"Creative thinking inspires ideas, and ideas inspire change” (Barbara Januszkiewicz). In front of me is Tony de Wilde, brand manager of the Mister B leather shop, who, as a creative thinker, keeps an eye on the latest developments and trends every day.
How do you explain that things are so different compared with just a few years ago?
“It has several reasons. Firstly, the arrival of Instagram made it possible for people to post and share fetish photos. The response is often instantaneous. Young people are more open to this, which means that fetish is more accepted than a few years ago. Secondly, the internet gave more visibility to Mister B, RoB and other leather fetish stores. We also support and sponsor other things outside our own circle.”
Do you mean visibility, young people coming out of the closet?
“Yes, that as well. Mister B’s previous owner, Wim Bos, was actively involved in this. This does not mean, however, that it has become easier. Youth is now coming out at a younger age. This particularly holds true in bigger cities, which is a big difference with sixteen years ago, when I was eighteen. There is more openness in secondary schools now. There is even youth coming out at age thirteen or fourteen.”
Do the Mister Leathers play a role in this?
“That depends on the Misters. For example, a Youth Pride was visibly present at the Pride Walk. Fetish youth mingled with them, which creates dialogue. Fetish is also covered more on TV. BNN/VARA, to name one public broadcaster. The TV show ‘The Diva in Me’ shows a wide and positive visibility.”
Could this also be something for young leather fetishists? The view, I’m told, is rather one-sided?
“GLBTI+ is much wider, and creating visibility is important indeed. We have collaborated with TV show ‘Spuiten en Slikken’ (BNN/VARA). They want to be seen as cool. However, fetish is often seen as something funny or ridiculous. Yet it is a sensationalist show, and that is not what we have in mind.”
What do you have in mind?
“We want acceptance of being true to yourself, that they show that GLBTI+ is multicolored and comes in many shapes, forms and expressions. It is not an aspect that is taken seriously. The average Dutch person relates it to sex, but it’s more than sex, it’s a lifestyle. That is still a taboo for many. It is difficult because leather fetishism is linked to sexuality. In this regard, our Calvinistic history is still anchored in our foundation.”
Do you think the younger generation will deviate more from that view?
“Certainly. Internet plays an important part in that. Young people find their way through dating apps and websites. They have a more global orientation, with ‘Manchester Rubberman’ as a good example of this. They stimulate visibility on the streets. They are now mixing with the drag queens. In the past, there were many more distinctive circles, and those circles or scenes had their own rules."
"That is comforting on the one hand, but young people do not adhere to those rules anymore. They mix leather with rubber, or wear different colors of leather, which was really impossible ten years ago. But we keep up with the times, which obviously means that we have to adjust our market strategy, which is always subject to change anyway. Everyone wants to make their own fetish personal and thereby integrates their own taste. It is important that young people can be true to themselves, live the way they want. Making new contacts now is mostly done through the internet. The negative tendency is that some also express themselves (negatively) on the internet."
"This can get out of hand, for instance on Twitter. Social skills have changed, and young people do not like being labelled. They create their own label. Through the internet they are also aware of all the parties that are organized on a European level. They travel from Berlin and Amsterdam to Manchester and back. Especially Instagram is used for this. It has become second nature to them. I keep an eye on these developments from a work perspective.”
What about charities?
“In Manchester they focused on young people who were evicted from their homes because of their coming out. Rainbow Railroads is a hot topic within the community here. Young people really have a presence through social media. Yet, older people have a different perspective because they have experienced a different development.”
Are you an example for the younger generation?
“No, not necessarily, that’s not how I perceive it. I think they are more of an example to me. As a brand manager, I respond to this, for example by organizing parties that are also for the younger generations. I started this work ten years ago, and over the years we started focussing more on the market. Our models are very diverse, so we encourage diversity. Fetish is no longer such a taboo. Visibility on-line is openness. In the past, everything was more secretive and behind closed doors. That tension, of course, also had its charm.”
I am approached by Nick by telephone. Together with Wolf, both former Mister XXXLeather, they have taken over control and run the fetish club. Their fresh approach is appealing to new generations. Fetish bubbles change and create the future. He tells me that they organized their first leather party for young people in the Spijkerbar, after which the party was continued at Club Church. The turnout was good and the atmosphere great.
It is now “The Easy way In,” with young people revamping Tom or Finland. Nick has recently established a Cigar Club, which already exists in a number of countries. At these parties, money is collected through auctions for charity, including youth initiatives. He also tells me that they are
especially open to mingling with everything, such as divas, trans, or leather in high heels or leather sneakers. When I ask him how they reach the young people he says: “If it isn’t on Instagram it doesn’t exist.”