To award the title of International Mister Bootblack, this competition has been around for twenty-seven years, with twenty-six consecutive winners from America or Canada. Kriszly is sitting in front of me, with a radiant smile on his face. He is the first European to earn the title International Mister Bootblack.
What is a Bootblack, and what does he do?
“A Bootblack is someone from the leather community who has an affinity with leather, looks after leather and maintains it. They are invited at parties, among other things, to polish the boots of leathermen and women so that they look their best. Bootblacks, however, are more well-known in the USA. Many leather venues hire Bootblacks to provide extra service to their guests. You can compare it to shoe polishers at airports who provide service to businessmen. In addition to these services, it also has a social side. I have an intimate contact with the person who sits in my chair. I take care of his or her leather, and in exchange, someone tells me about the history of the leather I’m tending to.”
“The idea behind leather is not just the outfit or who looks best, but also the feeling for the leather/GLBT community and being there for each other. If you as a gay person are abandoned in the USA because your family or social environment condemns you for your orientation, which still occurs often, then there is great solidarity in the leather scene. In Europe this element plays a smaller role.”
“Via XXXLeather Amsterdam I ended up at IML (International Mister Leather) in Chicago for the Bootblack competition. XXXLeather is one of the first clubs in Europe to have a permanent Bootblack appointed. The team feels like family.”
Is this new to Europe?
“Bootblacking is not new to Europe, but it just does not have the same big name or position in the leather scene as it does in the States. A good example of this is that leather that is cared for by Bootblacks in America is often much older and has been around for generations. It is passed on from Sir to boy, who in turn passes it on to the next.”
I understand that title holders are trendsetters. What would you like to achieve now that you are the title holder?
“To me, title holders are people who should present themselves as role models and spokespersons. You are someone that many people look up to and that brings responsibility. You don’t need a title to achieve anything in our community, but it does give you a stage. I therefore think it is important to have fun in addition to the responsibility. If it is fun, you attract a lot more people than if you are only concerned with things that are going less well. What I would like to achieve in Europe is to create visibility for the Bootblacks, but also for the normalization of leather in general. To show people they don’t have to be embarrassed if they choose to wear leather pants instead of jeans.”