Let’s take a moment to introduce you to all three of this year’s current International Bootblacks. There are three in all, International Mr. Bootblack (IMBB), International Ms Bootblack (IMsBB), and International Community Bootblack (ICBB). In this three part series the bootblacks were each asked a series of questions as well as some questions asked of their predecessors.
Let’s start with the IMBB. This is the 25th year of the IMBB contest which started out as the International Bootblack. From the inception of the International Mr Leather (IML) contest there was always a bootblack present. In 1993, Harry Shattuck, who had been a bootblack in regular attendance of IML since the beginning in 1979, decided he wanted to start the IBB contest. That year the titleholder was David Morgan. In 1999, with the addition of the International Ms Bootblack title the IBB title was changed to International Mr Bootblack (IMBB) with Robert Ehlrich being the titleholder that year. Leslie Anderson, 1997 American Leatherwoman, was awarded the title of IMsBB 1999.
Before we get to this year’s titleholder, let’s look to IMBB 2016, Erick Joseph and get a few words about Ryan Garner-Carpenter, aka Pup Pawlish
When and where did you see Ryan Bootblack for the first time? What stood out?
The first time I saw Ryan Bootblack was at Folsom in 2015. The thing that stood out to me most was his energetic and playful puppy energy! He was able to love on the person in his stand while still being who he is, Pup Pawlish!
If you could give Ryan one piece of advice for the remainder of their title year, what would it be?
This is the 25th year of our title. You have such an amazing opportunity to restart and rebuild the feeling of brotherhood between ALL of the IMBBs past, present and future. Bring everyone together and most importantly… HAVE FUN! This should be one of the best years ever and know that whatever you decide to do I’ve got your back brother!
When I say Ryan, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?
How much I love his puppy name lol! Pawlish… that’s genius! Bootblack puppies are probably the best thing EVER!
Now on to IMBB 2017 Ryan Garner-Carpenter
Tell me a little about your background in bootblacking
My first big Leather event with Bamm-Bamm was Southwest Leather Conference… and all weekend, we’d gravitate to the bootblack area. Not only were a number of his (and now my) friends bootblacks, but the energy was intoxicating. I needed to be in and around it. But it wasn’t until about 9 months later that I got the gumption to ask Bamm to teach me…
I was nervous about “being a copycat” or “only doing it to make him happy.” But as soon as I started, I was hooked. The technical work, like baking, is an outlet of creativity and resonates with my OCD. Working a chair gave me a safe, controlled experience to meet people, exchange energy, and be active in the community. And the rest is, as they say, history.
Who was the first person you remember watching Bootblack someone’s gear? Tell me about it.
The first person I remember watching was Bamm-Bamm, which was also my first time experiencing having my boots done. The boots weren’t even mine—they were a pair of his, but he wanted me to experience his passion and I didn’t yet have a pair myself. A pair of knee-high boss boots, all they needed was a wash & grease. But it was also the way and time he introduced me to one of his other passions.
After he finished, he turned around, laid down on the floor, and told me to get out of the chair by standing on him. “What?!” “Don’t worry, you won’t hurt me… just try it.” By the end of the weekend, I had a second kink firmly on my list of interests.
What drew you into bootblacking?
As I mentioned in my background, it was entirely the energy. I’d shined my own shoes before, so I (thought I) had a general idea of what they were doing, but I’d never been around people or in an area that felt like that. They were laughing (and by laughing, I mean giggling hysterically), joking with each other, rooting through each other’s kits, nerding out over the boots in each other’s chairs, hugging, playing… it was everything I thought the Leather community was and more.
What sense is most important for you personally in regards to blacking?
Touch. Hands down. Which I know seems basic… but I know for others that’s not the case. It might be the smell of the polish, the taste of the leather… for me the tactile element takes center stage. I love the feel of the polish as it melts on my hands. I love the texture of different leathers under my hands as I condition them—the softness and delicateness of goat hide, versus the weight and pebbling of buffalo. I love massaging someone’s calf as I grease a pair of Carolina’s. Sensory play is definitely a kink of mine, and a major element of that is re-evaluating, re-framing how touch is done, is experienced.
I love “accidentally” grazing their thigh with my hand, or my ear as I move my head “to look at the back of their boot.”
Send a pic of your kit right now:
What is your favorite tool?
My hands. No question. But aside from them I have 2, that cover both the technical and experience aspects of blacking for me.
The first is a glass water dispenser… a recent addition to my kit. It’s a little glass reservoir and a small metal pump-action dispenser at the top—a ‘fancy’ version of the pump-action rubbing alcohol you might get at a drugstore. And its whole purpose? To dispense water a few drops at a time. Which is exactly what you want when working what we Americans call a “spit shine” (and the French, being French, call glaçage).
The other is one of my final buffing cloths. As most bootblacks do, I have a variety of cloths, from t-shirts to microfiber. But my favorite is a piece of a pair of briefs. Not only is it super tightly woven, which is important for a final buff, but it brings a certain energy, a certain sexiness, that a bulk pack of cut up tights just doesn’t. Some people black in their underwear; I black using my underwear.
If you had to build a started kit for a new Bootblack what would it include?
This is something I’ve been putting some thought to recently for two reasons. 1) I’ve had a few people reach out to learn, and I didn’t have a pre-formed, coherent answer; 2) I also got a good amount of attention leading up to #IMBB2017 for talking about & showing the results of my spit shines using Saphir brand polish. Saphir is significantly more pricey than US brands, and I wanted to ensure I wasn’t painting myself as an elitist, snooty bootblack who only used expensive product. And that’s just not the case. Though I do prefer Angelus as my go-to (for reasons I love to discuss).
So, to get to the answer: a can of black Angelus, a can of neutral Angelus, a can of Huberd’s, a tub of Obenauf’s, a pack of t-shirts, and a bar of plain glycerin soap. The rest, like fancy brushes or china markers or frankenpatch or the myriad of other tools, will come. But that’s enough to get started, get your hands dirty, and get a pair of boots shined up.
Who have you been most excited to have sit in your chair?
I’m obligated to say Bamm-Bamm or he’ll eat my face “Who made me the most nervous?” is an easy question: Tabitha, hands down. But excited? There’s no single person at the top of that list. I’ve had some really great experiences. I don’t even think I could pick a favorite from IMBB, much less ever, and there are so many I’m looking forward to having sit for me some day… Cop-out answer complete!
If you could have any other ibb/imbb/imsbb/icbb sit in your chair who would it be and what one question would you ask them?
I think that would have to be a tie: David Morgan (IBB 1993) and Dara Bryant (IMsBB 2014).
David: “Where do you see biggest similarities and differences between the bootblack community as you knew it and today, and what do you think that means as it relates to the community’s growth and direction?”
Dara: “What core values did you find yourself living the most during your time in title, and conversely, what personal world view did you have most challenged and changed as a result of holding title?”
If you could pass on one thing to the next person to take your title, what would it be?
*sings Taylor Dayne’s Don’t Rush Me* Haha!
Luckily, I’ve been up close and personal with this title before. I would very much echo what I was told: make this your own. Of the 3 international bootblack titles, IMBB has the fewest restrictions, rules, or requirements.
1) Don’t embarrass the organization;
2) Come back next year to step aside and sash your successor.
Everything else is up to you. Color inside the lines or don’t. And #SelfCareIsSexy.
It was amazing to have this conversation with Pawlish. I, for one, cannot wait to see what this year has in store for him.
Next in the series will be ICBB 2016 Boy Patrick.