Jack Duke, Dallas’ top leatherman, bucks the odds by placing at IML

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor  [email protected]

2009’s International Mr. Leather, Jeffrey Payne

BRONZE LEATHER | Jack Duke took a medallion at IML, only Texas’ fourth finalist win in the competition’s history, right on the heels of 2009’s International Mr. Leather, Jeffrey Payne. (Arnold Wayne Jones/DallasVoice)

Even though he really wanted to win International Mr. Leather, Jack Duke knew going in not to expect lightning to strike twice.
It almost did though.

Duke was already the reigning Mr. Dallas Eagle and Mr. Texas Leather when he headed up to IML in Chicago last month to compete alongside 52 other leathermen for the top title in the community. The problem was, his story was already news last year. That’s when Jeffrey Payne — who was also Mr. Dallas Eagle and also Mr. Texas Leather — won the IML title. What were the chances Duke would repeat?

Not very good, especially since Payne was already considered one of the top winners of IML ever — so good, in fact, that this year, an award was named after him. Those are big jackboots to fill.

But Duke did almost the impossible, coming in second runner-up and bringing home to Texas only its fourth IML medallion in 30-plus years.

“Almost 1,500 men have competed in IML in the last 34 years; there are just 34 of these [second runner-up medallions]. And this is just the fourth medallion in Texas ever. Not bad. My only hope is that the community is happy. It was a lot of work,” he says.

Not bad for a man who barely spoke English five years ago when he moved to Dallas from his homeland of Italy.

When he first arrived in the U.S., Duke spoke some English but was not fluent, especially when in groups or with those who spoke too fast. He’d just “smile and wave” a lot, he says — not bad training for his pageant career, as it turned out.

His current arc marks the first year that Duke, who was also involved in the leather community in Italy, has competed. But it’s probably the last time, too.

“It’s been a very long few months and I’m happy the way I am. I don’t think I’m gonna do another competition — I’m good with what I got,” he says.

While it was his first competition, it wasn’t Duke’s first time at IML — he was an observer in 2009 when Payne took the title. The experience this time, however, was very different.
“I was there last year and it was fun; this year was fun in a different way,” he says. “This year I had so much to do, from Wednesday when we arrived till Tuesday morning when I left, that I didn’t have time even for eating. But it was a good experience. I think I made friends for the rest of my life.”

There’s certainly evidence that he was a popular finalist. Already he has received offers from leather groups in Europe (Italy, Germany) to be an honored guest, as well as Oklahoma and Houston. And in true Texas fashion, he says his first obligation will be to the Lone Star State.

“My obligations are for Texas first,” he says. “Since I am not the IML winner but second runner-up, I have the option to choose. So I’m setting all my dates in Texas and any other offers will be evaluated. Luckily I travel so much [with my job] I can manage” appearances all over the country.

The overall experience was surreal for Duke — from taking over and entire downtown Hyatt Regency to the pace he had to maintain.

“When you’re there, you live in this bubble,” he says. “You can even walk on Michigan Avenue in leather and no one looks at you twice. Then you come back to reality. Last night, we went to see Sex and the City 2 and we haven’t seen so many women all week as we did at the theater!

“I got zero sleep. It was terrible. You have to get up early and go to the gym, which is packed with all the guys competing. The meetings are so early. And if an event starts at 6 or 7, we have to meet at noon. Winners get invited to a private dinner with the owner. The next morning you wake up and do photo shoots. It was like being in the army.”

Duke is proudest that he was able to give the Texas leather community another victory to crow about.

“This is good, putting Texas out there alongside Mr. Los Angeles Leather and Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather,” he says. “That’s giving a lot of focus on Texas. People are gonna pay attention now.”

Although, he concedes, “The next Mr. Texas is gonna have a lot of work!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.