International Mr Leather (IML) is perhaps the best-known and most sought-after fetish title on the calendar. And it’s been that way since IML 1 in 1979. Alphatribe looks back at some of the most remarkable IML’s from the past four decades.
The first ‘International’ fetish contest on planet earth with 12 contestants. Half of them represented US states. And despite the ‘international’ name of the contest, none were from overseas. The winner was Mr Leather Brig, David Kloss.
IML grew out of the bar contest ‘Mr Gold Coast’ which was organised by Chuck Renslow and his then partner Don Orejudos. The first IML was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Radisson Hotel. The Black and Blue Ball, which also continues today, began the same year. It’s become the relaxing post-contest club event for contestants and everyone else on the Monday night. (See Alphatribe’s full article on the first contest by Jack Fritscher – available on www.Alphatribe.com.)
Publicity from the first event attracted 18 contestants, including the first overseas candidate – Mr Leather Australia, Patrick Brooks. He beat 17 Americans to become the first overseas winner. The event was worthy of its ‘international’ label and was ready to grow – and boy, has it grown!
The contest moved to the prestigious Park West on Chicago’s Miracle Mile (where it has returned in recent years – not to universal acclaim).
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 became a positive beam of light in scary times.
Europe’s first winner, Thomas Karasch from Hamburg (Germany) won the title. He already held the Mr Leather Europe title and beat 31 other contestants. International Ms Leather started – using the tried and tested Chuck Renslow pageant format.
Guy Baldwin, an IML legend and Alphatribe contributor, won the title. Guy recently told us about the experience: “Winning IML in 1989 changed my life in many more ways than I can summarise in one paragraph. Among them, it was a powerful education about celebrity itself, about humility, about responsibility, and about the variation in our leather world(s). Two surprising ‘high points’ since I won have included being chosen to receive the Leather Leadership award from the NGLTF in 2008, and being inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame in 2012.”
Tony De Blasé, the designer of the Leather Pride flag, presented it for the first time at IML 11.
The fledgling Leather Archives were launched as a spark of an idea by Chuck Renslow with the able assistance of Tony De Blasé. The Archives had no fixed home as yet.
Won by San Francisco’s favourite cop, after Dirty Harry of course, Lenny Broberg. Lenny upgraded his Mr SF title for the IML sash. He went on to host the event in the new millennium. Lenny had agreed to write something for this feature but was suddenly taken ill. Everyone at Alphatribe wishes him a rapid recovery.
The contest moved to the Aragon and Congress hotels due to its growing popularity. The winner was the Dutch stud, Henri Ten Have, who took the title back to Amsterdam. The International Bootblack Competition was started and was open to both men and women.
Somebody called Jeff Tucker, running as Mr San Jose Leather, won. He later became IML’s most popular Den Daddy. The Daddy is the guy who looks after the contestants backstage, together with the wonderful IML volunteers. They do everything from tying bootlaces to giving blow jobs. (Ever thought of volunteering at this or any other gay fetish event? It is the best way to enjoy them by far and you get free tickets too.) In 2020, Jeff Tucker was nominated as Person of The Year at the X-Awards. He won the public vote, beating many ‘Misters’ that he has looked after.