Bryan, who is the eldest of four children, grew up with his parents in the southern suburb of Alabang (in the home where he still lives when he visits Manila today). Though the family was wealthy by Philippines standards—according to friends, Bryan attended the Colegio San Augustin in the neighborhood of Makati, an exclusive, private, coeducational Catholic school where notable alumni include several Filipino senators and the sister of the incumbent president (the school did not respond to requests for comment confirming Bryan’s attendance or graduation)—he was not born into the ranks of Manila’s well-connected establishment. None of the old friends The Observer spoke to recalled his having attended university.
Bryan started blogging as BryanBoy in 2004, at age 22, not 16 or 17 as he has variously claimed in the press. (Seventeen is still the joke age that he gives reporters, some of whom apparently take him at face value. “I’ll see some of the most respected fashion magazines in the world, saying, ‘17-year-old BryanBoy…’ and I’m just like, that is absolutely hilarious,” said Mr. Hindin-Miller. He became pioneer in a now-familiar game—that of the Internet upstart whose blogging paves the way to a position in the old media.
He seems to have entered the public consciousness fully formed, like Athena with a tan Hermès Birkin. “I think I saw him on one of the morning shows once, exhibiting his collection of designer bags,” said a formerly Manila-based editor who has met Bryan. He (briefly) penned a fashion column for the Philippines Star. He guest-judged the Philippines edition of Project Runway. “He wasn’t necessarily known for being fashionable, or a fashion source, or for having the credibility that he has now. Or the cachet,” said the former editor. “He was a big, flamboyant character, at the time.” But mainly in his home country.
But in 2007, things changed for Bryan in Manila. An anonymous gossip blog called Chikatime (“chika” is Tagalog for “small talk”) sprang up. “Chikatime was a huge scandal in Manila. It rocked the entire country,” said the former editor. The blog combined Perez Hilton’s fondness for coke-y MS Paint doodles with TMZ’s gutter ruthlessness with 2005-era Gawker’s weakness for the unverified, and unverifiable, juicy reader tip. The writing style appeared to match Bryan’s, and many of the blog’s subjects were the establishment figures and socialites who had granted him entry into their world. “A lot of the people who control the Philippines media control society,” explained the former editor. “What made that gossip different was that it targeted the people that people wanted to target. Society was just about these people all the time—you pick up a magazine, and it was just these same people, year after year, or the daughters and sons of these people.”
Chikatime published only for a few months, barely into 2008. But it left powerful people rattled and unsure who was watching. “It was like Gossip Girl,” laughs the former editor. Although Bryan’s involvement was never established beyond rumor, his name became indelibly associated with Chikatime. “It was just common knowledge in Manila among those who were in-the-know,” said the former editor. Friends became former friends. Traditional media distanced itself from him. Manila “society” closed ranks.
BryanBoy increasingly turned his attention to the outside world, and fortunately, that world seemed ready to return the regard.