KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 ― This question gets asked in two tones. The first, out of genuine curiosity, and the second, out of frustration from seeing attention showered onto someone who seemingly does nothing aside from inconveniently dressing up in suits and managing his moustache for photos.
But the question remains: why is Wak Doyok famous?
Wak Doyok, less popularly known by his real name Mohd Azwan Md Nor, has three types of fans, or followers, whichever term you prefer.
There are those who earnestly look to him for fashion advice and admire his style (some calling him a fashion icon) and then there are those who are nauseated by his online presence — the ones who are most confused by his fame.
But then thirdly are the fans who are the most speculative of his fame — the ones who like him ironically.
Street culture magazine Juice Malaysia editor Alif Omar Mahfix, who could arguably be categorised as part of that third group, believes Wak’s fame is largely due to the timing he appeared on the “scene.”
“Instagram was just starting to get more Malaysian users, the now hackneyed ‘gentleman’ movement wasn’t as cringe-worthy at the time, and nobody bothered to groom their beard the way Wak did,” he said.
“It helped that Wak had this Everyman appeal to him, and he was unabashedly a regular Malay guy who just happened to discover sartorial fashion via Ben Sherman. Contrast this with other popular Instagram D-list fashion celebrities who think themselves better than him (and everyone else).”
Wak agreed with Alif on the timing of Instagram’s surge at the time contributing to his rapid rise, and that the novelty of his look intrigued many, especially with the “fashion campaign” photography he posts of him and his friends acting and promoting “mod” culture (though what he considers mod is debatable).
And yes, we spoke to Wak Doyok himself.
“There’s no smiling in gentleman fashion,” he tells Malay Mail Online photographer Choo Choy May, who asked if he could look less tense.
“I read that in a tutorial online,” he added.
Many believe his vain persona was orchestrated ironically with full awareness, with him being in on the joke. However sitting down to talk to him, what comes through is only his sincerity in trying to “educate” the masses on fashion and personal grooming, with no joke intended.
So is he oblivious to the Instagram hearts he gets out of irony? Not exactly.
While he acknowledges the hater community contributed largely to his fame, he interprets their intention solely as spite and out of envy.
“Without haters, who would I be? They provide me free advertising,” he said laughing.
“But I understand the ridicule. It’s because the pictures I upload to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter of me in blazers make me look ‘poyo’. However, it’s the required look for ‘menswear’. I’m really just putting on a character. It’s written in the tutorials,” he explains.
With that in mind, he had begun orchestrating a path to maintain his relevance in pop culture, and in a way, try to validate his position as a topic of discussion.
Knowing that he appears like a poseur on social media, he is using the fame he has garnered to explore television as a means to show people his real persona which he feels is more personable, to win people over.
Wak Doyok has been featured in countless advertisements (most notably for riding a unicorn in a Hotlink ad), appeared on Astro’s Raja Lawak and currently co-hosts travel reality show Ke Indonesia Ke Kita? (a follow-up season to the show Ke Korea Ke Kita? which he also co-hosted) on TV9.
“When people see my real personality, that I’m silly, and half baked, people change their opinion of me. I am trying to shift the perception of the masses from just what I wear,” he said.
That does not mean, however, that his foray into mainstream media left his online presence dwindling. As interest in his novelty slowly falters, what remains is interest in him as a personality, and that has led to even more followers on Instagram.
He told Malay Mail Online that he began hosting Ke Korea Ke Kita? when his follower count was at 30,000 on Instagram. At time of writing, his profile clocked in at over 889,000 followers.
Stressing the importance of maintaining his popularity on the platform that catapulted him to fame, he said it is achieved through collaborations with other personalities to expose each other to one another’s followers. Which is not an uncommon practice, though Wak’s cross promotions have actually spread globally with picture swaps with other fashion personalities from Indonesia, Australia, France, and Spain among others.
On his popularity that does not seem to be slowing down, another observer, Miranda Yeoh of street culture portal Gumball said that at the end of the day it is still about his fashion sense.
“He's really good at marketing his brand. He knows who he is, has a specific look that makes him stand out from the rest and is consistent about it,” the associate editor said.
“I'm not a fan of his but I do find him intriguing. It takes a lot of effort and discipline to dress the way he does. It's something a lot of Malaysians can learn from. I also have a lot of respect for how far he's taken his career. If he keeps evolving, who knows? He already has his own beard oil and menswear brand, I don't really know what else is up his sleeve,” she added.
So now that we have identified the different factors that contributed to Wak Doyok’s fame ― timing (starting at the boom of Instagram in Malaysia), the novelty of his dressing, and the semi-aware orchestration of maintaining his popularity tailored to the evolving interest in him ― we wonder if he would be as famous if he started his career now.
“No. I think he started out at the right time,” responded Miranda.
Alif, on the other hand, said it was a little more complicated as one of the reasons the trend is the way it is now is due to the fact that Wak Doyok actually made it so.
“Assuming the sartorial menswear gap did not get something of an icon back then without him around, I’d say yes, he could be as popular ― but maybe if no one else capitalised on the trend back then, it wouldn’t have garnered as much traction today,” he told Malay Mail Online.
“This is the Wak Doyok-null scenario; a KL dystopia severely lacking in pomade, beard creams, and formerly vanilla dudes exploiting the bearded gentleman trend. That doesn’t sound much like a dystopia, but I don’t want to live in a world where Wak Doyok doesn’t exist.”