DUBAI: Ten years ago, Bryan Grey Yambao, sitting at his computer at home in Manila, wouldn’t have appeared much different from the scores of young bloggers trying to attract readers in Lebanon.
“I was literally at home 24/7, I mean, what was I going to do except blog?” he told The Daily Star while sitting crossed-legged on a couch in the Mina a’Salam hotel in Dubai.
Today, Yambao is better known by his pen name, Bryanboy, the title of his star fashion blog. The blog, now operated by Conde Nast, has earned him such accolades as one of the nine “hottest celebs on the Web” by The New York Post.
Bryanboy was in Dubai this past week as a celebrity guest at Fashion Forward, a seasonal event featuring regional design talent. Between a one-on-one chat with The Daily Star and his public talk, Bryanboy offered a smattering of advice, mostly inadvertent, for bloggers hoping to reach his level of fame – and notoriety.
Bryanboy started his personal website in 2004, before blogging became a path to digital celebrity and before anyone could envision the likes of him sitting front row alongside major fashion editors and Hollywood stars at New York runway shows.
In the beginning, the young Filipino, equipped with computer programming skills, was looking for a way to keep in touch with friends and family while on an extended trip to Moscow.
“Instead of emailing like 200 people, I said why not have a website where everyone can check what I’m doing,” he said.
That lifestyle blog took on a fashion bent, as that’s where Bryanboy’s own interests lay. He recalled his first designer purchase: a sheer Helmut Lang tank top that was “all the rage” in the ’90s. His first designer bag was a Prada backpack, for which “I had to beg my mom for months,” he said.
As his audience grew, so did his audacity, as the young blogger drew in strangers with his unrestrained – often explicit – personal details and pictures of him wearing ostentatious clothing. He recalled an early post in which he was photographed being pushed around in a wheelchair at the mall, wearing a Chanel suit.
“In the early days of my blog, I was like a car crash all the time,” he said in his talk, arousing laughter from a packed audience.
“I would post pictures of me drunk, I would post pictures of me in compromising positions.”
Pushing the boundaries in a somewhat conservative country – “90 percent of the population is Catholic,” as he put it – was his way of getting people’s attention and its one of the strongest lessons for young bloggers today. Standing out as a blogger has become even harder as millions of social media users vie for “followers” on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
“I was extremely lucky to be part of an early movement when blogging was extremely new. I mean, now, like everyone has a blog, everyone has a site. In order for a young blogger to reach the level that we have reached, it’s going to be so tough. You really have to have a strong online identity,” he said.
The need for individuality has also made anonymity impossible, he claimed. In a conservative country like Lebanon, for example, hiding behind controversial content just won’t work. “Eventually, everyone comes out,” he said.
The role of bloggers these days is a bit like the role that magazines played in Bryanboy’s childhood. As a young boy, he used to read his mother’s fashion magazines, ones such as i-D and The Face, which offered an escape from reality. He sees his own blog as serving the same purpose online, where readers follow him around the world as he mingles with stars and top fashion designers.
“It’s all about creating a fantasy world where people can, like, see themselves. Like, ‘I wish they could do what Bryan is doing,’ or ‘I wish I could go where Bryan is going.’ Creating that fantasy and that dream.”
Today, Bryanboy.com is not only a hobby, it’s his business and that dependence has taught him a lot of lessons in responsible blogging, he said. The first of which is full disclosure. “I love advertisers,” he blurted. But for every free gift, every collaboration, every placed ad, Bryanboy makes note of it all, he said.
He advised bloggers who aim to make a living off their website to capitalize on their growing persona by attracting paid collaborations, styling gigs or talks. He also suggested bloggers curate their various media platforms so that an Instagram or Twitter post always lures a follower to the website to find out more.
Bryanboy’s success shows how the Internet has leveled the playing field for fashion commentators and that it’s possible to become an international player far from the epicenters of fashion in New York and Europe.
“Even growing up in Manila you have the same references, the same dreams,” he said. “Everyone can have this dream whether they grow up in New York or they grow up in a small town in Wisconsin.”