“The spectacle is back.” So declares influencer, creative consultant and now TikTok sensation Bryan Grey Yambao, better known as the global fashion personality Bryanboy. Twenty months into the pandemic, the fashion whirl has resumed, and in course of just a few weeks, Bryanboy has already jetted off to three continents. In Manila, he opened the first Ikea flagship in the Philippines, then he sauntered down the runway for Alessandro Michele’s ode to Hollywood glamour show for Gucci in Los Angeles, made a pit stop at the TikTok headquarters, and extended his stay to attend his good friend Paris Hilton’s wedding, before flying off to his home in Sweden, then to London for meetings at Perfect magazine, where he is the international editorial director.
That itinerary, however hectic it may seem, is only a fraction of the dizzying schedule of fashion shows, parties, openings, shoots and events that he’s accustomed to.
“It’s fascinating, you know, that fashion is very quick to latch on to issues that are relevant,” he says. “But at the end of the day, it’s all for show, you know, it’s fun!” When the pandemic first struck, he recalls, everyone saw it as an opportunity to reflect and refocus—at least on the outside. “They were, like, ‘Oh, we have to be conscious of how we show. We’re not going to follow the fashion calendar anymore. It’s not really sustainable to have all these collections.’ And here we are, we’re all doing shows again. It’s just embedded into the industry. I mean, you cannot remove the glitz and the glamour in a physical event from fashion because fashion is meant to be seen. It’s meant to be worn. It’s meant to be experienced. And how else are you going to communicate that?”
While he doesn’t mind getting back to the frantic pace, the jetlag can be brutal. But he is happy to suffer through it now travel restrictions have been lifted in most places outside Asia. He’s especially pleased that the mandatory hotel quarantine in the Philippines was shortened from 14 days to five; it was difficult not to be able to see his family for almost two years. Pre-pandemic, he would try to get back to Manila three or four times a year to see his parents and his two sisters and brother. “I’m completely beholden to my schedule when I’m working, so if I had an event in Tokyo or Singapore or Hong Kong, I would always make sure I go to the Philippines.” The pandemic made that impossible. And he wasn’t about to “waste two weeks of my life trapped in a hotel room that I’m paying for”, where you can’t use the spa or the gym. Five days of quarantine, however, were infinitely more tolerable. “It was actually great. I ended up doing work in the hotel, and I got to see my family after that.”
He is grateful, at least, that technology allows constant communication, wherever he is. “I talk to them every day on WhatsApp,” he says. “It’s so nice. We all share food pictures; we all look at my content.”
Of late, that content has been populating TikTok, where he has amassed 2.2 million followers. Admittedly a latecomer to the platform—he originally dismissed it as an app for kids, and was more active on Instagram and Twitter—he has since taken to it with relish and attracted a new audience beyond the fashion crowd.
Instead, he turned to a persona he’d first created for Instagram, a satirical but affectionate character that recalls luxury label-loving Hong Kong housewives or Park Avenue princesses for whom shopping and socialising is almost a full-time career.
“I exaggerated the Instagram persona. But I realised that whenever I create an Instagram reel, it won’t work on TikTok because it’s a different platform. It has to be really authentic. It must be real; you must be entertaining and spontaneous. So I created a fictional story series called Today Was the Worst. And it’s just pure comedy.”
In Today Was the Worst, his character, bedecked in designer clothes, pearls and Birkins, stomps about complaining about her husband, buying “poor people” clothes, living on child support payments and other scenarios that could, in the wrong hands in today’s environment, be interpreted as offensive.
“People know it’s satire,” he says, adding that his husband, at least, thinks it’s funny. He’s also used the platform to expose the ridiculous, as well as to address his growing Filipino audience in Tagalog, something he’d never done before.
In his first Tagalog post, he vents his exasperation at having to wear a plastic face shield, a mandatory Covid-19 prevention measure in the Philippines. He uttered a few curse words, annoyed that the face shield was marring his beauty. His Filipino followers loved it—it attracted 4.3 million views—and he’s been directly engaging his compatriots ever since. He realises, nevertheless, that his core audience is global.