Club kid and nightlife impresario, Bobby Luo, 48, is a recognisable and notable figure in the night life scene. Transforming Singaporean club culture since the 90s, Bobby Luo first began his career as a set designer at Zouk but moved on to co-found the iconic clubbing venue, The Butter Factory. Despite saying goodbye to the much-loved Butter Factory which shut its doors in 2015, Bobby continues to make his mark through his fashion boutique—Superspace, in Orchard Road—which prides itself on all that is edgy, beautiful and unusual.
Esquire Singapore sat down with the nightlife mogul, discussing all things from fashion to drag.
L.A. WAS ANOTHER WORLD FOR ME. We watched a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I returned with an appreciation for alternative subculture. Since then, I’ve gone through many phases: punk-rock, ’70s alt-rock, Andy Warhol…
I’D BUY fashion magazines like The Face, Blitz, i-D, Details… they would talk about the New York club kids in the late ’80s, ’90s. They would be dressed a little more out there and I would follow them.
DURING DINNER ON NEW YEAR’S EVE, we were talking about Phi Phi O’Hara’s Instagram project, which was 365 days of drag. It was a fantastic project and I said something about doing something like that, but reinterpret it to the things in my wardrobe and to align it to days that are significant to me.
I DON’T DO DRAG but I like [the culture] because a lot of what they stand for has parallels with what I believe. Drag is punk rock, it goes against the grain.
WHEN THE CLOCK STRUCK 12 and it was New Year’s Day— that’s when I started on my project. I pulled out seven outfits and Ritz shot them all but only four were usable. Sometimes, I’d be behind schedule and it would be really close to the wire; I wouldn’t have anything planned but I had to make something up on the spot. And Ritz would always be there to take the pictures, all 365 shots.
I HAVE MORE THAN 80 BOXES AT HOME. When I was doing the daily project [365 Days of Freakdom], I had to shoot one photograph a day. If I was missing something to complete a look, I had to look through 80 boxes, so it was quite backbreaking for me.
I’M QUITE A HOARDER. I’m trying to be Marie Kondo about it though.
A F T E R T H AT, my close friend, Roy Chan, suggested that I should make it into a book, which became Freakdom. Here’s the thing: I didn’t know what goes into putting out a book. I had friends who guided me through it but it was still a huge learning curve for me. I applied for an ISBN, touched up the images, it took a while as I prepped almost everything on my own before enlisting the help of Howie Kim and Adam Kerr.
EVERY FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT, Ritz and I would take a taxi to The Butter Factory. The drivers would ask, “are you performing?” Sometimes, it would be an innocent question. The worst ones are from the kids. I’ve had insults thrown at me in my own club, okay?
I GET OFFENDED if people call what I wear a costume but that’s usually associated with fancy dress, which is considered a novelty. It diminishes my expression for not blending in with the rest.
THE COMMON QUESTION I get is whether I make all my outfits. I used to but now I wish I’d the time to do so. I like the idea of DIY culture but at this point in my life, I don’t mind paying to look DIY.
I’M ALWAYS ANGRY AT MYSELF because I’d take on too many projects and I’ll do them by myself. It gets overwhelming and I get frustrated because I don’t get the headway I need. You deal with it and you move on.
MY BIGGEST FEAR is reaching the end of the road and losing Ritz. I don’t know how to deal with that. We’ve been together for 28 years. He’s my soulmate.
ONCE, the two of us woke up and Ritz said that he dreamed that he was stuck in a car and I had a dream where I was also stuck in a car. On further inspection, we discovered that we were both in the same nightmare. That’s quite cosmic. Maybe it’s a sign but I knew that we were soulmates.
THE FIRST NIGHT WHEN ZOUK OPENED, a girlfriend brought me out, saying: “I need to show you this guy. He’s quite cute.” So, she bought me to the podium where Ritz was dancing and she’s right, he is cute.
RITZ HAS NO HANG-UPS. He’s unassuming and has a bubbly personality. He dresses quite well, which is the first thing I noticed about him. He’s my rock. He has the most amazing heart of gold and I have never met a more selfless person like him in my life.
I’D BE ON THE LOOKOUT for those who share a kindred spirit with me. I’ll get close to them, no ulterior motives, I just like interesting people. People like Nat [Yong from Mash-Up], who started to come to the club back then. I’d notice some sort of fire in them.
THERE ARE FEWER PEOPLE now that I can find any kinship with. The country is built on a system where you’re encouraged to fit in, to blend in. They don’t like it if you stick out. It’s homogenous, everything needs to be the same. No rebellion, no going against the grain.
I NEVER HAD A COMING-OUT STORY. My dad knows so I didn’t have to come out to him. When I was with my mom, I had been a troublemaker: I played truant, hung out with people who would engage in fights. She had enough of bailing me out of weird situations so being gay isn’t unusual for her.
A PERFECT ENDING, I THINK, is if I could be rich and if I could travel with Ritz to the ends of the world.