IML, as it is readily known in the gay leather World, is the most well-known event in the fetish world and this quarter it comes of age with it’s 40th celebratory gathering. In effect a basic leather title contest it has grown over four decades into a beacon of light across the entire fetish world and has become the template for a million support and tributary contests. It has also been adopted by every other fetish tribe with their own Mr Puppy, Rubber, Superhero, bootblack, bear contests and next year the first ever Mr Skinhead Europe contest even. PAUL STAG, a former titleholder himself takes a look at how it started and grew to become an Annual Institution attracting 20,000 leathermen from every country around the globe The event held late May in downtown Chicago on an American long holiday weekend now spreads over 5 long days of cowhide exhibition, fundraising and anonymous buttfucking. Held in one of the major International Hotels where people not into ass, cocksucking and fisting are entirely excluded for the whole period which results in the ultimate gay fetish private feeling of brotherhood, community and pure sex. Like what Alice would find through the looking glass if the whole world was into rimming. There are leathermen in the foyer, in the bars, in the restaurants, blowjobs in the lifts, fisting in the corridors and huge group sex parties in the bedrooms with guys couriering slings and everything under the sun to turn a double room into a Marquis DeSade dungeon. Besides the contest itself there are innumerous dance parties, socials, presentations, meet and greets, The International Bootblack Competition and a massive leather and fetish market with as much new gear and toys as you could want as well as a ready supply of lube, poppers, hugely ribbed condoms and Crisco. Any titleholder from anywhere in the World can enter and it usually results in about 50-70 of the top leathermen that year all already winners in their own right competing for the ultimate fetish sash and what can only be described as a place in history no more no less.
Some represent Countries, some States or Regions, some represent well-known bars or associations such as Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL) or groups such as Gay Days or Mr Man Of Colour. They compete through various rounds of physique, personality and a serious grilling 8 minute interview over 3 days with the aim of being picked as the top twenty when they get to deliver their speeches to an audience of 4000 as well as parade around in their jocks and the final ass comparison section which is more for the audience than the International judging panel of 9/10 elite experts in all things leather.
The event was started by the legendary Chuck Renslow who passed away just a few months ago and you can read our special tribute to arguably the most important fetish guy in History back in Alphatribe 6 by well know fetish writer Douglas O’Keefe. Suffice to say this will be the first year without the great man who was struggling with his health last year unfortunately so the emotion, attendance and special nature of the weekend will be incredible and that would be the case anyway without the fact that it is it’s the 40th Anniversary.
IML’s forerunner was the 1970s “Mr Gold Coast” bar contest held at Chicago’s Gold Coast leather bar, owned by Chuck Renslow and his then-partner, Dom Orejudos. As the “Mr Gold Coast” contest became one of the bar’s most popular promotions, it expanded to a larger venue in 1979 the plush Radisson Hotel. Along with the change of venue came a change in name to International Mr Leather and a Fetish Institution was begun.
1979 – IML 1 First ever ‘International’ fetish contest on planet earth with 12 contestants, half of which were representing US states none from overseas and the winner was the then Mr Leather Brig David Kloss. The Black And Blue Ball which also still continues 40 years later was started and is the relaxing club event for contestants and everyone else on the Monday night and is generally seen as the best party of the weekend outside of the Alphatribe bedroom.
1980 – IML 2 The publicity from the first event led to 18 contestants and the first overseas candidate Mr Leather Australia Patrick Brooks who beat 17 Americans to become the first overseas winner – The International title was now worthy and the event was ready to grow and boy did it.
1981 – IML 3 The contest moved to the prestigious Park West on Chicago’s Miracle Mile where it has returned to in recent years although the contest is now so large that the evening events are based off-site in City theatres and Auditoria.
1982 – IML 4 The number of contestants leapt to 46 and the whole World started taking notice of a very positive event just as AIDS was hitting the gay World like a Tsunami just two years after patient zero…..IML was a positive beam of light in scary times.
1987 – IML 9 Europe got its first winner with Thomas Karasch the then Mr Leather Europe from Hamburg Germany beat 31 other contestants.
1989 – IML 11 Guy Baldwin an IML legend was the winner
1991 – IML 13 The fledgeling leather archives began with no fixed home as yet.
1992 – IML 14 San Francisco’s favourite cop after Dirty Harry the gorgeous Lenny Broberg upgrades his Mr SF title for the IML sash he is now one of the regular hosts of the show and no-one dares argue with him unless you want to end up in his handcuffs which actually we all do.
1993 – IML 15 The contest moved to the Aragon and Congress Hotels due to its popularity. The winner was the Dutch stud Henri Ten Have who took the title back to Amsterdam. International Bootblack Competition was started open to both men and women.
1996 – IML 18 The Leather Archive And Museum acquired a store front to permanently display their incredible collection of fetish memorabilia including items from The Marquis De Sade and Tom Of Finland.
1997 – IML 19 Joseph W Bean began raising funds for a permanent building for the Leather Archive and Museum which has always been supported by revenues from the contest.
1998 – IML 20 The first contestant from Mr Mid Atlanatic Leather Tony Mills took the title and for the first time there were over 60 contestants with a then record of 62.
It was announced that International Mister Bootblack Competition would be the new title and that a separate competition solely for women would be held at International Ms. Leather. This change was made largely because it was commonly held that women had a significant disadvantage competing for ballots from the mostly gay male IML attendees, who often base their bootblack selection at least partly on their sexual attraction to the bootblack…..us gay men are so shallow but we do like to have a gay leatherman sweating at our feet and our sisters deserved better and now they have it.
1999 – IML 21 The Leather museum moved into its current home and started its life as one of Chicago’s best museum attractions and a Mecca for fetish men Worldwide. Every gay man must visit it before he dies….no argument.
2001 – IML 23 A new record with 63 cowhide clad hunks saw the title head to Munich Germany with Mr Bavarian Leather Stefan Muller.
2002 – IML 24 More entrants still as it reaches the all time peak of 66 contestants which still stands today. Joseph W Bean retired from the museum and it was taken over by the superstar that is Rick Storer.
2003 – IML 25 The United Kingdom took its only win with John Pendal who was a stand up comedian resulting in a microphone masterclass at the final.
2005 – IML27 The presentation of the IML Flag was started.
2006 – IML 26 After many great Canadian entrants the land of Maple syrup, Justin Bieber and cops in tight ass covering jodhpurs finally won with Bo Ladashevska. The bootblack title also for the first time ever went out of the United States to Benjamin Palmer of Vancouver. That year America entirely unsuccessful at IML did get Saddam Hussein and did wholly embrace Borat so it was not all bad.
2007 – IML 29 Mikel Gerle Mr LA Leather and the first openly HIV positive IML wins which was a truly popular and important result.
2008 – IML 30 Gary Iriza oh dear !. The large print book ‘International Mr Leather : 25 Years of Champions’ was published and given free to every contestant. The book is still readily available from Amazon and other outlets.
2009 – IML 31 Mr popular Jeffrey Payne representing the lone star state of Texas
swept to the top of the podium under a huge wave of Texan flags from the crowd
at the Hilton Hotel which was now the Eleventh different venue the contest had
used in its History. Jeffrey started the annual toast tradition at the following
year and he also by touring the World extensively laid the format for how future
IML’s hopefully will take their titles far and wide to do as much good as possible.
The Leather Archives and Museum announced that IML would be placed in
a trust to benefit the museum. All proceeds from the event would go towards
preserving leather history forever.
2010 – IML 32 Controversially IML announced that effective immediately “it will
no longer allow participation in the IML Leather Market by any entity which
promotes barebacking or distributes/sells any merchandise tending to promote
or advocate barebacking.” Up until then many gay porn studios exhibited at the
Market bringing in their hottest porn stars for the Weekend which of course
always coincides on the Saturday night with the star studded GRABBY American
Porn Awards which still run today. Many studios like TreasureIslandMedia, Dark
Alley, Dickwadd and Hot Desert Knights spent most of the weekend with the
cameras running in endless bedrooms with ever increasing group sizes of guys
and not a condom between them resulting in probably many of your favourite
porn scenes today. Some title competitors we know of starred in bareback films
shot halfway through the 3 day contest giving the expression ‘bringing the sash
into disrepute’ a whole new meaning. With the porn industry moving heavily into
bareback with now over 98% of Studios filming that way this decree instantly
changed the look and feel of the Market to many’s opinion for the poorer as it
is now basically a linear clothes retailing only event. Two years later as PrEP
became widely available and used across the globe for the first time ever IML
looked very out of step and backward looking on this matter.
IML was inducted in to the Chicago Gay And Lesbian Hall Of Fame.
2011 – IML 33 Possibly the sexiest IML of all time Eric Guitterez representing
one of the bigger filter contests to IML Mr Leather Europe took the sash back
to France where he is now pusuing a career in politics. Think Trump but with a
much fitter furrier ass that you would want to eat for hours and whose pussy you
would certainly want to grab.
2012 – IML 34 The hugely successful film of the contest Kink Crusaders which
filmed the 20018 contest finished its festival circuit run and had its Worldwide
DVD release including two extra little films about IML as extra and it is available
today from any outlets.
2013 – IML 35 Andy Cross took the title back to San Francisco which is the City
with the most winners by far with 6 sash’s heading back to the home of Harvey
Milk, Gay Porn, Sister Roma, The Golden Gate, The Presidio military don’t ask
don’t tell fisting base and the South Of Market bumfun clubs; LA is on four wins
but with two in the last 3 years they are coming up fast. Both cities have major
final contests bringing the separate bar title holders together in a sash off which
is obviously great experience and a hugely successful way of getting a great
contestant. Over one third of the titles have been won by California which seems
to be full of cock-taking bottoms and should be henceforth known as The Bottom
Coast rather than The West Coast.
International Mr Bootblack introduces judges alongside the custom ballot
2015/16 – IML 37 and 38 were won by Alphatribe columnists Patrick Smith and
David Bailey who have taken their titles to every corner of the globe from Uganda
to Russia and Patrick has also found time to create the leather worlds own
2017 IML 39 Was the first contest in 4 decades where the founder Chuck Renslow
was too ill to attend. Watching the contest by live stream a message of support
from him was read from the main stage. Just a couple of months later the great
man who had done everything from direct gay porn in the 50’s to running fetish
bars in the 60’s, contests, setting up museums etc went to the great dark room
in the sky and 100,000 leathermen Worldwide removed their Muir caps and shed
a tear to the ultimate fetish visionary and trailblazer. The contest was of course
won by current Alphatribe columnist and sexiest member of staff Ralph Bruneau
who made nude cool. Rick Storer announced his retirement from the Leather
Archive and Museum just as its little sister The European Leather & Fetish
Museum was launched in London which to reflect modern times encompasses
all fetish tribes such as leather, skinheads, puppy’s etc unlike the Chicago parent
museum at present.
The number of contestants jumped up to 63 after many years in the 50’s which
is an awful lot of candidates for the 9 judges to sleep with in 3 days. It is also
renowned as by far the most International with 13 Countries represented…we
love the Chilean Leathermen they are so hairy and it is a great sign to the future
direction of the gay fetish worlds most important event.
International Mr Leather (IML) you are 40 and the entire fetish world raises a
glass to you and the 39 great men you have produced who represent us and the
1800 hunks that have proudly stood for their communities on the biggest of
stages. Without our leader and founder we go headlong into the future so Here
is to the next 40 years and a awful lot more leather man sex, fundraising and
brotherhood in America’s greatest and friendliest City.