The world’s most sought-after male supermodel. Meet the man behind the face.
David Gandy covers this month’s Malaysia and Singapore editions of Esquire Magazine. Photographer Tomo Brejc catches the many facets of David’s personality through his photos, showing both his softer side with the Rottweiler, Bubbles, and using the backdrop of Claridge’s and Repton Boxing Club, The Bath House Cheshire St. to show his sporting side around the boxing ring. Photographed wearing several different British designers, including Alfred Dunhill, Paul Smith, American Appear, Sunspel, Richard James, Hackett, Burberry Prorsum and Bailey Nelson, David is strikingly handsome and debonair with stylish by Andy Howe and hair by Larry King.
The model is featured in a complete editorial where he talks with Sam Coleman in an enlightening and honest interview, focusing on everything from his new David Gandy for Autograph line for Marks and Spencer, to his role as a leader in British Fashion and his philanthropic endeavors. In an amazing black and white photo, David is shown wearing a dressing gown and socks from the David Gandy for Autograph line, while walking the streets of his beloved London with Bubbles the Rottweiler
It’s David Gandy’s year of years. As his appearance in Jennifer Lopez’s video tops 16 million views on youtube, his irrepressible masculinity adorns dozens of magazine covers at the newsstand.
Looks can be deceiving and his new collaboration with Marks & Spencer is about to be rolled out. But as we find with Gandy, appearances can be misleading. He wants you to man up, and he’s not afraid to tell you how.
“Gands!” comes the word thrown like a javelin across the heads of the huddled crowd of the world’s fashion elite. They’re in a scrum around a beautiful, classic 1995 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupé, pulling up elegantly as befits its contours and colourM they look to where the shout originates, as well as where it’s destined: the driver of said car. The wing opens up slowly on the automobile, the anticipation akin to when Klaatu emerges from the grey craft in the The Day the Earth Stood Still. “Gands” obliges by hunching his abdomen into a neat scorpion’s tail as he disgorges himself, his fairly perfect masculine body – the one that’s launched what are quite possibly the most successful fragrance campaigns in advertising history – deftly hurling him out of the confined carriage. He looks at the crowd with his signature jawline of diffidence, slips his jacket over his T-shirt, and braces in a smooth, fluid motion.
IT’s jealous man moment to be sure: here is one of the few men that men want to be like, and women (and more than a few men) simply want. “Gands” – AKA David James Gandy AKA the world’s most in-demand male supermodel AKA icon of British style – has arrived at the lastest edition of London Collections: Men (LC:M) for his usual physical endorsement of and participation in the fashion week’s happenings.
IT’s all as it should be: the crowd gets the eye candy it wants, and the sponsors get a buzz from the juice of celebrity powering up the event (Samuel L. Jackson pops up during the course of the week, as do official ambassadors Tinie Tempah, Nick Grimshaw and Dermot O’Leary; though, as Gandy divulges, they’ve had their own commitments, leaving a large part of the showing up at events to him. “Eighteen-hour days for a week, mate,” he says as the pararazzi swarm around).
To outside appearances, Gandy’s role is fulfilled: his duty to the event done from simply showing up, and playing up the perception that male models are walking and talking bling personified. But little do those observers realize that, in many ways, he is an essential advisor to the fashion week, and to British fashion as Gandy is an essential advisor to the fashion week, and to British fashion as a whole, a cerebral, project-driven British patriot with a sentiment for the middle class and phylantropy, who’s more entropic than those on the outside would give him credit for. However nice the exterior, Gandy is a turgid sea of complexity and self-imposed purpose.
“I’m a very passionate supporter of my country, as you know with LC:M, etc, but we need to do better,” he says with a stern look. “You see our [British] brands’ wealth of talent at LC:M, but when other countries come in and buy our heritage, like Savile Row, why isn’t someone doing something about it? And the worst part? They’re successful! They build and build. The rest of the world loves this British-ness.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg to his strong opinions that run against the grain. Gandy is a man on a mission: many missions, in fact, as we soon find out. The second thing that defines Gandy 2014 is he’s hitting a high point. He is a mover who’s seriously on a roll, one that’s putting him on the international celebrity radar in ways that we haven’t seen before. Is this David Gandy’s moment?
Milan, men’s fashion week for SS15, five days later. Gandy is here, a special VIP guest for a special event, and one that has special resonance with his personal mythology. Tonight, Dolce & Gabbana are launching a collection of rooms and services, part of its new Sartorio concept and and an addition to its flagship store on Corso Venezia. It’s appropriate that Gandy is here, somewhat expected even, as his career took a cataclysmic upturn when the Italian designers made him their muse. “You’re doing a story on David” Domenico Dolce asks me at a cocktail party the night before said event. “We love David. He’s such a pleasure to work with, and, of course, he gets better looking with age… Tell him I said that!” he exclaims with a laugh, eyes wide under his glasses.
Dolce’s affections are based on the historic casting of Gandy as the face of Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue por Homme in 2006, a campaign that’s as iconic as it is resilient, a game changer in the worlds of fashion and luxury. With Mario Testino let loose on the island of Capri, Gandy became the Adonis of the fashion scene, muscular and macho, seething, swarthy with eyes of Swiss glaciers. The male model landscape, populated as it was with androgynous, skinny looks, took a shot across its bow that it still has to deal with. Gandy brought the hunk back to men’s fashion, and Dolce & Gabbana were-all-too-pleased to showcase the disruption. Light Blue went on to be a 20M-high billboard in New York’s Times Square and received 11 million online views, a number that was unheard of in those years for a campaign image. Dolce & Gabbana invited Gandy back in 2010 and again in 2013 to do the second and third Light Blue campaigns, as well as in 2011 where he was a mainstay of their Milan catwalk shows. That same year, they released a 280-page book of Gandy, chronicling the six years of productivity and friendship they’d shared up to that point.
That, and myriad of modelling gigs have put Gandy in the position of being the wise voice of male modelling – not that everyone appreciates his opinions. “Fashion and modelling have always worked for me, but I look at the guys now and there’s nobody that I want to be. I asked a few of the designers why they use the models they do. There goes another 18-year-old kid… not sure if they’re a tourist or a model on the runway. It does nothing for me. You see no cool guys,” says the devil-may-care-Gandy that few people expect. In many ways surprising in the delicate fashion community, he doesn’t give a f**k.
“They respond that I just want masculine, because I’m masculine, and I say, no, it’s not that. I totally appreciate that there’s a good 50/50 mix between good-looking guys and cool, street guys. I totally get it. You see them walk down the runway and you say, ‘Yeah, I want to be that guy.’ But wouldn’t it be great if one show brought all the big names together? Even go old school. There’s myself and the few other so-called male supermodels. Bring ‘em all together; it’ll blow people’s minds,” he describes, getting excited at the prospect. “I have the advantage of knowing how these guys feel: they travel 90 times a year, they get tired, and they sometimes don’t want to be upbeat. I totally get that. Sometimes, you just want someone to come up and say. ‘How are you feeling? Do you need a break?’ rather than just be part of the furniture. That’s kind of the tough part of the modelling game,” he remembers of such grueling schedules, of this start as the accidental mode (a friend entered him into a competition on the sly, thereby launching his career? Who was rejected in those early days as an anachronistic look.
But he’s made it now, and involved in other aspects of the fashion world. Still, he remains concerned about the male modelling landscape. “There’s a massive change in the industy that’s happening. Every brand is using celebrities, or movie stars, or sportsmen, or someone with a Twitter accound who has a million followers. That’s why a good modelling agency like mine, Select, is really valuable,” he says with an evident air or gratitude. “You know, when I was starting out, nobody was asking the rates we were asking, nobody talked about the value to brands that a strong model and face could bring. We wanted to be up there with female supermodels, which was unheard of. What I’ve learned from that is I’m really hoping to mentor the guys [other models] on those things we’ve picked up.”
Unknowingly, Gandy has his hand out at this point, an unconscious offering of his life experience, pitfalls and relief at the kind of help he’s offering. “Take my hand mate, I understand” his body language says to the young male he’s metaphorically speaking to. He tells the tale of an up-and-coming model named Alex Dunstand, who’s the face of Marni, and how he wants him to succeed, because – just as Gandy views himself – he’s a nice guy, down-to-earth, grateful. He desperately wants to see more of that in the scene. Good guys can finish first in Gandsland. “People have a view of you before they even meet you. Forget the male model prejudice that people have; even a famous person has that stereotype to break through. But when someone says that they find me humble, easy to work with and congenial, then I’m over the moon. That’s what I want people to take away from meeting me. I’m almost embarrassed when I get special treatment,” he says, stirring his coffee roundly.
“Then, the British press tried to start something on Twitter and the Web by critiscising what I was wearing and everything that I stand for. You don’t like what I’m wearing, fine: you’re allowed that opinion. I actually went up to that journalist and told him that it was a very well-written piece. I didn’t agree with it, but I thought it was well done. He was a bit socked by that,” Gandy recollects of that contentious time. “A couple of people from the British Fashion Council said ban him and I said don’t, that’s exactly what he wants.” He pauses, searches the air for what he’s said, ponders it. And – liking the scent of his own honesty – adds his thoughts of how to correct a niggling wrong that need to be righted: the state of British fashion and how to improve it. “There’s just so much to be done,” he says, shaking his head and smilling at the Sisyphean monumentalism of it all.
Gandy’s newest project – a collaboration with Marks & Spencer – is the perfect attack plan for that, a perfect example of how such things should be addressed. It will show that the people, not the elite, are the focus, and that British fashion will take its rightful places as one of the drivers of the UK economy. But, with Gandy’s career of counterintuitive success as example, change won’t come easy. We’re at Claridge’s a beacon of British upper-class perfection and stoic belief in Anglo manners and ways, and Gandy is showing me his new collection of underwear for M&S. It’s a gorgeous collection of briefs and other pieces; there’s a dressing grown that I instantly sign up for. “You’re one of the few people outside the design team to see these, as they’re actually the production samples,” he states, drawing attention to his idea of not having a gargantuan David Gandy logo; that the pattern acts as the branding, with no logo as such. “David Gandy underwear was pitched a while ago, and [Dolce & Gabbana] Light Blue certainly helped that conversation. There’s a new team at M&S and they liked it, even wondering why we hadn’t done it before. But I warned them it’ll be very different than anything they’d done before,” he says, alluding to his active involvement, and that, though the price points would be premium, he didn’t want to stray from his core philosophy of quality, affordable goods for normal and stylish guys.
“I think people want to go for that little bit of quality, for which they’re willing to pay a little bit more. Nobody could believe that his [holds up a jacket] is M&S. All the editors were coming up and saying. ‘Who made that?’ I told them M&S and they said, ‘Get the f**k outta here!’ That’s the way I’d love to see this collaboration go. They’re developing 73 new men’s stores, snd the one at Bridgwater, I believe, made back the refurb money invested to change it into a dedicated men’s space within a month. A month,” he declares, punching the expiration of the sentence. “Anything I pitch, I want it to be in that middle zone – affordable,” he states, citing his love of M&S when growing up, and how it fits his sweet zone of iconic British-ness and common man style. “As British as British gets,” he says with a wink, donning the dressing gown as his 15Kg Rottweiller, Bubbles, looks on in happy dismay. And if the M&S project foes well, Gandy is up for more: suiting, accessories… the sky’s the limit. His entrepreneurial belief is that men, if served well, are game for fashion if presented right. “I think the way men shop is very different – they hate queues, they hate going through the women’s department to get to the men’s – and there are some very cool, new ideas that I’d like to be the first to get out there. Technology is changing the menswear game in deeply profound ways, I like the person who said, ‘If you can figure out how to get men to shop the way women do, you’ll be a billionaire’.”
Slowly, it becomes apparent that Gandy resembles the Ashton Kutcher of men’s fashion, a man who one gets wrong on the first reading, as you think he’s one thing, but he’s not. He brings up that he’s bought a shoe brand, David Preston Shoes, and is slowly nurturing that with investment and guidance (“He makes 10 pairs a week, but we’ll get him boosted up soon enough as soon as the lawyers finish with the paperwork”), and his work on Lucky Jeans where he was a partner and an investor (“At one point, it was up 53% percent. We changed that brand completely with a great team. Now, Lucky has been bought out”). “That’s where I have to build my credentials: on business success like that,” he says sanguinely, noting that the transition from celebrity to businessman is fraught with perceptions and dangers. Again, the Kutcher syndrome. “I like a challenge: if I pick a brand to partner with, I don’t just want to show up four times a year and do the shoots for the campaigns, no. There’s got to be a challenge in there for me. But as a model, it’s very difficult,” he readily admits.
I write the words HIDDEN IMPATIENCE in my notebook during our third meeting at The Groucho Club for breakfast, as the soreness of the fashion weeks-London, Milan, Paris-subsides. Gandy is tired, but relieved-the breakneck speed of the past few weeks merely hectic rather than battering. „You know, I’m easily bored; I haven’t had a holiday in two-and-a-half years. I have quiet week and I’m already planning projects. I’m terrible,“ he laughs openly at himself, seemingly wondering why the hell he pushes himself the way he does. We muse on the gossip across the Web and the print press on one of the biggest things that Gansy has done to date: his shoot with Jennifer Lopez for her „First Love“ video. Filmes in the Mojave Desert, conditions were fierce. ‘There was a sandstorm, pretty terrible, but Jennifer was great,“ he states, recollecting the horrors of the shoot. But Gandy scoffs at reports of her admitting to having a crush on him. „That’s just clever marketing, isn’t it? You’d expect her (PR) machine to come up with that. We’re friendly, but nothing more than that,“ he’ll on;y say, adding that his schedule doesn’t permit a lot by the way of relationships. „Relationships… (laughs) even George (Clooney) is letting us down! When people ask what I’m doing girlfriend-wise, I just say I’m Clooney-ing it for a while. The way I’ve always looked at relationships is, when I do meet the right girl, my priorities are going to have to change. I can’t have the 25 projects, flying around the world, and not having any holidays. You really can’t be selfish with a relationship; you gotta work at it, build it.“
He’s not kidding about the 25 projects. The topic of his philanthropy comes into view, and the slightly reticent Gandy comes back into full-speed mode of mind. Although he has always been involved in charity and philanthropy work ( „I started working at a dog sanctuary at 15,“ he says proudly of his early start in social concerns), it’s surely in the past decade that he’s made a conscience effort to build that part of his legacy. Starting in the 2000’s, with his work for Comic Relief and Red Nose Day, Fashion for Relief and the London Marathon, among others, Gandy has slowly evolved a range of concerns that reflects his values and his aspirations for social good. HIs signature event is the Blue Steel Appeal (in reference to the Zoolander quote), a fashion spin-off of Comic Relief, which sees Gandy organising auctions and other activites. „In the past few years, I’ve wanted to start a charity, but I thought I’ll work with good charities like Comic Relief first and get some understanding from that. So I called it the Blue Steel Appeal,and the response has been great. We did the one-off ebay auction and that went really well. Ralph Lauren and Victoria Beckham donated great pieces that were absolutely astonishing,“ And by flashing his card to the non-elites, Gandy came up with another approach. „I didn’t want to do a big dinner, anyone can do that; but having it on eBay, we could include a lot more people. We raised GBP300,000, which is pretty good, really,“ he adds happily.
He’s also very involved with animal concerns, especially those aligned the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, which named him its first ambassador in 2011. „Look, I love animals, as you can see with Bubbles. We try to keep it fresh, and one of my favourites is the celebrity animal walk. I’ve got a wonderful woman from the US who’s paying an awful lot of money to come to London to walk with me and a dog, and see the shelter, so that’s great,“ which just happened in July. Total raised: GBP400,000.
But one that gets Gandy emotional-as well as raises his ire somewhat-is Style for Soldiers, a project that helps British vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan regain their dignity through customised clothes. Shirtmaker Emma Willis inspired him with her dedication to working with these vets, and he’s come up with an extension of the project with Capstar Chauffers, which employs single- and double-amputte vets as limo drivers, by attempting to persuade all the tailors of Savile Row to donate two bespoke suits per tailor to a vet, increasing their confidence and employability through fashion. Those who resist Gandy’s call to action risk his furrowed brow. „Some of this is so easy that I can’t understand why someone’s saying no, I just want to know what their reasons are for saying no,“ he says as he readies for a meeting with the tailors, expecting some resistance from certain quarters. „Everyone in the fashion industry should go to these gathering of vets and speak to these guys, hear and see the horrific injuries they’ve sustained and live with. When stylists are shouting about the wrong pair of trousers or sunglasses at a shoot, these guys without limbs would just look at them and say,“ What are you going on about?’ They just want an opportunity. I want all the Savile Row tailors to make bespoke suits for the Capstar drivers. Two suits per tailor, that’ll be 40 suits. What’s there to say no to? I’m meeting with the tailors today,and I’ll make then an offer they can’t refuse, as they say in The Godfather.“
His parting words to me: We take ourselves way too seriously. I fit in with the fashion industry in certain ways, but in other ways, not at all. Sometimes,I think I don’t belong ( in the fashion industry)…But at the same time, I love it as well. We all need a change of perspective. We’re all guilty of it. But you’ve got to recognise it for what it is and fight back.“ As hopefully all this excoriating intensity shows, Gands fights back, and in doing so, shows that nice guys finish first.