Bobby Bowen has been a stylist for seven years. He’s worked with MAC, Nike, Kid Studio, SP BADU, and many others. His work and work ethic, big personality and outspoken nature are some of the defining things that have allowed Bobby to solidify his place in the Toronto cultural scene. And now, Bobby is ready to take it to the next level with the launch of his new bi-annual publication: BULLY mag.
For the inaugural edition of CC: Creative Conversations, Bobby and I talk about the creative process, intentionality, authenticity, the creative culture in Toronto and much more. I’ve known Bobby for over five years and I am beyond proud to see all that he’s accomplished. Having read through BULLY a few times, I was in awe of the curatorial eye, art direction, visual representation and attention to detail. This is just the beginning for Bobby and BULLY and I couldn’t be more thrilled to kick off this series with our conversation below.
Bobby wears silver chains and silver hoop earrings.
Keesha - I want to start by saying congratulations Bobby, this publication is stunning!
Bobby - Thank you!
K - Loved looking through it. I could really feel you throughout the entire thing.
B - Really?
K - Yes! I remember when you had said to me that you wanted to do it, which was like —
B - Years ago…
K - How long did it take you to create BULLY?
B - It took me, two years but I’ve had the idea for four. I got into styling because I wanted to have my own magazine. I don't want to say being a stylist is the same thing over again, but you evolve, you grow, you know? And for me it became, the need to have my own publication, I wanted to be the fashion editor of my own magazine.
K - What was the process like?
B - Hmmm… it was long. It was very long. There used to be so many other people involved. This was never the original logo — everything has developed. That's what’s so crazy about this! When you say that: “Yo, I can feel you in it” there is a lot of blood sweat and tears in this. There are 18 digital versions of this. And, there will be two covers in the end. But we’ve gone through so many different BULLY versions and cuts. No one knows… It’s been a lot.
K - Was it as much work as you expected it to be?
B - Yes? Yes! I knew it was going to be a lot. I didn’t know it was going to be so late. I’ve had the content for a year. You know what I’m saying? But I think I’ve curated it in a way that it doesn’t have a time on it — that's what's great about this. It’s not so much fashion focused. Where it's like: this is spring/summer, or this is fall/winter. No! This is just beautiful images. These are beautiful editorials. It’s beautifully aligned. It’s all the cultures. It’s everything. You know?
K - What was the most challenging part of this process?
B -… I would definitely say, finding the right person to work with…. I started this with another friend but they didn’t see the vision. Then I had another person come on and he fell off. People are busy. And, the universe brought me and Alex Cirka together to really design this and give this to the world. And this magazine, I know it will grow as it goes. It’s bi-annual, you know what I mean? The second issue is going to be even better.
" I AM DOING THIS TO BRIDGE HERE TO NEW YORK. TO BRIDGE HERE TO CHINA. BRIDGE HERE TO BERLIN. BRIDGE HERE TO AFRICA. "
Bobby wears a red Nike top and red Nike joggers, along with Nike sneakers and a red durag.
K - When I read the editors letter, I really liked how overt you were with your intentions — about knowing you what you wanted this to be. Are there other publications that inspired you to come up with that very specific intention?
B - No! To be honest, I look at other magazines for inspiration all the time. But this editors letter literally came from my heart. It came from something that I feel, especially for this issue. This is gonna be like a collectors special edition. You know? It’s my editor's letter but it speaks to a lot of people
K - Yes, I agree. When I saw your original handwritten editors letter and it was bold, loud, in all caps. And you did a really good job of translating that boldness into the actual publication as a whole. Those are definitely my favourite aspects BULLY: it’s loud, bold, and in your face.
B - It has a voice!
K - Yes!
B - And that's what I want it to be. This voice that is speaking for us. You know? There's a new generation of artists, and in other parts of the world, it’s a little bit easier. But I feel like Toronto is almost scared or intimidated because of what the “Toronto fashion” industry has created for people. It's like, “Toronto fashion” is something that we are not a part of. The new emerging Toronto designers are not “Toronto fashion”. We live here but we are not a part of that, “Toronto fashion” hub. And it's like, every country I’ve gone to, every city, there's a publication. Toronto we don't have anything. Do you know how many cool, amazing artists we have in this city girl?
K - I know.
B - And all we have are, commercial publications! For what? That is a joke. That is “Toronto fashion”. It’s commercial!
K - Its very commercial!
B - And it looks the same every year. There is no representation of this (points to magazine) day and age in Toronto. There’s Editorial Mag, but it comes from Montreal. There are a lot of Toronto artists in it, but it's Montreal based. There is no publication from here that is bridging. I am doing this to bridge here to New York. To bridge here to China. Bridge here to Berlin. Bridge here to Africa. Once the world sees this, the second issue will create jobs for people. I want to be able to commission stylists. I want to be like “Taylor, here's $5000 or whatever. Do a CUNTY editorial, you’re getting paid to do it. For casting: let me know if you need requests”. That's what I want to do. You know? I’ve always wanted Azealia Banks on the cover. Azelia was supposed to be the first person on the cover of BULLY
K - Oh that's so cool!
B - …but the person who I was working with didn’t see the vision. Instead, they saw the negativity that she carries. But that negativity comes from somewhere [Azelia] was bullied. She’s my favourite story — I hope she reads this because I would love to do this for my second issue but — she's the original bully. Because she's been bullied and she's also bullied the industry. That's what this is about. This is what this is for.
"COLLABORATION IS KEY FOR TORONTO RIGHT NOW! [...] WE NEED TO DO IT TO HELP EACH OTHER RISE UP."
Bobby wears black SPBADU jacket and pants, Nike sneakers and a white Prada bucket hat.
K - What do you mean when you talk about being bullied in the industry? What's an example of that?
B - I mean like, in the beginning when I started out I tried to pull. For example — I was shooting something for fucking young — I tried to pull at the Bay or I tried to pull at Holts: “No sorry we only do Canadian publications”…well that doesn’t make sense. The brands in your store are not Canadian. Its designers from all around the world and this is going to be published internationally. So it's like, I’d always get no. No. Closed door. Sorry. No. Agencies for models: no. This: no. Nobody helps! That's how it felt for me here in the beginning. And I know it felt like that for other artists. And that's why I’m not gonna lie, I have a lot of respect for Nike and stuff, you know? They really helped me with a lot of projects a lot of different things I think they really see the culture and they really see they can help in certain ways and like, shout out Nike Toronto!
K - Whats it's like now when you go? Do they respect you more?
B - I still get nos!
K - Really?
B - I still get no. Why? Because they don’t get it. You know? And that's why I feel bullied in the industry. Yes, it’s getting better, some places are nicer to me and I’ve established myself —cool. But, what do you think? I’m gonna run away with the clothes girl? Where am I running? The city knows me… like no! And I that's where we lack support and that's why I rate independent boutiques like Soop Soop, Nomad. Nomad is my whole career. They let me pull from day one and followed through. And then I ended up styling for their e-commerce and different things (also the former Working Title which is no longer here). And now new shops like Neighbour really support. It’s not about just having a store, it's about being a part of the culture! You know, from Nomad, Ransom, Good Foot, Stussy all of that. You know, people like Matt George, Jesar people beyond my time. Built that and you have to give them credit. Working Title and those shops, they understood the culture to build up artists and give them a platform and let artists do photo exhibits, showcases etc. Collaboration is key for Toronto right now! New York does that all the time, Berlin, Europe; all the time! Brands and boutiques and magazines come together. Now its more of a thing and we’re starting to do it but, we need to do it to help each other to rise up. Cuz we are making moves.
K - It’s so important to build the culture. And it's very interesting that there is such a clear distinction between the“Toronto fashion” industry and the actual culture of the city.
B - We’re not a part of it. But we don’t care. We don’t care! Nobody cares. Well, I’m not gonna say nobody cares… people care. But it's all the older generation — and fashion gets younger and younger. I’ve gone to Paris and other places and I look in new magazines and I’ll see a brand, and I’m like “what's this I’ve never heard of it?”. We have these emerging, cultivating brands [in Toronto] but they're not in magazines out there. When we have Toronto fashion week there are no editors here. Why? Who are we covering? Who are you covering? Joe Fresh? You know? No-one cares. No-body-cares. But there are designers that people do care about but they’re not a part of that “Toronto fashion” hub. When people from other parts of the world read BULLY, they’re gonna see WIL STUDIOS , SP BADU, NEVA WIREKO, 1212 jewelry. It's like these are things from Toronto and Canada. They’re gonna be like: “What the fuck? These people exist?” That's what I want. And right now Toronto and Canada are looked to for our music fashion, everything. Eyes are on us, it's crazy and that's why it’s the time for this.
K - Exactly, the talent is here, it’s not like it’s not… but its also going to create opportunities for other people to want to create their own platforms too. I think, in Toronto, the creative infrastructure is changing but it still has a long way to go.
B - 100 percent! It’s changing, and I can see it. That's why I did it now. This idea has been in my mind for 4 - 5 years but it also had to be at the right time. You know what I’m saying? BULLY can come out and there can be another magazine come out tomorrow. But there has to be more, the city has to give some money behind this to make this even better.
Bobby wears black SPBADU jacket and pants, Nike sneakers and a white Prada bucket hat.
K - 100 percent! So I want to talk about the visuals in the magazine. I noticed you played a lot on gender expressions and representations. I assume that was intentional?
B - 100 percent
K - Can you speak a bit to that?
B - I mean it's like BULLY! I think when you look through a fashion magazine or a new publication its: clothes, fashion, models, dada dada da beautiful, you know. Like I said in the editor's letter BULLY is no rules, no boundaries. You know what I’m saying? That's what I want it to be I want people to look and be like “oh my gosh, woah…” But it's beautiful. I don't think everything should be about you know genders and all this stuff, its just art, its beautiful and its just people… I want to put it in your face and I want it to become a norm. Outside, in the world, it is a norm: Europe, America, everywhere, you know. Here it's still like “Oh my gosh there's a penis in there? Omg that's a naked ass”… Yes, I’m aware. I think we need to let loose. This is to loosen people up, shake ‘em up. I am doing this to shake up the city. I swear to God. I’m not gonna lie; I want it to shake the city, girl. I want to paint the while city red, girl. You will see BULLY everywhere. When I get the money — I need $10,000 —you will see billboards of BULLY everywhere.
K - I also feel like the publication is very authentic, the gender representations, the expressions of sexuality, the beauty of the way you curated everything. I notice in fashion they are trying to lean more towards “diversity” and “representation”. Especially for queer and trans people —
B - For me, it’s not like: “oh I have to put a trans story in here”. It’s just the messages that I think need to be told right now. I think for Toronto, it needs to be seen more especially in a publication form. Something where you can keep and reference that and go back to it. That's why it's bi-annual. I want this to be something you keep, and you're like: “oh, let me show my mom this model how beautiful she is and she's trans” I just want it to be more accepted. Even to have my straight brother and different people who are like: “Yo, I mean like…mi nah really inna dat”. You know what I mean? “But it’s a nice image”. Whether you're gay, straight, bi, trans…whatever you believe in. That's a beautiful image. Simple. Simple.
K - I remember when they did that Gucci campaign where they had all the afros, in 2017 over the summer. Then a couple years later they come out with the blackface sweater. I feel like that happens a lot in commercial ideas of representation. But really its because it’s not authentic.
B - Facts! Facts! The [Brand Feature: 4ye] story styled by Summer Ellis for a new do-rag company out of Toronto, is one of my favourite stories. When she sent me the images I was like “Oh my gosh!” It's just like, my high school growing up, you know? I get everything, everything is so real and authentic and true — not try hard. I would never look at this and think a white person styled this — no shade — but a lot of white girls are doing this nowadays but you can see when there is an authenticity to it.
K - When you see things that are not authentic do you think it’s our job to infiltrate those spaces or to continue to make our own?
B - I think we have to continue to make our own because people are always going to try to duplicate and create things that we’ve done. That's just how the world works. You know what I’m saying? I reference things far beyond me but it's still my culture, I’m still a part of it. Reference is key. You have to do your research and stuff. But authenticity speaks volumes.
" I DON'T THINK EVERYTHING SHOULD BE ABOUT [...] GENDERS AND ALL THIS STUFF, ITS JUST ART, ITS BEAUTIFUL AND ITS JUST PEOPLE. "
Bobby wears a red Nike top and red Nike joggers and a red durag.
k - One of my last questions for you: What do you see for BULLY in the future? 5 years from now?
B - I see BULLY going from a magazine. We’re gonna have merchandise, we’re gonna have events, you know? I would love BULLY to turn into a creative hub. There's BULLY online, this is gonna grow. I know its gonna grow. God wouldn't let me put all this time and energy into it, you know. I should be putting more energy into it. But life happens. I’ve already started working on the next issue. This isn’t finally printed yet. But it's done! It's done!
K - What about yourself aside from BULLY? What are other things, do you want to take on?
B - Me? I mean, I would love to work more, like I work a lot with Spencer. I would love to work with other brands outside of here. You know? I’ve done runway. I would love to do runway in another city. Casting, I love casting. I cast a lot of things in the city, no one knows about. I’m always sending faces for people and don't get the credit, don't get anything but that's okay, you know. I always cast my own stuff. I would love to cast a whole runway show in New York or Berlin, Paris, you know? I want to tap into different markets. Asia, I went to Asia last year, I want to explore those places.
K - Do you see your self moving or living elsewhere?
B - I would like to. Two more years, but who knows? This is gonna take me places (taps on mag).