying spells, she left as quickly as possible to intern at Lipman Advertising.
Her boss recognized her potential and put Jiang in contact with Vogue, where she was hired as a promotions coordinator and spent her time working on marketing reports, eventually working her way to becoming a marketing associate at Men’s Vogue. She was earning a higher income and had opportunities to grow in this career path, which is what Jiang had believed would make her happy. It wasn’t.
“I still dreaded it,” Jiang said. “When you’re at such a prestigious company and you’re supposed to be satisfied and feel good because it sounds like you’ve made it? But until you’re doing something that you’re passionate about, you don’t really feel satisfied on the inside.”
Then Men’s Vogue folded.
“I was like, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’” she said.
The folding was the kick she needed. She thought back on how well she got along with the Men’s Vogue art department, and how much more passionate she was about designing the covers for the marketing reports than actually writing them. Jiang decided to reinvent herself at 26 by going back to school. She was accepted into a one-year Special Student Study program at the School of Visual Arts for graphic design.
It was there that she met Rob Best, a teacher at the school. Best was the one who recognized not only her talent but her hunger and gave her an internship at Condé Nast Traveler, where he was the design director at the time. He also was the one who introduced her to the world of editorial graphic design, quickly putting her to work designing iPad layouts for Condé Nast Traveler apps. Jiang finally felt that she had found exactly what she wanted to do.
“I was like, ‘OK, I want to be an editorial designer,’” Jiang said. “I had never thought that I would have that opportunity to do that. I thought that because I came from the marketing side, I would do the marketing design, like making press kits.”
After a brief stint at Condé Nast Traveler post-graduation, Jiang moved on to work as a senior designer at People, then Glamour and finally returned to Marie Claire as the associate art director in 2013. By 2016, Jiang had rapidly risen up the ranks to become the magazine’s design director, fully in charge of designing spreads and conceiving the timeless glossy covers which adorn each issue.
She still marvels at her career trajectory, a saga of temporary misdirection, hard work and a hint of right place, right time.
“I think everything happens at its perfect, right time,” Jiang said. “So I have no regrets. What’s the point of it? If you sit there and you stew in things, you’re not looking toward the future. And I’d rather live in the now.”
Jiang’s life now is bursting with genuine, honest, passionate love — love for her work, love for her friends, love for everything she sings, dances, creates and finds beautiful. It’s clear that she has fully grown into herself.
When asked if she had any advice for those unsure if they too can achieve their dreams in creative fields, Jiang didn’t hesitate.
“Work harder than everybody else,” Jiang said. “If you prove yourself enough, you will reap the rewards. You can’t rush the process, but you also can’t be lazy during the process. If you’re just waiting for things to fall into your lap, you’re going to get there a lot slower.”
But her ultimate piece of advice is one that reverberates throughout her story.
“I think you should always just do what you want to do. Just like, f-ck it. And if you fail, keep doing it.”
Email Carol Lee at [email protected]