â€œDeep, unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.” ~ Ira Gershwin
TheÂ more things change in twenty years, the more they also (sometimes) remain the same. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Bear with me for a bit, Gentle Reader: this “diatribe” (pun intended, as you’ll see) does indeed have a point.
Letâ€™s take a little stroll down memory lane to twenty years ago. The year was 1989. It was a landmark year, full of world-shattering events that brought both tears or anguish and tears of sheer joy to several million across this globe.
The last remaining major world leader from the Second World War era, Japanâ€™s Emperor Hirohito, died in January that year. Solidarity, as a movement and a political entity, became legal in Poland as a result of the tireless efforts of a relatively unknown dock worker named Lech Walesa â€“ a legal move that would have an unbelievable global impact before the end of the year.
1989 was the year that author Salmon Rushdie had a price put on his head for â€œdeeply offendingâ€ one of the worldâ€™s largest religions. The man who angrily posted that bounty was dead himself within the year, the much-lionized Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. During a particularly warm Asian spring, a man (who may or may not have been known by the name of Wang Wei-Lin) defied the largest armed force on the planet by defiantly standing in front of an imposing row of oncoming tanks in one of the worldâ€™s largest public gathering places. The fate of that man is, twenty years on, unknown â€“ but the image of him refusing to give up his ground in front of five very, very large Chinese tanks at Tiananmen Square has been called the single most famous photograph of the entire 20th Century.
Later that year, of course, the long-despised symbol of world-wide Communist dictatorship â€“ the very concrete tumor that for nearly thirty years had separated and plagued one of Europeâ€™s great ancient capitals into â€œWesternâ€ and â€œEasternâ€ Zones – came crashing down. A common, great but twice-vanquished people, separated by artificially-created ideological borders, collectively stood up, and in a singular voice cried, â€œNo more!â€ Those of us who grew up in the 1970â€™s never thought we would see West and East Germany reunite in our lifetime â€“ let alone the entire final rotting and disintegration of Eastern Europeâ€™s totalitarian regimes.
If youâ€™ve managed to read this far in our little trip down a two-decade old Memory Lane, you are probably wondering: â€œWhat the hell does any of this have to do with the Fetish world, anyhow?â€ Other than opening up shiploads of delicious German latex to the rest of the world (a given), what’s the message here?
Itâ€™s simple, really. The year Nineteen-Hundred-and-Eighty-Nine was a year of great turmoil to be sure â€“ but it was also a year of great hope and unrequited optimism. There was a spirit of change in the air, and people were eager to embrace the coming end-of-millennium decade of the 1990â€™s with a renewed spirit of ambition and promise. From 1989 to 2009, countless fetish events have come and almost all of them have gone. Even some famous institutions of alternative lifestyle â€œexpressionsâ€ that promised to â€œstand the test of timeâ€ in the 1970â€™s and 1980â€™s â€“ ultimately disappeared from the fetish map. All, that is, except one.
In the past two weeks, Your Humble Narrator and Only True Friend had been attempting to locate and confirm the existence of a regular monthly fetish event that has been running, continuously or virtually continuously, for at least twenty years. I found one â€“ right in my own backyard and right on the heels of what simply had to be this particular corporationâ€™s best large-scale event, ever. Iâ€™m talking about Northbound Leather, of course. Twenty years ago, a young and enthusiastic entrepreneur took the heart of a small family business, started a small-scale series of Fetish Nights in order to partially promote his products but mostly just to have fun, and ran with it. He’s been doing it ever since.
Your Humble Narrator has focused a lot of attention in the past few weeks on Northbound Leather and their various efforts – and quite deservedly so. In February 2010, right around the same time Canada is getting set to host the Winter World during the Vancouver 2010 Olympiad, George Giaouris and his staff at Northbound Leather will be celebrating the “official” 20th Anniversary of their monthly fetish event, all this time simply referred to as the â€œNorthbound Fetish Nightâ€, in downtown Toronto. There is no other event (that I could find, at least) that has been routinely scheduled and executed meticulously and faithfully, once a month, for 20 straight years. Sure, the venues for Northboundâ€™s monthly gyrating shindig have changed â€“ but the party remains the same and continues to roll ever stronger as it enters its third decade of existence. This is quite an accomplishment for a company that began as a small little leather shop, in Greece no less, over 40 years ago.
Much has already been written and said about Northbound Leatherâ€™s events over the years, some of it good, some of it â€¦ well, not quite so good. Itâ€™s all a matter of perspective and personal taste, after all â€“ but by and large the words â€œNorthbound Leatherâ€ have been synonymous with â€œqualityâ€, if youâ€™ll pardon a terribly over-used marketing euphemism â€“ and that doesnâ€™t just apply to their wide array of merchandise. You just canâ€™t please everybody one-hundred percent of the time: but George and his staff have managed to come â€œoh-so-close.â€
Thirteen years ago, Northbound Leather made a decision to organize and host a Fetish party on a grand and unprecedented scale (at least for North America). Deciding from the outset to give each annual event a unique and somewhat unusual theme and name (â€œThrustâ€, â€œDecadenceâ€, Bentoâ€, â€œX-Poseâ€, etc.), the annual event has become by far, and as previously reported, the single largest gathering of fetish folk under a single roof anywhere in the world. This yearâ€™s massive event, given the moniker and theme of TRIBE, simply had to be the ultimate, spectacular culmination of twenty years of unprecedented excellence provided to North Americaâ€™s fetish populace in the way of both actual â€œproductâ€, and â€œatmosphereâ€.
Allow me to describe the latter first: The atmosphere was, from start to finish, nothing short of scintillating and euphoric. Hosted in a two-level, gargantuan entertainment complex known as The Sound Academy (but previously and more well-known as â€œThe Docksâ€), the large crowd had plenty of room to walk, talk, prance and dance to their twisted little heartâ€™s content well into the dawn-breaking early hours of morning. My beloved Lady J, her devoted Handmaiden Angelically Depraved, and Your Humble Narrator were, in fact, three of the last half-dozen non-staff members to exit the premises around 5:30 am. The fashion show/stage performance was something this writer had never expected, let alone ever witnessed before (and in over 30 years as an ardent SM practitioner in several American and Canadian cities over the years, Iâ€™ve seen a lot), and there are simply no words to describe it. The only negative thing that can be said about the fashion show is that there were whisperings that the choreographer was being somewhat of a â€œslave-driverâ€ and over-the-top â€œdivaâ€ – how apropos can you get though? â€“ towards the performers, models and especially with the usually cool and accommodating DJ for the event, Torontoâ€™s popular Jimi LaMort. This resulted in a few unpleasant grumbles from some patrons who apparently were curtly denied when trying to approach the DJ booth and attempt to request a tune or two. Jimi and all the performers obviously had had a very long day â€“ but when it came time for the TRIBE stage show, everyoneâ€™s professionalism and showmanship clearly shone through. Our dear beloved friend Ms. Marina Black did an jaw-dropping “catwalk” down the stage in an eye-popping custom designed leather-and-chain ensemble that simply has to be seen in person to be believed. If that wasn’t enough, she topped off her moment under the stage lamps by doing a piercing demonstration – completely in character – with an array of bright, large feathers.
I say “in character”, because although the choreographer (whom I’ll spare naming) may have acted a little too much like a diva from some reports, this particular stage show had simply … everything. Astounding, one of a kind leather costumes and pieces, all made from Northbound Leather’s industrious facility (located onsite, by the way, in case you’re curious) and all from the minds of head designer Marty Rotman and the enthusiastic staff at Northbound, paraded in a mind-bending array of music, sight and sound; intricately woven into a storyline that followed a young man’s “Initiation Ritual” into the “Chosen TRIBE”. Lady Victoria Windsor, another one of the exceptional Dominas who calls Toronto home, held court as only she could do – and the overall effect was intoxicating. Videos from the stage show at TRIBE that are sure to pop up on various video server websites are sure to be destined as “classics” for, perhaps, another twenty years to come. There’s more than enough “product” examples from the videos and photos – if you take the time to look, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
There was a huge Dungeon playspace set up on the second floor of the establishment, and another directly below it on the main floor. Lady Viktoria (not to be confused with the aforementioned Lady Victoria Windsor), another well-known Toronto Domina, and her staff – especially Master Jack and Sir ThomasÂ from Toronto – are to be commended, admired and appreciated for keeping a huge amount of eager SM participants enthralled, satiated and indeed, respectful for several hours.
There simply wasn’t a single thing to grouse about during the entire evening’s myriad of activities. Perhaps other event organizers in other cities may wish to learn a thing or two about how to effectively run a large-scale event that features an amazing stage show, a scintillating dance party, and not one but two large, exceptionally equipped and managed play spaces.
Thus marks the “end” of Northbound Leather’s twenty-year odyssey in staging and hosting what trulyÂ is the biggest, the baddest, and without a doubt the best massive fetish lifestyle event on the planet. TRIBE was a triumph and an emotionally crippling, satisfying and truly magical experience. It was the perfect epilogue to the story of Northbound Leather’s first twenty years of excellence in event hosting – and a titillating prologue to the next twenty years.
Entire political systems came and went within the last twenty years. Gigantic walls came down, the world stumbled and shook a bit, lost a little of collective ‘smugness’ and conceit, and in short, we live in a very different environment today than we did twenty years ago.
It’s a comfort to know that we can rely on some things remaining the same, though. Lady J and I are really looking forward to Northbound Leather’s next twenty years. They did the first two decades just fine – and TRIBE was the best stopÂ on that journey. Thanks, and our love and best wishes for Decade Three to George, Anna, Enza, Marty Â and all of the people that make Northbound Leather … undeniably … the absolute epitome of the word “perfection”.
(All Photos courtesy of Kevin LeClair and Northbound Leather. May not use without permission.)