It’s no secret that masculinity has been undergoing a rebrand in the past decade, thanks to the reckoning of toxicity that has long defined Western men. With it came exploratory perspectives and progressive declarations of ‘the new masculinity’ by GQ, and that infamous New York Times’s headline, ‘Welcome to the Age of the Twink.' With skinny legends Harry Styles and Timothee Chalamet leading the charge in the societal shift towards soft-lad culture, it’s the increased visibility of the LGBTQ+ community that's subverting traditional notions of masculinity. Sure, languid figures have been at the centre of men’s fashion since Hedi Slimane sent his famished cohort down the Dior Homme runway in the early aughts, but this menswear season saw a renewed interest in hyper-masculinity with sartorial inspirations from another infamous archetype of the gay community: the daddy. Not to be mistaken with the pram-pushing, Veja trainer wearing suburbanites that riddle parks on a Saturday afternoon, the daddy is defined by his rugged masculinity, domineering sex appeal, and tends to be clad in denim and leather. Best encapsulated by the bulging imagery of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen (better known as Tom of Finland), it’s precisely the codes of his instantly recognisable illustrations that defined the S/S 23 shows.
Fashion’s fascination with Tom of Finland’s work has reached new heights since the foundation celebrated the artists’ centenary in 2020. ‘As an artist, he did not let society’s norms dictate how he crafted his work’, explains co-founder of the Tom of Finland Foundation Durk Dehner about the artist's enduring legacy. In April, the Tom of Finland Foundation debuted its travelling exhibition of archival works titled AllTogether (in partnership with Diesel and its creative director Glenn Martens) in Venice. In June, it moved to Paris, with the foundation planning more cities in the future. To coincide with this partnership, the denim brand released a capsule collection adorned with those famous adonises. This summer also saw JW Anderson teaming up with the foundation for his third capsule collection featuring artwork from the archives. ‘Tom of Finland is about love, friendship, sex, and mystery, and when he is used by a mainstream brand, his message of liberation and equality is part of the expression being communicated’, says Dehner.
For Tom of Finland Store ambassador and certified daddy Terry Miller, this shift in fashion highlighting traditionally masc codes isn’t surprising. ‘It’s becoming more relevant, most likely as a reaction to the last few years of gender non-comforming, gender fluid, or more effeminate trends.’ he explains of fashion’s picking of Tom of Finland aesthetic. ‘Not saying those were negative, but the pendulum tends to swing back in extremes every few years. We seem to be starting a new swing on the masculine side of those fashion constructs.’ For this season’s menswear shows, this swing back to classic masculine tropes manifested in collections from Martine Rose to Moschino which were defined by leather and denim. ‘From cowboys to leathermen. Men, muscles, masculinity. And sometimes a moustache! That’s the best outfit one can wear’, Miller gushes.
Jeremy Scott’s first solo menswear show for Moschino since his appointment as creative director in 2013 highlighted these traditional masculine aesthetics. While the artistry of fashion illustrator Tony Viramontes added a playful vibrancy to his broad shouldered tailoring, the ‘80s silhouettes harkened back to the queer-friendly era of New York City before the AIDs epidemic. The well-documented time of cruising down Christopher Street shows a world of leather clad beefcakes that were inspired by the ‘gay’ look that Tom of Finland helped establish in the late 50s with his illustrations published in Physique Pictoral. Scott’s latest proposition was rife with leather-daddy details like biker jackets, apron-like skirts, leather caps, and elbow length gloves that we’ll let your imagination decide what they could possibly be suited for.
The inherent kink ingrained in the daddy subculture was the basis of Martine Rose’s offerings with a show appropriately hosted outside the seedy cruising bars of Vauxhall. An exploration of exhibitionism, the collection was abundant with daddy motifs as unassuming models sporting denim, leather trousers, and sleazy staches brushed past a latex curtain. ‘These materials have long been used in the labour force, from construction workers to cowboys to the military’, explains Dehner on the prevalence of denim and leather in Finland’s work, ‘they carry with them a message of strength of character, and black leather has definitely been given its position in western culture to connotate the sense of sex’.
Stripping back these sartorial signifiers (literally) was Parisian designer Louis Gabriel Nouchi whose collection went viral thanks to his lineup of beefy oiled up models, including internet funny man Jordan Firstman expertly clutching his *ahem* pearls. Though the scantily clad, hairy hunks weren’t donning the leather or denim on denim look, it was their physicality – a far cry from fashion week's usual boyish waifs – that embody the daddy aesthetic. Inspired by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos magnum opus Les Liaisons Dangereuses, like the novel this collection explored ideas of power and domination that’s often associated with the daddy archetype. After all, the show’s overarching sleaze and sex appeal is a side of daddy culture that can’t be overlooked.
Still, the most interesting proposition on masculinity came from Craig Green and Prada. Both brands explored boyhood understandings of what it means to be a man using all the aforementioned daddy motifs. For Green this meant a collection riddled with full-leather office attire accessorised with kink-esque adornments like chokers, straps, and harnesses positioned with his usual workwear. Similarly, Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada’s fourth menswear effort as a design duo used juxtaposition to explore adolescent ideas of growing up. With Simons’ fascination with boyish youth defining much of his career, his typical stick thin models donned kink-inspired leather shorts with exposed zips, and leather sleeveless tops highlighting their lack of muscle mass. The loose fit of the shorts paired with juvenile gingham coats presented these daddy codes within an inherently vulnerable context of adolescence. What both brands ultimately achieved was subverting hyper-masculinity, while using elements we often associate with those very ideals.
Daddy George Michael might have said it best when he crooned ‘sometimes the clothes don’t make the man’, in his legendary queer anthem Freedom! ‘90. While these brands presented similar aesthetic choices inspired by the leather daddies Tom of Finland defined with his illustrations, they presented them in varied, nuanced ways that continue to challenge how we think of masculinity as the artist originally did. ‘They’re always smiling, friendly, even when getting up to the most raunchy, filthy exploits’, Millers explains of the beefed up artwork that positioned gay men as liberated through hyper-masculinity. But as Craig Green and Prada proved, the shift towards these aesthetics doesn't mean losing the sensitive vulnerability that has come to define contemporary masculinity. Still, when it comes to fashion co-opting the daddy aesthetic, a purist at his core, Miller explains, ‘when it spills into pastiche it weakens the designer's look as well as the integrity of the original silhouette’. With that being said he also knows you don’t have to wait till next summer to start dressing like a daddy. ‘If you really want the look, support your leather and kink stores’, he says.