Much of the action during this week’s 36th annual International Mr. Leather—the bootblack competition; the extensive leather market; the role-playing event Woof Camp, in which men take on the parts of submissive puppies or dominant handlers—goes down at the Marriott Hotel on the Mag Mile. IML’s titular contest, which rewards a participant’s pecs as well as his personality, happens at the Harris Theater. Both venues are miles away from what is, for the rest of the year, a major hub of Chicago’s BDSM community: the Leather Archives & Museum at 6418 N. Greenview. Sure, doms and subs, daddies and cubs of all stripes congregate at bars such as Touche and Jackhammer or bathhouses like Man’s Country, but nowhere does the scope of leather fetish history hit you like a cat-o’-nine-tails to the bare backside as it does at the LA&M.
The kinky institution was cofounded in 1991 by IML creator Chuck Renslow, who in 1958 opened Chicago’s first leather bar, the Gold Coast, at 501 N. Clark. The museum’s 10,000 square feet is split into eight distinct spaces. The Dungeon shows off everything from bondage gear and whips to a custom stainless-steel chastity device and an infamous spanking bench once installed in Chicago’s now-defunct club Galleria Domain. “A Room of Her Own,” a collection of items from the Women’s Leather History Project, proves the subculture, while male-dominated, isn’t gender specific. Another area is modeled after a leather bar—complete with a mannequin “regular” named Randy, clad head to toe in black leather—that displays signs, posters, shirts, and various other artifacts from historic fetish nightclubs around the country. The vast collections, many of them kept in climate-controlled storage, include thousands of periodicals (Honcho, Mandate, 100% Beef), films and videos (Larry Townsend’s seminal S&M flick Born to Raise Hell), and pieces of erotic art (Domingo “Etienne” Orejudos’s cartoonishly muscle-bound nudes).
Several large Etienne works adorn LA&M’s 160-seat theater, the location of last year’s Cinekink film fest and the site for the roast on Thursday, May 22, of last year’s International Mr. Leather, Andy Cross, and the outgoing International Mr. Bootblack, Oil Tan Sam.
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