Alan Selby (1928-2004) was a San Francisco-based leather community pioneer, fundraiser, and the founder and ‘S’ in Mr S Leather. He was also widely known as the ‘Mayor’ of Folsom Street and ‘Daddy of Daddies’.
Alan Selby was a Brit who moved to San Francisco and started a little brand called Mr S Leather. Just a few months ago, Mr S(elby) Leather celebrated its 40th anniversary with a star-studded party.
The San Francisco store is located at 385 Eight Street, between Folsom and Harrison, And it’s the biggest fetish store on the planet. Products bearing the Mr S Leather label are found on every leatherman, rubber stud, and horned-up puppy on the globe.
Alphatribe is planning a feature to mark the landmark anniversary of Mr S Leather. But here we want to celebrate the great man himself. He had a vision which he realised, yet achieved so much more in his incredible 76 years. Alan Selby might be gone but he will not be forgotten.
Alan Selby was born in Yorkshire (England) in 1928 and eventually graduated from the elite British ‘public school’ system. These boarding schools have long provided S&M fantasies and scenarios for their attendees and many others. They are male-only establishments and allegedly feature plentiful hazing and buggery from the older boys (and everyone’s supposedly straight!).
His older brother, who Alan would describe in later years as ‘my despicable brother’, was a Prefect and then Head Boy. He was particularly keen to show his authority. He hung with a gang of bullies who ran their ‘House’ and together they terrorised the younger students. Think Harry Potter with added ass beatings. It was normal for older brothers to protect their younger siblings, but in Alan’s case, this didn’t happen. Instead of protecting Alan, his brother organised ‘playful’ assaults where he and his friends would pin Alan to the ground in the common room and force-feed him cigar smoke (amongst other practices).
Despite this, Alan Selby graduated and then served as a medic in World War II. He was a young Jewish Englishman serving his country and its allies in the fight against the Nazis and their anti-Semitic bile.
After the war, Selby became a tailor which is where his interest in clothing developed. It was his dream to open his own business. During the 1960s, he became familiar with London’s underground gay fetish scene. He started making clothing, such as breeches and jackets, for this community, and the kernel of a gay fetish business was born.
“I remember a time before the leather image had truly emerged in London,” said Alan Selby. “A time when men who were interested in meeting partners into S&M used to wear knee-length boots and riding britches. They would meet at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park (still a location where any member of the public can stand on a box and say exactly what they like to the crowd). It was quite a gathering of the clan, and many friendships developed! There were groups standing, ostensibly listening to speakers talking on various subjects, but the men in the crowd were also cruising. They would seek out others who they were attracted to. After contact was made they would wander off together and play in the privacy of their homes.” This is how it worked before Scruff, Grindr, MachoBB, and BBRT!
In 1969, the year of Stonewall and the first Pride, Selby made his debut trip to the United States. Although he knew many of the men in London’s Hyde Park scene through outfitting them, until this trip he had never had an actual S&M experience himself. He recounted: “When I visited San Francisco, that changed dramatically.”
Selby was picked up and schooled by ‘a very pushy bottom’, a boy in a tight leather jacket and even tighter jeans: a very American boy. The men of Hyde Park looked like Masters of the hunt. This boy typified a different look, one drawn from post-WWII American motorcycle culture and popularised by Marlon Brando the 1953 movie ‘The Wild One’.
The boy took him on a tour of the existing San Francisco leather shops. Selby was not impressed by the quality of workmanship or the prices. He thought they were shoddy and too expensive. By the end of his weekend in San Francisco, Selby’s life had changed forever. He returned to London with his sexuality revolutionised, and with an idea. “I started working on a range of leather clothing and accessories that I thought would interest Americans,” he recalled. “I produced my very first catalogue, and came up with the name ‘Mr. S.’, which captured the imagination of many people. Soon requests for catalogues started coming in, followed by orders. I was very pleased indeed.”
In 1969, Selby joined his first Leather club, the Sixty-Nine Club of the United Kingdom. He was introduced to the club through his friend Felix. He explained their unusual name: “The Club had a constitution that there could never be more than 68 Members, so that there could never be a Member #69. There was often a waiting list to get in. They had to wait till someone resigned, passed away, or had their membership taken away because of a misdeed.”
In the Sixty-Nine, he made the acquaintance of fellow associate Touko Laaksonen, better known as ‘Tom of Finland’, and they remained friends until Tom’s passing. Selby recalled how his days with the club were to shape his future as a mentor: “I learned a lot very quickly from my fellow club members, and this helped me in later years to pass on advice to novices who often came to me with questions.”
Selby met a Mr Shanks and his friend Mr Murphy. They owned a leather manufacturing company called SM International. The three men pooled resources, shared designs, and together opened a small factory in London. And that was where Selby met his lover Peter Jacklin, a skilled designer and craftsman specialising in leathercraft. To mark the occasion, Jacklin made a collar, which Selby subsequently wore. It was Jacklin who designed many of the harnesses, studded belts, and toys which have since become classics.
Alan Selby was also introduced to the rubber scene during a business trip to New York City. The president of the 5 Senses Club asked him if he thought there would be interest in a similar organisation in England. Back across the pond, Selby placed a small ad in the Gay News. Quickly, the group that would become the Rubber Man’s Club, started meeting. It was hugely popular, right through into this decade.
By 1972, Selby was working with the owners of ‘Leather-n-Things’ in San Francisco’s Castro District. They stocked Mr. S. products, and a friendship had developed between the men. Sometimes they brainstormed the next season’s products. “It was with them that the first Hanky Code was devised and printed in ‘The Bay Area Reporter’ in 1972. This idea took off like a whirlwind and spread internationally. It was a great way of starting communication. People would wear their bandannas in the back pocket of their jeans, sometimes on their biceps, or even on their ankles, depending on what they were wearing. Despite arguments to the contrary, when worn left side you were recognised as a top, and right side, as a bottom. This was a universal recognition signal. The only problem was that in a dark bar it was often difficult to differentiate between the different colours, like navy blue and black, yellow and orange….”
During most of the 1970s, Selby travelled often between London and San Francisco. As business grew, he and Jacklin opened their own retail outlet in Wandsworth, South London. They called it ‘Leather Unlimited’ and it quickly became a de-facto community centre. The seminal tattoo artist Alan Oversby (Mr Sebastian) opened a tattoo and piercing salon in the basement of the building.
In 1979, Selby and Jacklin moved to San Francisco full time, bringing their business with them. Harvey Milk, who had died the year before, had been known as ‘The Mayor of Castro Street.’ Selby was to become known as ‘The Mayor of Folsom Street’.
Mr. S. Leather opened shop in its first location on 7th Street in San Francisco on 17 June 1979. Like its earlier London incarnation, the South of Market Street (SOMA) shop operated as an informal community centre for the active leather community. It was at this original outlet that many of the products we now take for granted were developed. Icons such as Shaft lubricants and the shower shot. An early rubber CBT device was called the ‘Stallion Guard’ as a tribute to its origins as a racetrack condom. Selby explained: “The actual item, which is used in England, is inserted into the mare during the racing season, so that the stallions cannot enter them and make them pregnant.”
Selby also made contacts, friends, and colleagues in the worlds of fashion and the performing arts. He and Jacklin did custom work to specification. They provided leather bustiers for Vivienne Westwood and stage outfits for Judas Priest.
In 1980, the release of the Hollywood movie Cruising with Al Pacino brought the underground world of leather sex to everyone’s attention. That era had many landmarks and produced the 15 Association, a club that is still in existence 33 years later. Selby was at the first meeting of the 15 Association, and although never particularly active, was eventually made an honorary lifetime member.
When the AIDS crisis hit San Francisco, Peter Jacklin became sick. After he died, Selby refocused his attention. Eventually, he sold the business to community member Richard Hunter and much of Mr S’s ongoing success is due to him. Selby then threw himself headlong into fighting the plague and supporting its victims. He buried three special boys: after Peter came Bill Gray and then, in 1992, Johnnie Garcia.
Through his work with the AIDS Emergency Fund, Selby raised over a million dollars for victims. This was direct assistance: electricity bills were paid, the gas stayed on, and food was delivered. For over twenty years, he volunteered at San Francisco General Hospital’s infamous ward 5B: holding the hands and massaging the pain-wracked bodies of the young and often abandoned men who filled those beds. He served on the International Ms Leather board at their inception, and was later named an Honorary Dyke by the San Francisco Women’s’ Motorcycle Contingent, better known as ‘Dykes on Bikes’. In 1999, he was invited to be on the steering committee for the newly formed Leathermen’s Discussion Group. In 2000, the Selby Fund at the Chicago-based Leather Archives and Museum was named in his honour. And in 2002, he was named ‘Leather Marshall’ for San Francisco Pride.
By 2003 he was sick, though not many people knew. He explained that he planned to live life fully until the end. He knew when he was going to di: “I think I will go the Sunday after the AEF Gala. I do want to attend my last Gala.” And he did.
When he passed away there was an incredible tear-stained celebration of life at the San Francisco Eagle. It was packed to the rafters with many more trying to get in. The event showcased the measure of the man and how you can touch so many – and continue to do so.
A biography by Jordy Jones was published in 2017 with the catchy title ‘The Mayor of Folsom Street: The Auto/Biography of Daddy Alan Selby Aka Mr. S’. It’s available from Amazon and gay bookshops around the world. Exhibits in the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco have also been dedicated to Alan Selby recently. He was unanimously voted into the Leather Hall of Fame in Cleveland at CLAW 2013.
With thanks to our former cover star Patrick Smith and the wonderful leatherpedia (www.leatherpedia.org) for a lot of great information about our gay leather history!
Alan Selby was born in Yorkshire (England) in 1928. He visited New York in 1969 and eventually moved to San Francisco.
Mr S Leather in Europe
Mr S Leather brings quality gear to Amsterdam, Netherlands and to the Darklands Gear Market in Antwerp, Belgium.
A biography was published by Jordy Jones in 2017. Selby was also unanimously voted into the Leather Hall of Fame in Cleveland at CLAW 2013.