Now in its 41st year, IML draws nearly 20,000 attendees to downtown Chicago for a celebration of everything leather and fetish. The five days of non-stop events will be hosted for a fifth year at the Congress Plaza Hotel, 520 S. Michigan Ave.
IML weekend is filled with conventions, workshops, and parties all celebrating a shared love of leather, rubber, sports gear, pup play, and much more. All the events are organized around the annual competition to crown International Mr. Leather as well as the 27th annual International Mr. Bootblack competition.
IML events start on Thursday, May 23 with Opening Ceremonies, which includes the introduction of contestants and judges, at Venue SIX10, 610 S. Michigan Ave. from 8:00-10:30 p.m. The Pecs and Personality event, where hopefuls will strut their stuff to show off their physiques, stage presence and public speaking abilities, is Saturday, May 25 beginning at 8 p.m. at Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway. Contestants reconvene on Sunday, May 26 for the International Mr. Leather Contest at 6 p.m.
All these events aside, however, nothing says IML like the popular Leather Market, hosted again this year at the Congress Plaza Hotel between two enormous convention halls. Featuring over 120 vendors from across the U.S., the Market offers an amazing assortment of leather and fetish goods and an even more amazing opportunity for people watching. Those not holding an IML weekend pass will need a Day Pass to enter, with the $15 donation going to Chicago’s Leather Archives and Museum. The Leather Market opens at 11 a.m. during the weekend, closing at 7 p.m. on Saturday, 5 p.m. on Sunday, and 4 p.m. on Monday.
Two of the weekend’s biggest and most highly anticipated events are the Victory Party and Black and Blue Ball, the annual circuit-type parties that bring contestants, winners, and IML revelers together to shake, sweat and dance it out.
After the new International Mr. Leather is crowned on Sunday, the crowd will flock, per tradition, to the House of Blues, 329 N Dearborn, for the Victory Party featuring Grammy-nominated DJ Tony Moran. The favorite IML closing event, Black & Blue Ball, returns to the House of Blues, on Monday, May 27, featuring DJs Karsten Sollors and Tom Stephan.
IML began as the Mr. Gold Coast bar contest held at the Gold Coast, a long-shuttered gay leather bar owned by Chuck Renslow, a Chicago businessman and newspaper publisher. The contest became so popular it was relocated it to a larger venue in 1979 and renamed International Mr. Leather. The International Mr. Bootblack Competition was added in 1993.
Renslow, best known as the founder of the International Mr. Leather contest and the Leather Museum and Archives, died June 29, 2017 at age 87.