David Sieminski has been helping people in Key West live out their fantasies through leather costumes — and some kink — for more than two decades.
Masks, made from leather and adorned with studs, peacock feathers and other decorative bling, are his specialty.
He co-owns Leather Master of Key West, steps from Duval Street on an unassuming one-way road.
“We’re just a little local business,” said Sieminski, 59, of the shop he and his life partner, Pat Corella, 57, have owned since the 1990s. “We don’t want to be a dirty bookstore.”
But it’s during Key West’s Fantasy Fest that Sieminski and staff go into overdrive to provide the goods for some of the wildest of revelers. Held in October, the island’s answer to Halloween includes plenty of scantily clad people who parade around the “Fantasy Zone” on a stretch of Duval Street. In the zone, women can wear body paint as shirts. though nudity is not allowed anywhere in Key West.
The week-long celebration of excess rolled into high gear — in its 40th year — after Sunday’s 10th annual Zombie Bike Ride, which organizers said drew about 11,000 riders dressed as the living dead.
The party builds all week until the big Saturday night parade of floats and walking crews.
There’s no better place to try out a fantasy than on a tropical island, Sieminski said.
“We live in a culture that is open and accepting and embracing of everyone and everyone’s lifestyle,” he said of Key West. “We’re here to have a good time and to celebrate each other. I think that draws people in. They come down and have a really memorable time.”
And during Fantasy Fest, that can be pretty outlandish.
“Key West seems to be a couple degrees out of phase with reality,” said Sieminski.
Like a lot of Fantasy Fest parties and events, Sieminski’s shop is for adults only. Though Leather Master carries a supply of wallets and wristbands, high-end men’s underwear is on sale, along with sex toys, floggers, chained collars and riding crops.
“This isn’t Tennessee,” a customer belted out on Monday as she looked through some collar chains, which aren’t exactly made for dogs.
Another woman helped her husband try on a zipped leather mask and harness.
“Take off your pants,” she urged him, as he tried on a skimpy belted item. He declined.
The Fantasy Fest king and queen were crowned last Friday and on Monday, locals and visitors were preparing for a party called the “Kinky Carnival.”
Sieminski says he tried to make customers comfortable in a setting that includes fetish and bondage accessories.
“People have questions they may be squeamish to ask,” he said. “Everybody has intimate relations. It’s nothing to be shy about.”
Sieminski moved to Key West from his native Baltimore in 1991 with a background in Information Technology. After meeting Corella, who owned Leather Master, he got involved with the business and the art of leather crafting including stitching, dyeing and bedazzling.
“When you move to Key West, you have to reinvent yourself. I came down as this Fortune 500 engineer, IT person,” Sieminski said.
“When Leather Master came around, I found myself unable to do the computer work anymore because I was focusing on Leather Master as a brand and a cornerstone business that’s been here for two generations,” he said. “We invested a lot of our heart and soul in it.”
His advice to first-time Fantasy Fest revelers is to step outside their comfort zone — but stay away from the vulgar and offensive.
“Go have fun. Do something you’ve never done before,” he said. “Turn the knob a little bit. Don’t spin it.”
Signature events at Fantasy Fest this week
The Pet Masquerade, 6:30 p.m. Registration starts at 5 p.m.
The Pet Masquerade will be on the stage of the Key West Amphitheater at the Truman Waterfront Park. There are four categories to enter and the show benefits the Lower Keys Friends of Animals;
Thursday, 8 p.m.
The 37th annual Headdress Ball Presented by Stoli Vodka
The Key West Business Guild presents the 37th annual Headdress Ball on Thursday. This is the premier LGBTQ+ event of the Fantasy Fest celebration and the event returns to the new Key West Amphitheater at the Truman Waterfront Park.
Friday, 5:30 p.m.
Masquerade March, or the Locals’ Parade
Join the crowd as they parade through Old Town with music and noise makers with beverages provided at selected guesthouses. It begins at the Key West Cemetery’s Frances Street entrance. at 5:30 p.m. All are welcome.
Bud Light Fantasy Fest Parade, 7 p.m. downtown
Join 70,000 partygoers as the Saturday night parade rolls down Duval Street, featuring glittering floats, spectacular costumes and dazzling dancing groups. The parade starts at 7 p.m.