International Mr. Leather | Event report and photos
Last weekend, among the usual tourists on Michigan Avenue were slightly more assless chaps and chest harnesses than usual. The International Mr. Leather competition was in town at the Park Hyatt, and with it came nearly 20,000 leather fetish folk from all around the world to break out their best leather gear, attend workshops, experience the pageantry of the IML competition, hang out with like-minded people, go to the legendary parties, and give the locals double-take whiplash. (N.B.: The attached photos are from one portion of the IML competition.)
As a newcomer to the scene, I'd been told to pass the gladiator gear and follow the sound of raucous conversation to the marketplace. During each day of the convention, over 100 small businesses from across the country set up shop to sell high-quality sex toys, leather clothing and gear, lube, rubber sheets and sex furniture alongside online production companies, health organizations and sex educators. I had just emerged from a bondage suspension demonstration with porn stars thinking I knew the place when a specialty mask vendor started piping Sarah McLachlan tunes from his booth. The marketplace was the place to meet people and to happen on unique finds like a paddle with a ball-gagged snowman on it, described by the New-York based vendor RUFF Doggie Styles as “the best stocking stuffer ever.”
After finding suitable chaps, I wondered how on earth all these good-looking people put this stuff on without a crew of supporters or a series of shoehorns. IML contestant number five, Jeremy Collinsworth from Minneapolis/St. Paul, had simple words of advice after years of experience: “Baby powder.” Another piece of advice from local leatherman Jim Peterson: “Wear your chaps over jeans for a daytime look.”
The IML competition drew the most general attendees, but there was something for every niche interest. Bootblacks (people who enjoy receiving or giving boot-polishing services) could have their boots shined by contestants for the International Mr. Bootblack competition at the marketplace. Pups, dogs, handlers and friends were invited to the “Woof Camp” on Saturday, where they delighted in either being a pup (a person who acts and plays like a canine) or a handler (essentially the puppy trainer).
Most of the parties and events gave fetishists opportunities to meet like-minded people, but the leather community gave back. Donations from the marketplace and funds from most of the events would go on to benefit various charitable organizations. Many attendees were sexual health advocates and educators—for them, IML was just as much for networking as it was for partying. “In the end, it isn’t so strange or foreign," said Philip Jelley, a longtime IML attendee. "It comes down to a lot of standing around and talking to people."