Honoring an Icon: XR Brands Celebrates Gay Erotica Pioneer
Long before the growth of the gay adult film industry in the 1970s and 1980s — long before the abundance of gay adult websites that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s — there was the late Touko Laaksonen, a.k.a. Tom of Finland. Born in the small town of Kaarina, Finland on May 8, 1920, Laaksonen had a major influence on homoerotic art. When he died in Helsinki on Nov. 7, 1991 at the age of 71, Laaksonen left behind a body of work that is estimated to include around 3,500-4,000 illustrations. And with the help of the Los Angeles-based Tom of Finland Foundation (TomOfFinlandfoundation.org), XR Brands’ new Tom of Finland Pleasure Toys line is likely to create even more awareness of the innovative artist.
Officially unveiled in October 2014, Tom of Finland Pleasure Toys offers a variety of Laaksonen-themed sex toys ranging from cock rings and ball stretchers to nipple clamps and leather bondage cuffs. The inspiration for the line came from three people who had been active in the Tom of Finland Foundation: president Durk Dehner (who co-founded the organization with Laaksonen himself back in 1984), vice president/curator S.R. Sharp and their colleague Joakim. When they approached XR Brands about a line of Laaksonen-themed lubricants in early 2014, the three of them found the company to be quite receptive to the idea.
“Joakim, Durk and Sharp had researched our line and found that XR Brands’ Passion Lubricants are top-ranked, and they quickly learned that XR Brands has its finger on the pulse of quality product development and e-commerce placement,” recalled Rebecca Weinberg, project development and key account manager for XR. “Our initial conversations quickly evolved from lubricants to a full line of adult novelties, and the Tom of Finland Pleasure Toys Collection was born.”
Weinberg added that as the Laaksonen-themed line was being developed, XR worked with the Foundation closely to make sure that all of the products were faithful to the spirit of his work. “The Tom of Finland Pleasure Toys campaign maintains a hyper-masculine and artistic look with its packaging, sales tools, marketing materials and more,” explained Weinberg, who pointed out that all print and online advertising for the products has been “approved by the Tom of Finland Foundation.”
Weinberg asserted: “No decision was made without first asking ourselves, ‘What would Tom have done?’ We worked tirelessly hand-in-hand, often times at the Tom of Finland Foundation Museum with Durk, Sharp and Joakim to confirm and execute the intricate details — everything from the gunmetal grey color carried throughout the product line to the Tom of Finland-branded locks and dog tags on the packaging. These little details help convey a lifestyle beyond the products themselves and make it easy for fans to bring a little bit of Tom with them everywhere they go, whether they wear dog tags out to a bar or incorporate a collar or cuff into their regular wardrobe. And this, of course, enhances our campaign by making Tom of Finland’s fans a part of the promotion.”
Laaksonen’s art has become so mainstream in parts of the world that in 2014, Finland’s postal service issued a set of Tom of Finland postage stamps. But when a young Laaksonen began creating homoerotic art back in the 1930s, gay sex wasn’t even legal in Finland. Weinberg recalled that Laaksonen “kept his art work and his sexuality a secret from his family for years, as homosexuality was illegal and considered profane and immoral. But he continued to explore his desire of and appreciation for the male form through his drawings and in his personal life — even after enrolling in the Finnish army at the start of World War II — and soon established an international fan following. Men had never seen drawings like Tom’s, and the hunger for this kind of ultra-masculine erotica became insatiable.”
Laaksonen’s visibility continued to grow in the 1950s and 1960s, when his distinctive illustrations were seen in muscle magazines and he became increasingly well known in the gay community. In fact, Tom of Finland’s work greatly influenced the leather man look that has been a part of the gay BDSM scene for well over half a century.
“Tom is acknowledged as the man responsible for creating the image of the leather man as it exists today,” Weinberg asserted. “This hyper-masculine man — clad in leather gear, including chaps, jackets and accessories — inspired a look, lifestyle and attitude that not only influenced the gay community, but also, made its way to the straight leather biker clubs around Europe and eventually, the U.S.”
Weinberg observed that although the Tom of Finland Foundation was named after the groundbreaking artist, it has benefited many other erotic artists as well. “The Tom of Finland Foundation was initially established to uphold Tom of Finland’s reputation and preserve his body of work,” Weinberg noted, “but not long after its establishment, the organization expanded to serve as an archive and support / promotion structure for erotic artists — many of them members of the gay community — around the world. The Tom of Finland headquarters, located in Los Angeles, offers a residency of sorts to artists traveling from all over the world to complete projects. The Tom of Finland Foundation provides support and camaraderie to the myriad of artists — filmmakers, painters, illustrators, performers — that they come in contact with.”
Although 24 years have passed since Laaksonen’s death, public knowledge of his art is at an all-time high — which gives XR a definite marketing advantage with the Tom of Finland Pleasure Toys line.
“Without a doubt, the gay community sees Tom of Finland as one of its expressive heroes, as Tom was one of the very first artists to unabashedly portray the gay lifestyle in an honest and positive way,” Weinberg stressed. “We believe the gay community around the world will embrace this line, but the ultimate beauty of Tom of Finland is that it appeals to anyone who appreciates the human form, artistic culture, erotic history, and the positive expression of sex, gender identity and sexual freedom.”