Armand Digdoyo On Queer Culture and Beauty - The Inclusive
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Armand Digdoyo On Queer Culture and Beauty

Written by Megan Kirkwood for FASHION

Like so many on the journey to discovering their creative purpose, Armand Digdoyo, it seems, has already lived several lives. Growing up in Ottawa after his parents emigrated from Jakarta, he eventually moved to Montreal to explore city life as a club kid and assist local fashion designer Lino Catalano before finally landing in Toronto. For the past 18 years, he has continued to try on many hats in an attempt to make the most of his creative savvy. He was a member of electro-dance group Fritz Helder & The Phantoms (which opened for Lady Gaga in NYC and was a mentee of Nelly Furtado’s), a columnist for Fab magazine, a DJ for the Canadian Opera Company and Holt Renfrew and a sound designer and stylist for brands such as Aveda, Deveaux New York and Greta Constantine. He also founded New Ho Queen to support local LGBTQIA2S+-identifying Asians in the face of racially targeted hate crimes.

Six years ago, his experience in fashion, music and entertainment intersected in a way that makes one feel that life’s dots eventually all connect. Along with his friend and fellow DJ Phil Villeneuve, he co-founded Yohomo — a hub and safe space for the LGBTQIA2S+ community to come together and share information on pre-vetted art, culture and nightlife events. “Yohomo came from the #nohomo hashtag trending on Twitter at one point,” says Digdoyo. “We wanted to reclaim it and turn something so homophobic into something positive.”

Digdoyo and Villeneuve have since branched into producing their own Yohomo events, podcast and curated playlists as well as a collaboration with Spotify during Pride, which landed them on a billboard in the middle of Yonge-Dundas Square. They’ve also introduced a line of custom Yohomo merchandise, often designed in partnership with local artists, including T-shirts, sweatshirts and reusable grocery bags, which they print in limited batches in Toronto and ship without tags in compostable mailers in order to avoid as much waste as possible. Expanding the Yohomo model beyond events has also helped them keep the party and community support going virtually during the pandemic. “I think these queer experiences that turn themselves into art really need to be highlighted, especially because of the mindfulness it creates,” says Digdoyo. “It inspires young people to know they can thrive.” During the initial lockdown of 2020, they collaborated with designer Tim Singleton and donated five dollars from the sale of every shirt to The 519 — a major LGBTQIA2S+ support and activist centre in downtown Toronto. Since then, they’ve continued to raise proceeds for multiple community groups, including LGBT Youthline, Pieces to Pathways and FoodShare.

Like for many of us, Digdoyo’s goal with makeup is simply to present the best possible version of himself. Looking more polished for special events is a must, he says, as is appearing in the obligatory snapshot and IG Live. “I’m turning 40 this year, so I want to feel like I look a little younger and well rested.” To help achieve this, a little well-placed MAC Studio Finish SPF 35 Concealer and Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish setting powder as well as filled-in brows go a long way. “I try not to go too dark with my brows because I want to keep them in balance with my beard,” he adds.

Digdoyo says that after experimenting so much with dynamic, drag-inspired looks when he was a member of Fritz Helder & The Phantoms, he went through a phase in which he wanted to keep his appearance as pared down as possible. However, the restrictions and isolation of the past couple of years have inspired him to bring back some of those styles and techniques, such as dramatic lashes and other facial embellishments, in an effort to have more fun and take everything a little less seriously. Digdoyo especially appreciates how social media and beauty influencers have made various beauty looks more accessible to everyone, regardless of gender norms. “You can play to how you feel, and you don’t have to put yourself in any box,” he says. “It’s really encouraging to see how non-binary and trans folks are expressing themselves while also achieving a lot of success.”

One influencer who has been a particular inspiration is Bretman Rock, a Filipino-American living in Hawaii who posts beauty and lifestyle videos for his more than 18 million followers on Instagram and nearly nine million YouTube subscribers. After friend and fashion photographer Tommy Ton pointed Rock out, Digdoyo admitted he became hooked on the influencer’s authentic point of view and how he uniquely represents fashion- and beauty-loving queer culture. “I wish I had seen somebody like that when I was growing up as a gay Asian kid. Maybe I wouldn’t have put so many restrictions and insecurities on myself in terms of how I wanted to look or dress or how I felt I had to present myself as a queer person.”

While Digdoyo’s mother’s love of fashion and beauty was an early source of encouragement for his own passions, growing up in a Muslim family also helped inform his perspective on building safe spaces and encouraging all forms of expression and representation. “It has helped me know what it’s like to be an outsider within a group of outsiders and allowed me to be mindful of how people can feel marginalized at different intersections,” says Digdoyo. “It has definitely affected my drive to create community where I don’t see it because I know how hard it can be to feel not included and not seen.”