IML 2014 welcomes leather and fetish community to Chicago, May 22-26

Thu. May 8, 2014 9:15 AM by Andy Ambrosius

IML founder Chuck Renslow will officiate a same-sex wedding ceremony at IML 2014

Chicago, IL - While LGBT festivals in Chicago like the annual Pride Parade and Market Days draw hundreds of thousands to the Windy City, nothing quite says "Oh my god!" like the annual International Mr. Leather conference and competition.

Now in its 36th year, IML draws nearly 20,000 to downtown Chicago and Boystown for a celebration of everything leather and fetish. And this year's event, slated for May 22-26, is expected to be even more outrageous than ever before, according to IML Executive Director Jon Krongaard.

"It's going to be quite a remarkable year," Krongaard said. "It's a complete and utter smorgasbord of fetish, from the simple attractions to the outright, 'Oh my god!' Although the core of IML is still about leather, the event has come to symbolize all things fetish."

The four days of non-stop events will be hosted for a second year at the Marriott Magnificent Mile, 540 North Michigan Ave., after a departure in 2012 from the longtime IML venue, Hyatt Regency Chicago

Krongaard took over as the executive director of the hugely popular event after LGBT community activist and IML organizer Roger "RJ" Chaffin passed away in 2011. In the wake of Chaffin's passing, Krongaard says another convention booked the Hyatt in 2013, so they turned their sights on the centrally located Marriott. 

Now organizers say they're excited to have worked out any kinks (no pun intended) by hosting IML at the convention space for the second year, and the variety of fetish-lovers attending will notice a difference in how smoothly the event runs.

"Last year, because it was our first time at the Marriott, there was a learning curve. We learn how to better utilize our space, and the hotel staff certainly learns a lot more about us that they likely didn't know," Krongaard laughed. "We've made adjustments to the layout of the marketplace to allow for a better flow of people."

In addition, 2014's IML convention is switching gears by moving its annual Opening Ceremony from The Vic Theatre in Lakeview to Park West in Lincoln Park. The "Pecs and Personality" event – where hopefuls will strut their stuff to show off their physiques, stage presence and public speaking abilities – will also move to Park West. That's combined with the event's flagship attraction, the IML Leather Market, being organized to more seamlessly stream between two ballrooms.

"The vendor market is probably the most unique thing on the planet," said Krongaard. "There are more than 110 vendors this year, and they come from all over the world, and that's the truth. They represent the new trends in gear, toys, equipment, leather and just everything fetish."

And in the wake of the Illinois Marriage Equality bill passing, something else will happen for the first time at IML 2014: A same-sex wedding ceremony. Chuck Renslow, who founded International Mr. Leather in 1979 with just 400 attendees, is officiating the ceremony.

"Let me be clear: We've had things like commitment ceremonies at IML in the past, but the coolest thing that comes to mind this year is an actual same-sex marriage," Krongaard said. "Now that gay marriage is legalized, we will have our first-ever, ever, ever gay marriage at IML."

Planning and organizing the event has been in full-swing since January, and the festivities will start on May 22 with the 2014 IML Roast of Andy Cross, 2013's International Mr. Leather. The Opening Ceremony is slated for 8 p.m. on Friday, May 23 at Park West where this year's contestants and judges will be introduced. The full schedule and list of judges can be found on the IML website.

And while 2014 may be a big year of change, according to Krongaard, one more big surprise is in store for next year.

"In 2015, we've decided to go back to our roots and host IML at the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue," Krongaard told 

Calendar: International Mr. Leather 2014 weekend events

Photos: IML Victory Party, 2013