Where we are born shapes who we become. For proof, just look at Ash Hobian.
In 1988, Iranian couple Ali Hobian and wife Nigen Montazeri fled the war in their homeland and emigrated to Toronto. Neither was yet 21. They found themselves in a cultural mecca with over 200 ethnicities living in harmony. Their twin sons, Ashkan (“Ash” for short) and Roham, were born a few years later. Toronto proved to be the perfect city for Ash to grow up in and thrive as a gay, Iranian-Canadian fashion and lifestyle influencer.
With some 94,000 Instagram followers, Hobian is currently one of the most sought-after brand ambassadors in Canada for dozens of A-list fashion, food and lifestyle brands, and he cites Toronto as the source of his emotional and physical well-being.
What places in Toronto hold a special emotional meaning for you, and why?
A.H.: The Kensington Market Parkade. It’s a rooftop with a beautiful skyline of the entire city. It’s where I find myself most of the time when I need to take it easy. It’s open to the public, although sometimes I’m the only person there. It has this huge sign — as you’re driving though the city you can see it, and people can go sit under the sign. It’s my quiet place. I don’t go with anyone but my music. I take in everything I’ve done for the day and reflect.
How has the city changed?
A.H.: It’s become way more modern. There are a lot of high rises going up that are intricately shaped with architecture we’ve never seen before. But we still have our old places. We have a street called Ossington, and along the way we have a park called Trinity Bellwoods. In the summertime, it’s where we all take blankets and stay all day. It’s my favorite time of year. There are dogs everywhere. It’s a happy place to get away from the rush of the city.
Where do you take your friends to eat when they come to town?
A.H.: There’s a place called Baddies, it’s where I take everyone when they visit. It’s one of my favorite cafés — the best avocado toast you will ever have.
I know all of the healthy places to eat in Toronto because I used to be morbidly obese. At age 12, I weighed 220 pounds. I ignored my weight until I finally understood what it meant to dislike myself. And once you feel like it’s getting to a point where there is no self-love, that’s when it’s time to take a step, to make a change. I have a twin brother and we were both the same weight at the same age, so I was lucky to have someone who understood what I was going through. We both made a conscious decision to get a trainer and go to the gym. It’s been up and down, but now I wake up every morning at 6 and release any bad juju, and it puts me in a good mood, although I still drink my chocolate caramel mochas. You can’t take that away from me.
Is there a place you like to exercise outside?
A.H.: Fort York. It’s stunning. You basically run through a park, under a bridge, onto a field. I love evening runs. I walk a lot. I walk from one end of the city to the other. I go with my brother. It’s something we’ve done since we were 17. We kind of stop along the way … like if there’s a cool shop. We avoid all transportation, minus our feet.
You post a lot about your mom on Instagram. Where do you like to take her in the city?
A.H.: My mom is my best friend. She’s someone I can talk to about anything — there are no limitations. I took my mom to TIFF, which was incredible. It’s my favorite time of year in Toronto because all of a sudden everything becomes glamorous. We went to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” at TIFF. We literally cried from beginning to end, and the people next to us were like, “What is going on here?” We grew up watching this show. I think that show helped my mom close that barrier between languages. She learned English through him.
Where do you like to go in Toronto to get away and recharge?
A.H.: The Elgin Theatre. What makes it so unique is that if you look up on the ceiling, there’s all of these blooming botanicals that are just hanging from the ceiling. The entire room is filled with them, and I just go and sit there. I just sit there.
What are your favorite shopping spots?
A.H.: Queen Street West is one of our most hip streets. It has consignment stores with higher end brands for dirt cheap. It’s more of a vintage vibe — stuff you will never find. It makes shopping a bit more fun. I take my mom to a big mall. We can spend a good six hours there and not buy anything. We just walk together and window shop.
What is your go-to outfit for style and comfort?
A.H.: I do a trouser with an oversize sweater or T-shirt, paired with some sort of jacket and comfortable shoe. I love to collect different types of coats and jackets. You don’t even want to see my closet. My mom loves to tease me about it. It’s something I invest my money into.
You’ve traveled to many incredible places for your job. Why live in Toronto?
A.H.: Being the age that I am, travel has made such an impact on my life. It’s opened different parts of my mind that I have never explored. Traveling helps me reflect and makes me appreciate Toronto 10 times more. Have you ever experienced flying into a city and all of your worries and stress are eased…it all disappears? That’s how I feel when I fly home to Toronto.