Northbound celebrates 30 years of kink, play and leather

Plus: a gallery of some of the Yonge Street shop's best looks



For a self-described pervert, George Giaouris doesn’t look the part. Wearing a sensible polo shirt and translucent, wide frame glasses, the owner of the longest-running leather shop in Canada looks more dad than deviant.

“I kind of always knew that this it that this is my calling in a sense because I was born into the family business,” says Giaouris. But his passion for leather, kink and fetish goes beyond mere vocation.

Northbound Leather, which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary this Saturday with a fashion show and fetish party at the Phoenix, has its legs in a family affair that started in Yorkville in 1969. After the store moved to its current Yonge Street location in the ‘70s, it officially became known as Northbound in 1987.

“Ear-to-the-ground is what my father taught me,” Giaouris says of his approach to business. “So instead of trying to force something on someone, ask them what they want.”

From bustiers and boleros to collars and cockrings, Northbound caters to anyone wishing to explore their wild side. For some, a simple leather vest is enough to satiate that tactile want for others, it might be dressing your partner up as a puppy, complete with full leather mask, paws, tail and leash.

“There are as many variations on what [leather] means as there are people practicing it,” he says. “The only question we’ve ever asked is: ‘Is it legal?’”

He talks about business in near-prophetic terms, saying he can see incoming fashion trends and latch onto them as they drift by. “I see where it’s coming, I see where it’s going to crest.” From his father making beaded fringe vests for hippies to crafting jackets for punks and metalheads, the shop has adapted to its clientele and the changing times, including becoming a trailblazer in e-commerce, launching its website in 1994.

But Northbound has had to weather changing times that have not been kind to a kink store, including the shuttering of shops that followed the death of Emanuel Jaques, the 12-year-old shoeshine boy who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered by four men at Yonge and Shuter.

This means that Giaouris has a lifetime of experience to celebrate as the shop turns 30, including creating high fashion pieces for runway shows and dressing the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. He also has no lack of similes and metaphors to describe the leather and kink scene: language, colours, ingredients, colonization, marriage. It’s clear he’s spent a lot of his life discussing his thoughts and philosophy on leather. But as he sees it, the leather lifestyle is not fixed in place.

“The zeitgeist of the day… seems to be shifting. It is no longer a sense of beating someone into submission it is more a tango that people dance, of who wishes to serve and who needs to be cared for. And it becomes a little more convoluted and a little more complex as time goes on.”

Instead of staunch, static roles of dominant and submissive, there’s more nuance and negotiation incorporated into leather play. But despite this, some things never change.

“The collar is the piece,” he says. “If there was one quintessential leather piece, it’s that iconic collar. Because it implies so many things to so many different people. Wearing one implies that you are willing to serve offering one implies that you’re wishing someone to serve you.”

This freedom in society and sex is precisely the type of environment Giaouris aims to create in his shop.

“We can be whoever we wish to be, wherever we wish to be, and that is something that makes me smile.”

Gallery: some of Northbound’s best looks

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A post-apocalyptic editorial look.

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Northbound’s leather Mountie uniform.

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The bride from from last year’s fashion show CHAKRA.

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A scene from last year’s fashion show CHAKRA.

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inkedkenny

A scene from the 2008’s XPOSE fashion show.

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Kevin Leclair

Midori doing a rope bondage performance at the 2004 fashion show, BENTO.

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Kevin Leclair

A puppy play scene from 2005 CLIMAX fashion show.

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Kevin Leclair

A fire scene from the 2005 fashion show, CLIMAX.

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Ivan Otis

The leather corset skirt.

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Victorian corset worn by model Kelleth Cuthbert.

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A mermaid from the annual Northbound Kinky Cruise.

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Michael Watier

Partygoers having fun on the dance floor at 2004’s SCANDAL fashion show.

website@nowtoronto.com | @milesjkenyon

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