Pillow Talk: Mark Kaplan on What It's Like to Manage Leather Masters, Deep Ellum's Kinkiest Shop

Mark Kaplan didn't name his photography business Naked Lens Photography for nothing. Under that brand he's photographed Dallas' sexiest events, including Texas Queerlesque Festival, Exxxotica Expo Dallas and Dallas Suscon. He's even played key roles in producing some, such as the No Pants Subway Ride, Disturbathon and the “Day of Debauchery and Gluttony," which was a response to Rick Perry’s “Day of Prayer and Fasting” in 2011.

When Kaplan's not photographing, he manages the Leather Masters sex shop in Deep Ellum, attends Burning Man events and participates in the suspension community. We sat down to talk with him about what it's like to be at the intersection of so many different sex communities.

Dallas Observer: What drew you to this job?

: Sex was never really a forbidden subject when I was growing up. My family also spent a lot of time at nudist camps growing up, even going so far as to live at one for several months, so I'm pretty comfortable with nudity and sexuality in general.

For example, one of my earliest memories is of being 4 or 5 years old and playing as Batman. I was a horrible crime fighter; I was always letting the girls who played Catwoman tie me up.

As an adult, I've explored and experimented with my own sexuality, and now I get to help other people do the same. One of the most fulfilling parts of working at Leather Masters is having people enter our shop with trepidation and leave with smiles on their faces.

I’ve also been a stage actor, and have always loved costumes and dressing up, so this is a terrific outlet for that. I’ve only worn pants to work once — the day I started. When I first asked [owner Dave Carranza if there was any sort of dress code or restriction, he said I could wear drag for all he cared, so I wore a skirt the next day. I trust he’ll let me know if I go too far, but so far, so good.

What does your job there entail?

My primary responsibility is making sure our customers feel comfortable and welcome, so I spend the majority of my time in our showroom, answering questions and giving product demonstrations. I also handle the order fulfillment for Some of the most fun has been collaborating with our manufacturing department on new products; we have some really cool new stuff coming out in the next few months. I also work on some of our social media, including my "outfit of the day" posts on Instagram.

What's the strangest thing you’ve ever been asked?

Strange is a relative term, I do lots of strange things and no one has shocked me yet, but this job will definitely show you how much you do or do not know about sex, kink and fetishes!

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?

I wouldn’t really consider it “strange,” but it has been very interesting to learn about the various leather competitions. Events such as “International Mr. Leather” draw thousands of people from around the world. The pageantry is absolutely stunning.

How do you describe the shop to people who have never been?

I think of Leather Masters as less of a "sex shop" and more of a custom leather boutique. While we're probably best known for our kink-related products like harnesses, collars, restraints and other bondage-related items, we also make and sell leather clothing and accessories, such as vests, kilts, festival belts and hoods. The majority of our manufacturing takes place on-site, so we have a lot of flexibility when it comes to sizing, color and design. We also have dedicated areas for specific-interests like floggers and crops, rope, puppy play, electrical and medical play and CBT [cock and ball torture].

What would you tell people who are nervous to visit Leather Masters?

We do our best to make sure everyone feels welcome at Leather Masters, and we're happy to answer any questions you have, whether about the products we sell, or your own more personal ones. Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you're still hesitant, we offer private shopping by appointment.

Lots of things in Deep Ellum have come and gone. What makes Leather Masters such a rock in the community?

The key word is “community." Leather Masters has a long history of working with the leather community not just in Dallas and San Jose, California, where our stores are located, but nationwide. Dave has built a company with a wonderful reputation not just for the quality of our products, but our service as well.

I live and work in Deep Ellum, and several very close friends own businesses here. The connection to the neighborhood is very personal for me. The challenge of Deep Ellum is to allow it to grow while retaining its personality, but everyone has their own idea of what they want Ellum to look like and there has to be some give and take between residents, business owners and developers.

We’ve been working with The Nines on “Abnormal Formal,” which is essentially a monthly fancy dress party with a dress code. The first two events were fabulous and “Monster Bash” on Oct. 21 should be a great way to kick off Halloween.
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Jenny Block