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LGBTIQ identities

Laird Leatherman reflects on everything leather, kink and BDSM

Meet Brad Redmond, Melbourne’s current Laird Leatherman. As the titleholder of one of Australia’s most esteemed roles in the leather community, Brad is an expert on all things kink and fetish.

With just under a month left before he cedes the post to 2017’s winner, Brad reflects on his year in the spotlight as Laird Leatherman, kink culture, bondage, leather care and why he’d like to see more colour in Melbourne’s leather subculture.

Emen8: Hello Mr Laird Leatherman.

Brad Redmond: There’s no “Mr” in the title, it’s just Laird Leatherman. That is one thing that everyone puts in. It’s probably one of the few titles that doesn’t have “Mr” in it. Most of the other leather titles in Australia and around the world are “Mr”. The international title is “Mr IML”.

Emen8: You’re Laird Leatherman 2016. How many have there been?

Brad Redmond: I’m officially number nine.

Emen8: What are you expected to do as Laird Leatherman?

Brad Redmond: You have a number of events that you have to attend throughout the year as Laird Leatherman – predominantly for the Laird Hotel, but also some for Mannhaus, as they are the two major sponsors. The next main responsibility is that as Laird Leatherman, you get to choose a charity that you wish to support. And, in the twelve months that you are reigning, it’s basically dedicated towards raising funds and awareness, for them, as well as the sponsors.

Emen8: Do you get paid for attending any of these events or is it just an honorary role?

Brad Redmond: No, it’s just an honorary role.

“The hanky code, I’ve noticed, goes through cycles. It goes through cycles and the cycles have varied over the years.”

Emen8: Which charity do you support as Laird Leatherman?

Brad Redmond: Queerspace, which provides mental health services specifically for LGBTIQ youth and is part of Drummond Street Services. I believe mental health is important, and unfortunately, in the gay community, we’re overrepresented when it comes to mental health problems.

Emen8: You’re almost at the twelve month mark, when do you cede the title to the next winner?

Brad Redmond: I have just under one month to go. Laird Leatherman is always a competition as part of A Week of Leather (AWOL) and AWOL is always the second week of August. That’s also one of my duties – I will be one of the judges for the next Laird Leatherman.

Emen8: What first attracted you to leather?

Brad Redmond: I always say leather chose me, rather than me choosing leather. I was raised on a farm and before I was born, my mother was out herding cattle while heavily pregnant. She got caught in some mud and swore that she was going to give birth then and there in the middle of the mud, so there’s been a leather connection sort of before birth.

Emen8: How old were you when you came out?

Brad Redmond: I was in my early twenties – I came out a bit later because I grew up through the whole HIV grim reaper era in regional Victoria. So you didn’t really question your sexuality in that environment at an early age.

Prior to that though, during puberty, I used to sort of go off down the paddock and tie myself up and do all sorts of things, not realising that it was anything sexual. It was just something that felt good for me. So the kinky side of me has always been there. It wasn’t till later on that I actually then discovered, after coming out, the leather scene and kink subcultures.

Laird Leatherman Brad Redmond with pornstars Dirk Caber and Jesse Jackman.

Emen8: What was your first experience in the leather scene?

Brad Redmond: I walked into the Laird when I was in my twenties in the early ‘90s, and got scared off, because at that time, it was very much an older man’s domain – whereas, it’s changed so much now. So many young guys are getting into leather and rubber and all these other things. It’s fantastic. Back then, it wasn’t like that. So I walked into the Laird hotel, and thought “I don’t belong in here.”

I sort of then stumbled back across leather later on in life. I’ve also worked in the scene – I used to manage Eagle Leather. That was one of the best jobs I ever had.

Emen8: The scene has changed, and kink and leather subcultures have a much wider reach, would you say that’s happened gradually over the past two decades, or more quickly in the recent past?

Brad Redmond: I think overall, in the whole kink scene, it has gradually happened. There are certain scenes within that though, which have taken off a lot faster at certain times. For example, the pup scene at the moment is very big. I knew pups years and years ago, but there were only a few. I used to see a pup once or twice in a blue moon, whereas nowadays, it seems they’re everywhere.

Emen8: Do you think different kinks and fetishes are mixing together more?

Brad Redmond: I think there’s more exposure to different fetishes. And that’s got a little bit to do with the changes between the old guard and the new guard. The old guard in the leather scene were very strict. The new guard is a lot more open. They don’t necessarily follow so many of the rules. And then you have the people that are in between.

Emen8: Which one are you?

Brad Redmond: I would say that I’m in between.

Emen8: What are the “rules”?

Brad Redmond: There’s no one set of set rules. There are things like the hanky code and all the rest of it. The old guard would say, well, if you go to flag, you’re into this kink or that kink and if you flag left or right, you’re top or bottom. And even if it’s not hankies in your back pocket, but if you’re wearing red or yellow, that’s indicating the kinks you’re into. Nowadays, if you go to a lot of the stores in Melbourne, they’ll say “it doesn’t really matter what the colour is, if you like it, wear it” and to a certain degree, that’s the sort of new guard way. But the old guard would say, no you’re indicating that you’re into fisting, or you’re indicating you’re into pissing or whatever the particular colour indicates. And so there’s a bit of a mix and match.

From my point of view, there needs to be a balance. You need to understand the history of anything if you want to develop it further. You shouldn’t wear a red harness, for example, if you have no understanding that guys might come up to you interested in shoving a fist up your ass. Same thing with yellow for pissing.

Emen8: Yes I learnt that the hard way at Laboratory in Berlin before I knew the hanky code. I was wearing yellow because I liked it and people were following me around waiting for me to piss on them. And I didn’t understand why.

Brad Redmond: Which is why I’m saying there needs to be a balance between the strict “you only wear this if you’re into the corresponding kink” and the “fuck it, I just like this colour, so I’m going to wear it and I don’t care what it represents”.

“I must admit the first day I worked at Eagle Leather, I saw this massive traffic-cone-sized dildo and thought ‘oh yeah, that’s just for display,’ and I was shocked when someone a week later came and dropped it on the counter in front of me.”

Emen8: Do you find the hanky code is experiencing a revival?

Brad Redmond: The hanky code, I’ve noticed, goes through cycles. It goes through cycles and the cycles have varied over the years. First of all it was hankies. Then at one stage, there were little things that went on the buttons on your jeans. You’d put them on your 501s – red or yellow or whatever to indicate that was your kink. So they evolved it slightly and then people started doing bandanas.

Emen8: So these applications of the hanky code were in times when they were still being used in a very practical sense?

Brad Redmond: Exactly.

Emen8: Whereas now, it’s almost like people are just using it to announce, say in a sex club, that they’re a fisting top with a red arm band.

Brad Redmond: Or, maybe they just like red. So that’s what I’m saying, it has evolved over the years. And it has gone in and out of vogue. When I found out about it, I was a little bit fascinated by it. I obviously had to learn about it more when I was working in Eagle Leather – because people often asked me about it. I used to have such a concrete knowledge of the code but nowadays, because there are so many random colours and random designs, it’s hard to keep up – it’s always growing. There’ll be some new fetish and people will decide to make a new colour and design for that.

Brad Redmond and his boyfriend Craig Bascand (right) with a friend at International Mr. Leather. 

Emen8: When did you work at Eagle Leather?

Brad Redmond: I started in 2003 and worked there for about three or four years.

Emen8: What were the biggest selling items there?

Brad Redmond: Eagle Leather’s always had a range of products beyond leather. Back then, there were a lot more videos and DVDs, which have now become redundant. Butt toys were always a big popular seller. I must admit the first day I walked in there, I saw this massive traffic-cone-sized dildo and thought “oh yeah, that’s just for display,” and I was shocked when someone a week later came and dropped it on the counter in front of me. It had never dawned on me that someone could use something that big. So dildos and butt plugs were big sellers. Leather jockstraps and harnesses were big sellers – they’re smaller items that aren’t so costly as say, a leather jacket or chaps. And if you need to wear something leather to a party, a jockstrap or a harness is the most affordable way to have something in leather to let you in.

Eagle Leather is different now than what it was when I worked there. Different owners have different business directions. For example, regarding harnesses, when I was at Eagle Leather, we made approximately 95 per cent of our harnesses. We just made them up from straps of leather we had on site. They were all different lengths. So if someone came in and wanted a harness, we’d show the three basic styles and offer soft leather or harder leather. Most people would request soft leather because it’s cheaper. I wasn’t trying to up sell them but I’d ask them what they wanted the harness for. If they just wanted it for dress ups, soft leather is fine, but if you actually want to play in it, I’d recommend heavy leather as it won’t stretch and warp if you’re fucking in it. And so 95 per cent of the harnesses I sold would be upgraded to the heavy leather, despite 50-80 per cent of people initially requesting the soft leather when they came in. So with a bit of education, the customer would be happy to pay a little extra for a more long-lasting product.

Emen8: On that note, what are some leather maintenance tips you’d give? Does amyl actually clean leather?

Brad Redmond: No. The amount of uses that poppers have had over the years – video tape cleaner, leather cleaner, CD cleaner… I don’t know how many uses it really has if you go by the label on the bottle.

“Not all leather is necessarily black – something which Melbourne unfortunately has trouble understanding. Melbourne’s leather scene is very fixated with black.”

Emen8: What do you use to clean your leather?

Brad Redmond: Don’t use baby oil and cooking oil, use proper leather cleaner. You can use equestrian leather oil, leather sprays; find something that is designed specifically for cleaning leather, don’t just put a heap of oil on to make it look shiny – it’ll look shiny but it’ll start eating into your leather. You can get these products at leather stores – Mannhaus, Eagle Leather, the Marquis de Sade etc. You can also go to equestrian stores because they sell leather products for saddles and harnesses… You can probably get it from larger type pet places that have leather goods for dogs etc. Even supermarkets have leather products for lounges.

Emen8: What about shoe polish?

Brad Redmond: Shoe polish, 90 per cent of the time is tinted, so it’s not ideal. And not all leather is necessarily black – something which Melbourne unfortunately has trouble understanding. Melbourne’s leather scene is very fixated with black.

Emen8: Would you like to see more colour Melbourne’s leather scene?

Brad Redmond: Yes, and I have coloured leather. I’ve got some very nice dark blue leather pants with grey, red and white stripes down the side. I’ve also got blue and grey vests; and red, blue and grey leather ties.

Emen8: Where are your favourite places to shop for leather?

Brad Redmond: I get a lot of custom leather, mainly because I don’t want to wear the same as everyone else. When I was first developing the interest, when I was younger, I couldn’t afford to do that. I got a lot of second hand stuff to start. I still get second hand stuff occasionally if I want something and don’t want to spend a lot.

Emen8: Where do you buy your customised leather pieces from?

Brad Redmond: At Eagle Leather, Laurie Lane and Mannhaus. Laurie Lane is an icon of the Melbourne leather scene – he used to own a store which was above a book store in commercial road. He’s been all around the world and done a lot in the leather scene. I’ve also had leather pieces made overseas in New York.

Brad Redmond and Skye Bartlett. 

Emen8: What do you love most about being Laird Leatherman?

Brad Redmond: One of the things I’ve loved most is raising money for charity. I’m happy that I’ve raised a significant amount with the help of my partner Craig. That’s the biggest thing I got out of it. I’ve met people I’d never have met due to being Laird Leatherman, like at International Mr. Leather (IML) in Chicago. I met previous and current title holders, and IML winners and competitors. I probably wouldn’t have met these people had I not been Laird Leatherman. So it’s opened doors and widened my network. And hopefully has made people more aware of Melbourne too and our leather scene.

Although the Melbourne leather community is a small scene, I do believe we have a great leather scene. I’ve travelled to USA and Berlin; been to Folsom, Dore Alley, International Mr Leather and London Fetish Week. And there are certain things every city does in a unique way. But I find that we have a few great venues that support the leather scene in Melbourne and the scene is still quite vibrant and significant.

Emen8: What’s your favourite leather scene overseas?

Brad Redmond: I like Berlin. It’s a very different vibe and the way they do their leather is different. You can go out in the street in the middle of the day and guys are in leather. The scene is more spread out in Berlin and they have quite a variety of venues. There’s also Folsom and a community that many cities have lost.

Emen8: What sort of sexual health practices would you say are common in the kink leather community?

Brad Redmond: Once again, I believe that’s changed over time. Particularly with regards to PrEP. There are a number of people in the community who are HIV positive and I do know that a lot of people used to serosort as a result of that, nowadays, with PrEP, it’s not so much a requirement to do that.

Emen8: How is consent and after care negotiated in the kink community?

Brad Redmond: Consent is something that needs to be negotiated in any setting. It doesn’t matter if it’s BDSM or kinky sex vs. vanilla sex. But it’s so much more so a requirement though when you are getting into kink. It’s really important that the top not only listens to the bottom, depending on what scene it is. They also need to observe the bottom’s reactions because let’s face it, if you’re in a bondage scene where you might have the person gagged, you can’t necessarily expect the bottom to turn around and say “no, this isn’t working for me, stop”. But you can communicate by other means – by body language, it could be that the top says “raise one finger to keep going, raise two fingers to stop” or something like that. So there are ways that you can communicate without having to speak. It’s also important to check where the bottom’s at. Because if you’re tied up in a particular situation, you might start losing circulation.

And so it’s important that the person isn’t getting tingly hands or limbs, or whatever. And if the person is in that situation and they’re starting to become uncomfortable, they need to communicate that to the top at a point before it’s critical – as the top needs to have time to adjust things without killing the whole scene.

Take it to a completely different kink, say fisting, the likelihood that you’re going to have a gag or whatever isn’t nil, but it’s a completely different scenario, but once again, it’s important to listen to the person who’s receiving the fist, because some people like certain styles of fisting. And let’s face it, if you’ve got your hand up someone’s ass, you need to listen to them and their body, because you could do a lot of damage. It’s very important that there’s lots of communication both ways.

“Although the Melbourne leather community is small… we have a few great venues that support the leather subculture, so the scene is still quite vibrant and significant.”

Emen8: What are the must-haves when you’re preparing for a BDSM scene?

Brad Redmond: In a pure bondage situation, there are certain things you should always have on hand. You should have some form of device to cut someone out quickly if need be. Be that the hospital scissors, a rope cutter or a regular pair of scissors. Preferably not just a bladed knife, as that has more of a risk of cutting into the skin. It’s much better to sacrifice a rope or a tie, or whatever you’ve been using to tie that person up, then to risk that person being injured.

If you’re playing with other types of restraints, such as padlocks and chains, you’ve got to have your keys handy and check that they’re the right keys before your lock the padlocks on a person. And keep the key somewhere which is really easy to find – put them on a great big thing that’s easy to hang up and then put it on the door handle or something. So when you need it, you don’t need to rifle through a bag in the dark.

After care is important, but not everyone needs it. It’s not just like, “OK you’re out of the rope now, fuck off and get out of here”. Typically, most people do actually want to have some interaction afterwards. Either way, top to bottom, or bottom to top, the person may need to have blankets or something. That very much depends on where your scene is set. If you set it in your own home where you’ve got nice heating and all the rest of it, it’s less likely you’d need blankets than if you’re in a cold dungeon like in the basement at Club 80.

Emen8: Would you say that many in the leather community are also into BDSM?

Brad Redmond: I would say that the leather fetish community in general tends to go for a wide range of kink play. I got into bondage very early on. For years and years, I had no inclination to even attempt fisting or things like that, because I didn’t think it was for me, but that’s not to say I haven’t then tried those things later on in life. And I have. And occasionally I’ll partake in fisting sessions. It’s not my main driving kink though.

Emen8: What are your favourite kinks?

Brad Redmond: Obviously leather, otherwise I wouldn’t be Laird Leatherman. I also enjoy bondage, I enjoy electro, I like sounding, although I don’t do a lot of sounding anymore. A lot of people do sounding by themselves. I did that more with a partner I had at the time. I tend to do it with someone else around – I enjoy it more doing it with someone else rather than doing it alone.

Emen8: A lot of these kinks require a lot of skill to do them properly and not harm oneself. How did you acquire these skills when you first tried these kinks?

Brad Redmond: When I first tried certain kinks, it was a different era in the community. We didn’t have online dating and everything wasn’t instant. So you typically had a group of guys that you’d hook up with. And we were all into various kinks, and through one or two of them, I met a heap of others and we quite often would hook up and have play sessions. And they introduced me to some different kinks. It’s a little bit harder to find that sort of group when you’re online. When you’re in a group play session, it’s easier to organically try new things.

Emen8: Do people who are new to certain kinks approach you much?

Brad Redmond: That happened a lot more in the past. I believe that one of the best ways of learning is with other people. I typically play with older men. I learnt a lot from working at Eagle Leather. I got a lot more knowledge around kinks I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. You become a bit of an expert because you need a wealth of knowledge so that you can give customers accurate information. And from that point of view, there were a number of workshops we used to do, like what Eagle Leather continues to do today.

Emen8: What will you be looking for in your successor when you are judging Laird Leatherman?

Brad Redmond: Motivation for why they want to be Laird Leatherman. What I wanted to get out of Laird Leatherman and what the next person wants to get out of it doesn’t have to be the same thing. Historically, most of the Laird Leatherman have had very different years in terms of what they aimed to achieve. There is no right or wrong way. You use the title to create what you want from it. What they want to do with the title though will be a big thing I’ll be looking at. I’ll also look at how involved they’ve been in the scene, because there have been years where I’ve gone along and a few contestants have come out of nowhere. They may be into leather, but I believe you need to be engaged with the community, and if you haven’t already been, you’re going to have to work so much harder. There are expectations that people will want to come up to you and talk to you.

Emen8: What do you enjoy when you’re not doing leather and BDSM?

Brad Redmond: I’m into a lot of things, some of which have been put on hold while being Laird Leatherman, I’m involved with Low Rez, which is a male choir here in Melbourne. I used to row but had to give that up as I had a few injuries. I enjoy getting out of the city – I recently purchased a little block of land in the bush with a shack on it (Craig hates it). I grew up in the bush, so the older I get, I need that escape more and more to get out of the city and reconnect.

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