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

TOM OF FINLAND (Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1977, Graphite on paper, ToFF #77.25, © 1977 Tom of Finland Foundation

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.

TOM OF FINLAND (Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1961, Pen & ink and watercolor on paper, ToFF #61.26, © 1961 Tom of Finland Foundation

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. 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.