Let’s get things straight: Bryanboy keeps it real. Sort of.
“I’m the first one to admit that it’s not fully authentic,” Bryanboy tells LIFESTYLE.INQ, alluding to his online persona.
When he says this, he’s nonchalant – very matter-of-fact. Sitting against the wingback chair of his penthouse suite at the Raffles Hotel in Manila, the former fashion blogger sits down with our editorial team on a Sunday – a day when most people are resting. Since his arrival, Yambao’s daily agenda has been filled to the brim with meetings, shoots, and events. This has been his life for the past 16 or so years.
Bryanboy, born Bryan Grey Yambao, was living in Manila when he launched his eponymous fashion blog bryanboy.com back in the early aughts. His cutthroat, satirical commentary, once coined “hysterically camp” by the Sydney Morning Herald, earned him notability within the sartorial sphere, jetting him off to the fashion capitals of the world, and attending the biggest shows for designers like Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci to name a few.
“I think that all of us, the moment we post on social media, when we use filters, and when we edit our pictures, when everything is really thought out and curated, you are creating a character based on how you wanna be perceived and seen by people. So for me, this is my way of creating an online persona.” Yambao notes.
Before the term “influencer” was even coined, Yambao already embodied every sense of the word. Contrary to the exclusivity that surrounded the world of high fashion, his musings breathed a refreshing levity into the polarizing industry, with commentary like “Hedi is so late to the program, I can’t even” or “I highly doubt those costumes by animal rights group people were made from biodegradable fabrics” which at the time, was unprecedented.
Taking on TikTok
“If I could say anything to my younger self at the beginning of my journey, it would probably be: Everything’s going to be fine, and you’re going to go to places. At the beginning of my career, I had a lot of self-doubt. Where should I go? What should I do? Is this a long-term thing? Can I survive the transition from blogging to social media? Little did I know that it would take me to places.” Yambao reflects.
At its core, content creation is a game of adaptation, and Yambao’s career is a testament to how he has played it strategically and tenaciously.
“When we had blogs, we would write in long-form. We would take so many pictures, edit them, and then post them. It was very slow. Whereas now, everything is so fast. The platforms are so different, but the whole idea of creating content and storytelling is still the same,”
“It’s funny how I am applying what I learned from blogging before, which was exaggeration, to the content I create now. I exaggerate my stories. You create drama in order to make an audience interested in you. It’s the same attention-seeking tactics, you just apply it in a different way.”
At the height of the pandemic, while people were wondering what to do with their lives and how to move forward with the “new normal,” Yambao took it as an opportunity to carefully maneuver his business in a different direction.
“I was constantly traveling before the pandemic, then during the first six months of the pandemic, everything was canceled. I really set time to be at home – to enjoy being at home, but I also had the time to adapt to different platforms. I discovered TikTok and I discovered Facebook – I discovered short-form videos. I had to look at how I was operating my ‘influencer’ business and accept that gone are the days where I’m just going to be taking a picture and it’s done, you know what I mean?”
By October 2020, he had already grown and cultivated an audience of over a million followers on TikTok. Soon after, he dominated the realm of Facebook where he now has over 700,000 followers.
To his AB (After-Blogging) audience, Yambao is generally associated with his “ninang” TikTok persona. “Ninang” is a Filipino term that directly translates to “godmother.” Think your rich, presumably separada, childless ninang who spends all her money traveling and shopping. He also has a fictional Tiktok series “Today was the worst” that projects a parodical day in the life of Yambao.
“I love the idea that I can create a character and a persona with social media. It’s a form of self-expression for me. I mean, it’s not 100 percent who I am, it’s a character that I created. It’s still storytelling, it’s just a different platform,” he explains.
“Obviously, there’s more players in the field now. You need to get people’s attention in less than two seconds. Otherwise, they’ll just swipe away. It’s tougher. More challenging. But I think it’s fun.”
When asked about his role models in the fashion industry, Yambao was quick to mention his mentor and CEO, Perfect Magazine founder Katie Grand. A legendary British editor whose work has spanned over two decades, he credits her as one of his “biggest cheerleaders” and an “inspirational woman.”
“Katie and I started the magazine about three years ago and she appointed me as International Editorial Director, so I help her with editing the magazine, and working with advertisers.”
Perfect Magazine is a biannual print and digital publication founded in 2020. Prior to launching Perfect, Grand helmed LOVE magazine, another biannual under Condé Nast. She is also a highly accomplished fashion stylist and editor who has contributed to some of the most globally renowned publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue Paris, Vogue Japan, and Interview Magazine to name a few.
“She really trusted me with my vision. Editing a magazine – there’s just so many layers to it, but the bulk of it is creative. Commissioning stories, figuring out where the magazine’s gonna go, what the issue is about. We always have to think of a lot of creative concepts to fit into an issue. But the hard work is really in figuring out the photographers, figuring out the talent, and working with casting. It’s a very, very political job.”
If there is anything I know to be true about fashion, it’s that it is always in a state of flux. Constantly evolving and growing with the times, Yambao has warmly embraced these various changes. In an age where it’s seemingly so simple to label yourself as something, “CEO”, “Founder”, “Owner”, etc. he underlines the importance of making it through the ranks and earning your stripes.“People are so surprised that fashion is really small. It’s an industry that consists of people who already know each other and people who just wanna work with each other. I think working on a magazine, or at least with what I do, it’s important to be surrounded by people who you want to work with. I only want to work with people who are easy—people who are fun. I mean, that’s already half of the battle.” Yambao shares.
“One thing that I really find interesting – and this is from experience – the more experienced they are, the more high-profile they are, the bigger they are, the easier they are. The biggest photographers that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, they’re so easy. The younger generation of new photographers, for example, wanna be casting directors. They wanna be the stylist. They have a say on the clothes, they have a say on the talent. Back then, photographers were photographers, fashion stylists were fashion stylists, everybody did their job. You didn’t overstep.”
Believe it or not, there’s very little to no room for entitlement when it comes to fashion. Despite whatever glamorized preconceived notions you may have of working in the industry, the reality of working in this business means getting along with other people. Whether you’re a stylist, a makeup artist, a photographer, or even an intern – the better part of it is all about nurturing good relationships with your peers.
Bryanboy Beyond the Screen
Melding his knowledge from blogging and social media with his experiences now as an editor, it’s plain to see how Yambao has lasted in this industry. “The people that are close to me, they know who I am. My friends, family, loved ones, and business partners, they all know who I am on and off camera,”. Contrary to the caricature of Yambao that often graces your phone screens or the pages of glossy fashion magazines, fashion’s first boy is still very much human.
Although I myself wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into our interview. “Is he a diva?” “Is he nice?” I repeatedly asked myself on the drive up. That Sunday afternoon, I walked into the Raffles Hotel – oversized designer paper bags in hand – mentally preparing myself for an Andy Sachs-Miranda Priestly situation, but God, was I quickly proven wrong. The first time I lay eyes on Yambao, he looks effortlessly glamorous as expected. Even in his most laid-back state, his zhuzh is innate.
But beyond the optics, the clothes, and the characters, Yambao is kind. Before we begin to shoot, he checks in with the team to make sure everyone is okay. When we begin, he tells our photographer Shaira Luna how much he trusts her vision. Despite being in the fashion industry for so long, it’s incredible to see someone of his sartorial stature remain as grounded as he has. Unapologetic, irreverent, and effortlessly funny, Yambao’s voice continues to shape fashion’s evolving narrative simply because he is himself. #NoFilter.
Photography by Shaira Luna, assisted by Emelito Lansangan
Styling by Sophia Berbano Concordia and Colleen Cosme, assisted by Anneliese Ng
Creative Direction by Ria Prieto
Interview by Carl Martin Agustin and Sophia Berbano Concordia
Cover design by Julia Elaine Lim