DOWNTOWN — Whips, electrodes and “plushies.”
It's all familiar lingo to the more than 17,000 people who flocked to the Mag Mile this weekend for the 35th annual International Mr. Leather convention, its bustling leather market, Black and Blue Ball and — of course — the “Mr. Leather” pageant.
“It’s a nice way to introduce folks to a different lifestyle that maybe they didn’t think was out there,” Arthur Gilkison said.
The 39-year-old Denver resident was in town to support his pal Dayton Egloff, who competed in Sunday’s pageant as “Mr. Leather Colorado 2012.”
Visitors from around the globe could be spotted at Saturday’s leather market at the Mag Mile Marriott. Booths at the two-floor fair featured costumes, adult toys, T-shirts and photo shoot opportunities.
“There’s a lot to see,” Adrian Vandang, 39, said. “If you enjoy people watching, this is the place to go. You don’t have to participate, you don’t have to do anything — just come and watch. Everyone’s friendly.”
The Boystown resident donned skimpy leather shorts and laughed when he saw grown men dressed as dogs (“So hilarious,” he said).
“I like to get dressed up,” Vandang said. “I’m not into leather. But if I come to a bar to dance, I have to dress appropriately. Same thing here, right?”
Organizers and guests said this year’s turnout was one of the largest they had ever seen.
“It’s definitely a tighter space,” said Kylon Hooks, 35, a “sir” who was at the market with his “boy” Jaime Falu, 34.
The two engage in a dominant-submissive relationship and visit the convention every year for “the community and the people, the brotherhood and sisterhood,” Falu said.
Vendors were psyched about the crowds.
“I’ll do $3,000 to $4,000 in sales this weekend,” said Don Henderson, 50, who sells bondage gear at TabooLeather.com. “I make maybe that much a month on the website.”
Melyssa Gelfman, 22, sells colorful ropes, hardware and medical equipment with her parents at Rainbow Ropes. Customers can suspend themselves from the floor or bind themselves to furniture, harnesses or each other, she said.
“When I was younger, my parents didn’t want me to know,” about their company, Gelfman said. “It was out of the house; it was in the garage. … They just told me they were selling hardware.”
Now, the Long Island native proudly sells ropes with her parents. “I’m very close with my mom, and this has helped me get closer to them,” she said.
Several booths focused on education. Representatives from the city health department and the Howard Brown Health Center distributed free condoms. And Dave Watt, the 50-year-old behind Mr. Friendly, gave away goodie bags, pins and hugs.
Mr. Friendly is a nonprofit organization that aims to fight HIV stigma with upbeat messaging. People typically breeze past HIV information booths, Watt said, but he ropes them in with colorful gear and a fun approach.
“We’ve had people here from all over the world,” Watt said. “I met somebody from Cape Town, South Africa. He went home with 200 buttons, a banner and a whole bunch of information, so he can start his own booth in South Africa. As of today, because of [International Mr. Leather], we’re international!”
Watt said safe sex messages really resonate with the “leathermen” and S&M crowds because they advocate open communication.
“It’s all about community and supporting each other,” Gilkison said.