A different kind of leather experience is hitting the Magnificent Mile this Memorial Day Weekend—the 35th annual International Mr. Leather competition—with accoutrements, goods and services not likely to be found at Coach, Ferragamo or Gucci.
Securely cuffed to a new host hotel this year—the Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile—2013 marks the first time the event, which draws thousands of leather daddies, rubber-suited men and other fetish folk from around the world, takes place on the front door of one of the most famous shopping and dining avenues in the country.
“The guys that come out for IML also go sightseeing and shop and out to eat—all the typical touristy things,” said IML coordinator Jon Krongaard. “The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau estimates IML brings in $14 million to $18 million in tourist revenue each year to the city of Chicago.”
Even with all that spending power, will shoppers at Forever 21 and the Gap—both within striking distance of the Marriott—balk at the occasional sighing of a hirsute man in assless chaps?
“They probably won’t even blink an eye,” said Krongaard, brushing off any potential culture clash. “It is what it is—IML attendees and contestants are just here to have a good time. And by the way, assless chaps are redundant—if your ass doesn’t hang out—then they are pants.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal—people are generally more accepting of gays and lesbians at this point. If anything, people on Michigan Avenue will be more prone to ask these guys if they can have a picture taken with them,” said title-holder Jason Hendrix, International Mr. Leather 2004, and producer of the popular Chicago events DILF, Stag and Otter, which showcase various subgroups within the gay male community.
“The Marriott is well-aware of who this group is, and they are prepared for many eventualities,” Krongaard added. “We’ve held back no punches on what goes on in the host hotels during IML. At the end of the day, I know the hotel will do everything they can to make sure attendees have as much fun as possible with limited interruptions.”
No longer stymied by local labor union issues that plagued sympathetic but contractually bound IML organizers at the previous host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Chicago, this year’s event promises to be bigger than ever. The Marriott has been sold out for three months, and weekend package sales are up 15 percent compared to last year. Krongaard also reports a noticeable uptick in vendors showcasing their wares at the popular Leather Market this year.
“Booth space has been sold out for weeks,” Krongaard said. “The wait list is as long as a legal pad.”
IML spans several days (Thursday through Monday) and features a bevy of speakers, seminars, mixers, and themed dance parties, many held at sites around Chicago, including a private screening of “Interior. Leather Bar.” directed by actor James Franco and Travis Mathews at the Leather Archives & Museum in Rogers Park.
“We've been interested in the film "Interior. Leather Bar." since it premiered at Sundance earlier this year,” said Rick Storer, executive director of the Archives. “We feel it's a good fit for the crowd that attends International Mr. Leather weekend, so we reached out to The Film Collaborative who handles screening licensing. Since the film still hasn't premiered in Chicago, we were permitted to screen it privately to members of the Leather Archives & Museum.”
The film imagines 40 minutes of gay S&M footage that was rumored to be cut from the 1980 film “Cruising,” which stared Al Pacino.
“The footage was cut in order to save ‘Cruising’ from receiving an X-rating,” Storer said. “The filmmakers created ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ to imagine what the lost footage might have contained. I'm particularly interested in [the film] because gay leathermen have had mixed reactions to ‘Cruising.’ While some see the 1980 film as representative of gay leather culture in the 1970s, others claim the criminal violence in the film overshadows any realistic portrayal. I look forward to seeing how ‘Interior. Leather Bar.’ adds to this conversation.”