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OVER A QUARTER CENTURY OF DEDICATION TO PROTECTING, PRESERVING AND PROMOTING EROTIC ART.

DISPATCH SPRING 2003

TOM OF FINLAND'S
INFLUENCE ON FASHION

Before there was Gucci or Gaultier, there was Tom of Finland.

Tom's influence on the fashion industry began around 1950. In a case of art-imitating-life-imitating-art, Tom drew his leathermen in outfits reminiscent of World War II military uniforms, but he rendered the clothing both tighter and sexier, tailoring it to his own specifications. Leather-clad bikers of the period, gay and straight, subsequently viewed the images and had their own gear customized to emulate the artist's specifications. In the 60s Tom was commissioned by a swimsuit company, requesting that he draw his men wearing their designs. Naturally, Tom filled their baskets to overflowing and made the men look as sexy as hell.

Tom of Finland (1977)

Tom of Finland (1960s)

From sailors to soldiers, workmen to businessmen, bikers to beachboys, Tom demonstrated that men had sex appeal in almost any mode of fashion--if the fit was right. Tom was influenced by fashion design all the way back to his postwar studies at the Art Academy in Helsinki, gradually evolving his instinct for making the clothes fit the man. In the fields of photography and fashion, numerous artists have acknowledged Tom's influence in forming their style, aesthetic, and viewpoint of men. Iconic photographer/filmmaker Bruce Weber noted his debt to Tom in an essay that introduces Volume III of the Foundation's Tom of Finland Retrospective, and Tom's influence is clearly visible in the cutting-edge designs of contemporary fashionistas John Bartlett, Gucci's Tom Ford, and the aforementioned Jean-Paul Gaultier, to name only the most obvious.

The attenuated, five-year life span of the Tom of Finland Clothing line had little to do with popularity and everything to do with financing. After an exhaustive study of Tom's art, designers Gary Robinson and David Johnson produced a collection that brought the artist's vision to three-dimensional life and was embraced by fashion editors, featured in music videos, and covered prominently on both fashion television and the E-Channel. The low slung, "hip-hugger" jeans that are currently the industry standard reflect Tom's influence as well.

The mandate of fashion in Tom's imagery is to showcase the maleness of his subjects, making them both alluring and provocative. Tom felt that men were sexier when they were clothed, possessing a mystery lacking when they were nude: his realm was fantasy, and his men are manifestations of that sensibility. One of the principal architects of male heroism in 20th Century art, Tom's influence will continue to resonate through fashion culture as his work continues to infiltrate mainstream culture. After 2000 years of Judeo-Christian hegemony, Tom of Finland restored the male form to the pedestal where it had stood in an unbroken lineage through Greco-Roman times.

   Durk Dehner


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ABSTRACT ART
“The abstract, especially in those rough sketches, is very important to me, perhaps because of my advertising background, where layout is so important. Sometimes those first few lines cut the paper into such satisfying shapes that I don’t want to go on, but I always do, adding nostrils and nipples and bootstraps until I have filled the paper up as usual.” — Tom of Finland