Even in today’s climate of seemingly progressive social norms and attitudes, labels still surround us. People are often assigned these labels by the rest of the world based on the stereotypes around them. These labels put people in a box, and while some willingly accept the space that they’ve been confined to, others challenge them.
For Xylk, it began with a copy of Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Drive magazine. In it, he discovered a page of cars with minimal text discussing the models with statements like, “Much like the Golf and the S13, overhyped and not very good looking. Most owners are idiots, and they wish they had an STI.” The pretentious, superior tone that appeared in the zine inspired Xylk to turn the notion of a typical “car guy” on its head.
“To me, Frank was presenting cars as more than a symbol of status and masculinity. You really don’t have to know the mechanics of a car to appreciate its form and function,” Xylk explains. Feeling limited by the stereotypes that surround car culture and the perceived idea of masculinity in society, Xylk chose three cars that he admires and printed them on T-shirts, using his art to shed light on the often inaccurate labels that confine us.
He titled his line of T-shirts, “BBoys Don’t Drive,” in reference to the Frank Ocean zine that inspired the project, as well as the extra “B” for Bleecker, the street he grew up on in his beloved hometown of Toronto. Xylk admits that being from Toronto has influenced his creative pursuits most — he’s constantly encouraged by the people and friends at home. He explains that when beginning a new project, he makes a design for himself, and if at least 10 friends or coworkers express interest in the product, he’ll make more. To no surprise, there was an overwhelming request for his BBoys Don’t Drive tees, which have since sold out.
We caught up with Xylk to talk about where he finds inspiration, breaking off from societal guidelines, and the exciting projects he has lined up.
What’s your occupation?
Currently, I’m working as an inventory associate for a retail company.
Where are you from and where are you currently living?
I was born in Manila, but my family immigrated to Toronto, 85 Bleecker St, when I was nine. I’ve stayed close to there ever since. Now I live in Greektown, braaaaaaap.
Has growing up in Toronto influenced you as a creative?
I think the thing that has most influenced my creative pursuits is the support of the people in this city. Every time I’ve had an event or made a product the people that show up and reach out to me here give me the confidence and the encouragement to keep doing it. The creative people coming out of this city have set the bar high for what is possible. Bryan Espiritu, Sean Brown, Bianca Venerayan, Bernard Manarin have influenced my drive since high school and have really set the standard for the work I put out.
I remember the first time I saw “The Art of Reuse” by Sean and Bernard on Tumblr at a barbershop. It changed my perception on thrifting. They made something great out of minimal means and made an immediate impact on me — it pretty much ignited a flame. Growing up in Bleecker has given me the power of observation by keeping on my toes and gave me that “by any means necessary” attitude.
How would you describe your personal style?
Maybe like if a hood mon went into a costume store and really enjoyed himself. Growing up in Bleecker, I was surrounded by dope boys, basketball heads, rappers, and every other macho stereotype you can think of, but I was too intrigued by colors, the female silhouette, and anything different from what I was exposed to. Also, Church Street is one intersection away from Bleecker, so…
Tell us a little about the project BBoys Don’t Cry project.
The idea came about after receiving Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry magazine in the mail. At first, I was reluctant to open it because the packaging was too beautiful, but when I did, I was inspired right away. On one of the very last pages there’s a piece by Federico Aliprandi, called “Active Analysis On The Superiority of Lesser Objects,” showcasing a list of cars with minimal text underneath them. I took the sentences as something that I think a typical “car guy” would say, “Much like the Golf and the S13, overhyped and not very good looking. Most owners are idiots, and they wish they had an STI.” Like, who talks like that? Haha, I felt like this guy is talking down to me! A very snobbish, pretentious and douche-y guy who thinks I have no business admiring a car. I don’t like the pretentiousness surrounding car culture, or anything else for that matter.
To me, Frank was presenting cars as more than a symbol of status and masculinity. You really don’t have to know the mechanics of a car to appreciate its form and function. I grew up in the city, I don’t have my license, but I see cars as a social and cultural reference point that is universal and not beyond anyone’s reach. We might not drive, but we grew up riding in cars, we socialize in cars, they are personal and nostalgic symbols. I liked the irony of never learning to drive, but wearing a car on my t-shirt, so I chose three cars I really liked visually and printed them on the back of three different shirts.
Is there a personal experience you had challenging the typical idea of masculinity that inspired the line?
I take inspiration from people who are themselves authentically, and without inhibition. I saw this when I was first introduced to Michael Brooks @mchlbrks, the beautiful and talented make-up artist who became the face of this project. He happened to work near me, and we connected through IG. When I saw his page I was blown away by his look and what he could do with make up.
I wanted him to be the face of this project because he’s mad talented and has a confidence that I knew would draw people in. We talked about colors when it came to styling our photos, but the rest is just Michael’s personal style, and I’m glad to have had him be a part of the project. Although I think it’s important to talk about these topics, I really didn’t think about the politics of gender roles and norms in society for this project initially.
Your T-shirts call attention to the idea of a “car guy” and the stereotypes that surround it — can you explain what a typical “car guy” is and why it’s important to get rid of these labels?
From my experience, a typical “car guy” is… well to be honest, I don’t know. Most of my friends don’t drive, but I think the term represents someone who is passionate about cars. Stereotypically, this guy is masculine, maybe close minded. Labels like this don’t allow us to be anything other than what we’ve been categorized as.
I don’t know anything about cars, but me feeling like I’m not allowed to appreciate a certain model’s design and interior is wack. I think there’s this dumb template of who you can be in everything we incorporate ourselves into, and this template is halting our growth, stopping our progress to create and innovate.
Why do you think so many creatives are using fashion as a medium to talk about important social issues like this?
We’re using the language we know best. I don’t think anyone really wants to talk about social issues because it’s sad to admit we have them. Since we have a lot to say, and no one is really having progressive conversations surrounding social issues, we’re forced to finesse a way to slide what we want to talk about in something everyone seems to talk about: clothes.
What do you think that says about the fashion community as a whole in terms of openness, especially surrounding perceived gender norms?
I think the fashion community has always held the golden rule of ‘wear what you want, however you want.’ With that being said, there are these arbitrary guidelines telling us how we should look, depending on who you are and where you are. Fortunately, there are less and less places where these guidelines apply, and less people caring about guidelines.
What’s next for BBoys Don’t Drive?
Where do you find inspiration?
I go back to childhood memories. It’s like a treasure chest of different emotions and senses. I think about where I grew up and how I grew up, characters I came across. Another great source for me is storytelling, especially in music. Blonde, The Love Below, Frank, Man On The Moon 1 & 2, and Seeing Sounds are albums that I will always reference. Top 5, top 5!
Are there any other projects we can look forward to seeing from you?
I’m currently working a mobile event space, “13thfloor”. It’s pretty much the only thing that’s been on my mind in the past year. I’m very excited about it. Spring 2018.
Next, check out the 8-year-old artist on her way to social media stardom.
- Photographer: Brendan Go