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NORTHBOUND LEATHER: XXX AND UNAPOLOGETICALLY BENT

Toronto’s infamous Northbound Leather celebrates 30 years in business…
 
By Max MacDonald
 
Tucked away on St. Nicolas Street is Toronto’s Northbound Leather. This obscurely located yet well-known shop has occupied the same locale for over 30 years. “We had a storefront but reverted back to our laneway entrance,” says owner George Giaouris. “Our customers still like the backdoor feeling.” Giaouris is a grey-bearded man, with bearish attributes, who embodies the fetish mystique: bold, innovative and gutsy. His customers and fans are what made his shop, in his words, “bent.”
 
Since Northbound Leather’s inception, it has left a mark throughout Toronto and around the world. “We got our name from North (where we are), Bound (what you do with it) and Leather (what it’s made of),” says Giaouris. What keeps this retailer current is catering to customer wants: they aren’t slaves to trends. “We do everything from exquisite bespoke to high-fashion looks,” Giaouris says, “right down to what you need if you are into leather.” Drawing from its roots in Toronto’s gay, lesbian and bisexual community, it has provided a unique hybrid between fashion and fetish. “The store is a reflection of me and who I am. I’m a straight boy who grew up in the Village,” says Giaouris.
 
You see their fashion pedigree in almost everything that Giaouris’ team, headed by designer Marty Rotman, creates. Whether it’s a shoulder-to-ankle coat or an intricately stitched corset, every garment carries the Northbound Leather trademark: impeccable quality. A trip to their second-floor workroom reaffirms this. Emulating traditional couture workrooms, his craftspeople sit at rows of sewing machines working on their designated pieces. This almost old-world workmanship has remained a staple for 30 years and caught the eye of countless celebrities.
 
Very few Toronto-based retailers can boast celebrity fans like Laverne Cox (who wore Northbound Leather in the Fox remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Madonna, Lady Gaga—and that’s the short list! What keeps the stars returning is Northbound’s ability to intertwine fashion and fetish. “We started in fashion and veered towards fetish. I like that because I’m a pervert,” he says, laughing, “and I took us in that direction.”
 
Turning 30 is a huge milestone for any Toronto-based retailer, especially at a time when so many Canadian and international retailers are struggling and disappearing.
 
On the day of my visit to Northbound Leather, sewers and staff were preparing one-of-a-kind pieces to appear in XXX, their tongue-in-cheek take on their 30th anniversary, being held at The Phoenix. This annual show (now in its 20th year) is part leather/fetish event and part runway presentation. The promotional materials pop with a pair of cross-stitched female lips, signifying the XXX theme. Giaouris explains the logo simply: “The young lady who is my webmaster found a makeup artist who proposed this. I loved the shock factor, so I said, let’s try it. It sort of signifies that our lips are sealed about what you do with us.”
 
XXX brings together Rotman’s garments, a performance by rope-artist Midori (who wears vintage Northbound Leather during her act), and long-time customers, friends and fans. As always, this event takes inspiration from what hasn’t been done with a kiss of the avant-garde. However, Giaouris remembers a time when he was first starting out and wasn’t as open-minded. “A customer asked for a pair of mink-lined rubber underwear. I said no and blamed the fact that we didn’t have a fur machine. I’ve learned over the years not to project my squeamishness into other people’s sexuality. The only question I now ask, ‘Is it legal?’”
 
Northbound Leather’s success is attributed to Giaouris’ ability to stay humble yet keep his ear to the ground of what’s cutting edge, to word-of-mouth praise, and to his being slightly bent in thinking. When asked what’s next for his bespoke shop, he says he leaves it up to his most important asset: his customers. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I see—the vision isn’t really mine. We don’t dictate what you should be wearing. As bespoke tailors, we are used to the customer telling us what they want to wear. As tastes change, so do we. That’s how we’ve survived. We are for the rebels who follow the beat of their own drum.”
 

 
MAX MACDONALD is a media, PR, menswear and creative influencer who brings cool ideas to life. You can follow him on Instagram at @andthentheresmax and Tumblr at andthentheresmax.tumbr.com.

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