In February 2009, a young-looking man appeared in the audience of the Marc Jacobs Fall-Winter show, one of the most exclusive at New York Fashion Week. He was not a director, like Marc’s friend and frequent guest Sofia Coppola, or a famous singer, like Madonna, or an actor, but his handsome, androgynous face was already familiar to tens of thousands of fans online. And there he was, in the pantheon. Fashion-show invite lists are feudal and loaded with meaning, and that man’s arrival at Marc Jacobs meant: I am now Anna Wintour’s peer.
An unlikely peer he was.
Bryan Grey-Yambao, who is also known as Francis Bryan Yambao, but who is much better known as BryanBoy, has been blogging about fashion since 2004. That’s longer than the Sartorialist (which Scott Schuman started in 2005), longer than Garance Doré (2006), longer than Susie Lau (2006), longer than Rumi Neely (2008) and longer than Tavi Gevinson (2008). He helped establish—or at least propelled into the mainstream—many of the tropes of the fashion-blogging genre, like the blogger’s gushy après-shopping post (“I fell in love with this Alexander Wang leather and canvas backpack the first time I saw it when Rumi and I went to the Opening Ceremony store in LA …”), the endless starring-in-the-editorial-of-my-own-life photographs of the blogger wearing designer outfits, and the blogger’s mainstream media crossover.
He also helped set the standards for designer “gifting” and disclosure of same in the fashion blogosphere, an arena where it is currently considered acceptable for a blogger to take international airfare, accommodation, designer goods and sometimes even celebrity-style appearance fees from the major brands they cover. Bryan’s agent would not comment on his current appearance and speaking fees, but the blogger told New York that he made over $100,000 in 2010. His blog currently bears enormous Coach ads and Women’s Wear Daily reported in November that BryanBoy.com averages 1.4 million page views per month.
Bryan has close relationships with many high-fashion brands; @bryanboy and @stefanogabbana frequently carry on conversations with each other (“hello bryan!!! How r u ? Xxx stefano” “I’m doing good Stefano! It’s 6AM here in Manila and I’m still awake! I miss you!!!!”). Bryan has 223,226 followers on the micro-blogging site to Gabbana’s 212,674.
Bryan turned down an interview request, telling The Observer he was obligated not to participate in any profiles pending a “project” with another “media outlet,” which he said he expected would be “developed/released” by this summer. Bryan’s agent at CAA—with whom he signed in May 2011—did not comment on the rumor that the “project” in “development” relates to television. Nor would she comment on his other upcoming projects.
Alex Gilvarry, whose début novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, centers around a slight, flamboyant Filipino fashion designer known as Boy, said he started reading BryanBoy to learn about fashion, but found himself fascinated. “I think it’s funny that BryanBoy and Manny Pacquiao are like the most famous Filipinos in the world right now,” said Mr. Gilvarry. “And behind them is Imelda Marcos.”
“Bryan often chides me on not having as good a knowledge of fashion as I should,” admitted Isaac Hindin-Miller, a New Zealand-born, New York-based fashion blogger who has been friends with Bryan since 2008. “I took a photograph about three and a half years ago at a Jean Paul Gaultier men’s wear show,” and Vogue happened to publish the shot. ”I got a credit about five millimeters wide, at the very corner of the page, completely in the middle of the book,” says Mr. Hindin-Miller. “And the day that Vogue came out, Bryan Tweeted at me and said, ‘Congrats on getting a photo credit in Vogue.’
“I emailed him and was like, How on earth did you see that?” recalled Mr. Hindin-Miller. “And he told me, I read every single word of every single magazine. I don’t believe you could find anyone who has a better knowledge of what’s going on in the industry than Bryan.”
A Manila-based friend who’s known him since the early 2000s said, “I used to roll my eyes whenever he’d tell me that he wanted to be in Vogue,” but sure enough, he was anointed one of nine bloggers “making a global industry sit up and take notice” by that magazine’s 2010 “Power” issue.
But while Bryan has the rare quality of appearing to offer total, unvarnished honesty, his blog readers—and even many of his friends—are privy to surprisingly little information about him. He rarely mentions his family, and never by name. BryanBoy will tell his readers about discovering he was gay at age 12 when he had feelings for a classmate called Emanuel, but he will not post any pictures of or give even a first name for the boyfriend he has been dating since 2010. (He is a Swedish commercial banker, and he is said by those who have met him to be a nice man who guards his privacy closely.) BryanBoy will scan and post the results of an HIV test (negative) along with a safe-sex message, but he’s never mentioned his parents’ professions. BryanBoy will live-tweet a threesome (in 2010, he took the time to mention that his partners were wearing Lanvin Homme and Damir Doma, respectively), he will even tweet about his bowel movements, but he will not talk about where he grew up.
“He has the most entertaining Twitter account of anybody that I follow,” said Mr. Hindin-Miller. “But no, I don’t know what his parents do.”
“He writes about everything,” said Mr. Gilvarry. “But I really don’t know anything about him.”
So, who is BryanBoy?
As with many mythologies of self, there is an alter ego involved.
In October 2003, an Internet user in the Philippines logged on to the website CreditBoards.com and created an account under the name “bboy777.” Bboy777 described himself as a Filipino national living in Manila who had U.S. assets, and therefore an interest in participating in an online community devoted to the accumulation and cultivation of American consumer credit.
Bboy777 let it be known that his real name was Bryan; sometimes he signed his forum posts “BryanBoy.” He described himself as self-employed, and said that because he worked for many U.S.-based clients, he had opened bank and brokerage accounts in the country. (He described in detail how this was possible, with an IRS-issued Individual Tax Identification number instead of a Social Security number, a Mail Boxes Etc address instead of a street address, and an account statement from the Internet phone service Vonage instead of a utility bill.)
Over the next 18 months, bboy777 would post over 2,400 times to the CreditBoards forums. He provided TransUnion and Equifax screenshots of his credit scores (low-to-mid-700s, or slightly below average) and scanned pictures of over 20 cards he claimed to carry, including a Pentagon Federal Credit Union Visa, a Household Bank MasterCard, a Bloomingdale’s card, a Kinko’s card, and four cards issued by National City, the Ohio-based bank that was acquired by PNC in 2008 and which bboy777 described as “my local bank in IL.” (Bryan has said he has family in the Midwest.) He also scanned a picture of his Louis Vuitton wallet. It had 10 credit-card slots; most held at least two cards. The pictures were hosted by a Photobucket account registered to “bryanboy.”
Bboy777 posted publicly about his weight-loss goals, harrowing diet drug experiences, and loathing for fake designer goods—topics with which any reader of BryanBoy’s blog will be familiar. Bboy777 was also gay; whenever the talk on the discussion boards turned personal and someone brought up marriage he’d joke that he was obligated to remain a bachelor—“unless someone charters a concorde using his amex black and fly me to boston, massachusetts.”
At that time, friends say Bryan was working as a virtual assistant, providing administrative and technical assistance to, and sometimes building websites for, remote clients. Said one person who knew Bryan in the early 2000s, “Whenever we went out, he’d always complain how he had to go home at a certain time of the day because he had deadlines for clients.” (On CreditBoards, bboy777 talked about his “billable hours,” and once mentioned charging $12,000 worth of Stamps.com postage for “order fulfillment.” He had a sideline business in acquiring domain names, to later sell at a profit.)
All told, he amassed a combined business and personal credit limit of nearly $200,000 by late 2005. The history revealed on CreditBoards goes some way to explaining how Francis Bryan Yambao, a high-school educated 20-something still living with his parents in a home friends describe as “pretty modest,” in a country where the per-capita GDP was just $4,100 in 2011, and where 33 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, was able to acquire the Dior handbags and Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and Karl Lagerfeld furs he photographed himself wearing at exclusive nightclubs and restaurants. “Highest single charge of $4,000 as [sic] Chanel on Biz card,” wrote bboy777. “No call/verification needed.” (BryanBoy did not respond to comment requests by press time.)
All the while, he was blogging about his life and purchases on the BryanBoy blog that would eventually win him fashion fame.
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.
By 2006, the influence of his fashion blog was such that a seasonal ad campaign for Fendi featured a photo of the supermodel Angela Lindvall holding a handbag up like a trophy, her left hand on her hip—a visual nod to a signature BryanBoy pose, and a clear sign that fashion was beginning to pay him notice.
In 2008, Bryan attended his first international fashion weeks as an invited guest—Australia’s and New Zealand’s. (“He might only be 5 foot 8 and 19 years old, but Bryan Boy managed to cause quite a stir …” began Mr. Hindin-Miller’s New Zealand Fashion Week interview with Bryan, published on the former’s blog.) Photos of Bryan sitting front-row made excellent fodder for BryanBoy.com.
New York Fashion Week was next.
It also didn’t hurt that the same year Marc Jacobs saw a fan video Bryan had made about the designer, and a post in which Bryan raved about a green ostrich bag in the designer’s Fall-Winter 2008 collection. Jacobs sent him a personal email pledging to name the bag the “BB” in his honor. The designer later sent Bryan the green bag—in fact, the very runway sample he’d originally heralded. BryanBoy called the gift “the best thing that has ever happened to me.” And when Jacobs sent a picture of himself holding an “I love you, BryanBoy” sign, Bryan wrote that the photo was “possibly the most grandiose thing I’ve ever received from anyone (well that and the gift of life from my mother’s ass but whatevs).” At every Marc Jacobs show since Spring-Summer 2009, Bryan has been seated in the front row.
“After Chikatime shut down, his star kind of shot up,” said the former editor. “It was a really good exit. I actually admire his ambition, and how far he’s gone … All the stuff that happened in the Philippines—no one even cares. He’s an international fashion figure now.”
An old friend from Manila agreed. “I thought he was delusional, but look at the little motherfucker doing his thing today!”
“He’s brilliant,” said Mr. Hindin-Miller. “He’s not the best writer in the world—I will freely say that. He is not the best writer in the world. But he’s brilliant at taking people along for the ride. You genuinely do live vicariously through him.”
What makes Bryan palatable to major brands is partly his tactical inoffensiveness—Bryan’s critical judgments range from the merely excited to the superlatively delighted —but also partly his ability to remind fashion’s most established figures of the sense of soaring wonder great fashion can move certain very young people to feel. Every top designer was a kid poring over the pages of Vogue in a childhood bedroom, once. BryanBoy, who will turn 30 in March, takes them back there.
This week, he will be in town once again, no doubt flush with invitations and resplendent in gifted gear, having made good on his early aspirations to find a place in the style world’s front row.
“The more that you work in fashion, the more that you get to know how everything works, the more jaded you get,” said Mr. Hindin-Miller. “But Bryan never seems to get jaded at all.”