David Gandy: More than being really, really, ridiculously good-looking
David Gandy is a male supermodel. Scratch that. David Gandy is the male supermodel.
His impossibly handsome face and enviable physique have graced some of the most iconic advertising campaigns ever created. The 2006 image of him lying on a speedboat on off the Amalfi coast, wearing nothing but a small pair of white swimming trunks is one of the most recognisable photographic ads of our times.
But more than just being ridiculously good-looking, Gandy is that rare breed of talent who used his gifts to not only legitimise the idea of ‘the male model’, but who also played a significant part in altering the way men in general view fashion.
At the turn of the century, men’s fashion was dominated by rake-thin men wearing implausibly edgy ensembles, which had long since started to alienate the average man-on-the-street. Fashion was divisive. It was exclusive.
It wasn’t for ‘real men’. And then David Gandy came along. After winning a modelling competition on UK television in 2001, Gandy’s muscular build caught the eyes of Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.
The duo foresaw the shift to a more masculine standard in men’s fashion and, in Gandy, they had found their new muse. The boy from Billericay in Essex began to feature in Dolce & Gabbana campaigns and fashion shows, before ultimately becoming the face of the brand’s fragrance Light Blue in 2006. The Mario Testino shots of Gandy in his white trunks, quite simply, changed the game.
We’re in Annabel’s. It is a private club in London that has long-been a regular drop-in for big-city movers and shakers (it’s claimed to be the only club that the Queen has been to). It’s a British institution. As is Gandy.
In the weeks leading up to today’s shoot, pretty much every woman we mentioned it to demanded to come along to assist. In fairness, we thought we might have needed the help. We expected Naomi Campbell-style diva demands and an arm-length list of organic raw food requests fed to him by over-attentive assistants (supermodels, huh?).
Instead he couldn’t be more guy-next-door if he tried. Well, if your neighbour was a Greek god, that is.
“Hi, mate, I am David. How you doing?” he introduces himself with an Essex twang that has been diluted after years of globetrotting and London living. His handshake is every bit as masculine as you’d imagine. We make a mental note to hit the gym later that night.
From experience, a celebrity that gives his name is always a good sign, but how does he introduce himself at parties, we ask. “I don’t say ‘Hi, I’m a model!’” he laughs. “Mostly I just say ‘Hi, I am David’ and they say ‘Yes, we know’, and I always think, Well, I can’t just assume that people will know me.”
But of course they know who he is. Aside from his breakthrough with the Light Blue campaign, he was also the face that helped put the British department store Marks & Spencer on the global map.
But more than his spot at the top of the modelling pantheon, Gandy has managed to evolve a career that has adapted from his features being plastered on the side of buses, to being an ambassador for London Collections: Men, being a creative director for a menswear line (designing apparel, tailoring, sleepwear and leather goods) and even dabbling with film directing.
Defying the preconceived ideas that come attached to being a model, Gandy has had to claw his way to the top to be taken seriously in his other ventures. “We stereotype everyone; it’s a safety net that people have,” he says. “If they can stereotype you or pigeonhole you by what you do, then they think they know you. ‘You’re a footballer. You’re a model. You’re a banker. We know you.’ That’s the barrier I have always come up against.”
The same judgements are particularly true in the fashion industry. “I have always had people saying ‘you can’t do this, don’t do that,’” he explains. “I always asked why female supermodels were being paid so much more than male ones, and no one had the answers, so I said, Well should we try it?” And try it he did. He is now one of the highest-paid male models in the world. You would assume that because of this, he is very much aware of just how good-looking he is. “I am still waiting to bloom,” he says with a smile.
From an outsider perspective, someone being paid to swan around exotic locales on speedboats with gorgeous women draped around them, it’s hard to garner much sympathy. But to judge the profession on the final product alone would be a mistake — there is, of course, a negative side to the glitz and glamour of modelling.
“It’s not the easiest of industries,” he says, recalling the “horrendous” Milan castings sessions from his earlier years. “There would be 200-300 guys, rounded up like sheep, to try on one T-shirt. By the time it gets to you it’s covered in sweat. I just said ‘no, absolutely not.’”
Gandy is proud he stayed defiant through those years, and thinks it put him in a stronger position in the long run. “I was once at an Armani casting and they said, ‘Take off your shirt.’ I said ‘No, I am not sitting here with my shirt off.’ When they called me down, I remember the casting director looking at me and rolling their eyes. Maybe I was a bit more headstrong than other people.”
Naturally, with traffic-stopping good looks and the mega global campaigns come the trappings of fame. Gandy was a global phenomenon as a supermodel and quickly developed quite the fanbase.
“The fame side never bothered me, I wanted to create something iconic with imagery and I wanted to be successful and top of my game,” he says. His headstrong personality stayed true, though. “I was never willing to be manipulated or made to look a fool, which can happen if you don’t have a say, like I have now. I always wanted to be involved in the creative process.”
And involved he was. For our shoot, he is very vocal about all aspects, but only had one request — a shoe change, from a pair of trainers into something more in keeping with his personal taste. The fact of the matter is, there is more to Gandy than being a model.
According to Gandy, the vast majority of models stick to the basics. They sign up to an agency that will look after them, booking campaigns and shows, allowing them to focus on the day job. But that was not enough for the Brit whose drive to constantly evolve is one of the reasons that he has remained relevant for so long. Adding strings to his bow, Gandy has transitioned to stepping behind the camera too. “I don’t just work as an art director. I pick the photographers and the team,” he explains of recent projects. “There is nothing worse in the creative field than looking at an image and not liking it, with the feeling that it doesn’t do any of us any justice.”
It’s not just the photography space Gandy has transcended. For the past four years he has been working with Marks & Spencer, initially on its loungewear collections, and now the remit has expanded to its full tailoring offering. “You hope it progresses when it first starts, it’s up about 19 per cent year on year, but it’s a hard thing to keep that momentum going,” he says “Now I have the tailoring line alongside my three-piece suits, it’s a much bigger role now. It really surprises people how involved I actually am with the line.”
The Marks & Spencer connection is an important one in the story of David Gandy’s career. The British store was often thought of as a brand for older generations, and enlisting the talents of Gandy — both as a model and now a creative director — has given a lease of new life to its fashion offerings.
“The stuff M&S is doing with me and [English model] Rosie [Huntington-Whiteley] is stuff that no one else is doing,” he says. “People forget that M&S were the first big retailers to collaborate with people like us, and they were doing it five years ago, before this new wave of influencer culture. We share brand ethics with them. Like them, Rosie and I are both British, both at the top of our game, and that’s why they picked us.”
Following the success of his apparel line with M&S, Gandy has set his sights on the lucrative world of leather goods. He recently unveiled an aviation-themed accessories collection with Aspinal of London. “I love the brand. It’s disruptive, and its price point is around that obtainable-luxury mark,” he says before going on to explain how he met the owner and pitched him the idea. “Leather goods are like cars to me. We wanted to create something around the most iconic piece of luggage for men, based on a Supermarine Spitfire plane.”
His knowledge of the design itself underpins everything he has said regarding his involvement in such brand collaborations. Alongside the ribbing and quilting for the seating of the plane, the straps and the military materials are all clear inspirations behind the design. You can see he took the ‘Spitfire’ theme and ran with it. “I love to take chances, and sample things to see what can work,” he explains of his process. “I am not designing for the London bubble, I am designing for the man on the streets outside.”
When questioned on when we can expect an own-brand clothing brand launch, he answers with the grounded humility that is quickly becoming his trademark. “I didn’t study fashion design, so I don’t want to presume I can go from modelling to having my own brand. Just because of my fame, who am I to presume I have the right to start my own brand?” We answer: you’re David Frickin’ Gandy. He laughs.
Victoria Beckham is someone Gandy cites as an inspiration of celebrity-turned-reputable-designer. “To go against public perception and start her own brand in fashion and get that reaction from the industry is impressive,” he says of the designer. “I was proud when she won Brand of the Year a few years ago at the British Fashion Awards. I thought, Good for you. I have a huge amount of respect for Victoria. It’s no easy task.”
It comes as little surprise that outside of fashion, Gandy is a man’s man. If he isn’t hiking 10km with his beloved mongrel Dora, which he adopted from London’s famous Battersea Dogs Home, he is likely indulging in his other main passion: cars. “I am currently finishing the restoration of a Porsche 356,” he says with unmistakable pride. “Restoring cars has been a very good investment, but more than that they are my passion and are the one thing I will spend big money on. I am racing at the Mille Miglia [the revived classic car rally] next year, and I keep lying to myself, saying that I’ll stop once the Porsche is finished!” When asked why he would be stopping if he enjoyed it so much, he smiles and mentions that he and his long-term girlfriend — criminal defense barrister Stephanie Mendoros — are expecting their first child.
Yes. You read that right. The Gandy genes will bless another generation. “You almost can’t prepare for it. You can do as much as you want, but you can’t truly prepare for it,” he says nervously. As with most expectant parents, he doesn’t seem too concerned about whether he has a boy or a girl. “We are keeping it a surprise, and at the moment can’t think of any names,” he says, before promising us that they won’t be named Apple or any bizarre fruit names. Gandy laughs, and alludes to something more traditional.
“I am quite strict with my niece and nephews,” he says, sternly pondering his style of parenting. “I think everyone says that though, don’t they? At first you are like: ‘You will never sit in front of the television!’ and then soon enough you’re begging them ‘Just please sit in front of the television for five minutes’!” he laughs.
Gandy credits his tight family unit for keeping him grounded, and says it’s a source of parenting inspiration for him. “I think my mum and dad did a great job. I think you look at what everyone did well and try and put that into the parent you are going to be. You also look at things people didn’t do as well and try not to make those mistakes. But of course you’re going to make mistakes.”
He talks calmly about the prospect of fatherhood, before confessing to some anxiety: “It still amazes me that after the birth they just give you a baby and send you back home without any training!” he says “All of a sudden you’re responsible for this new human. It’s madness… but I am looking forward to it.”
The obvious question hangs on the tip of our tongue, even though we feel we may already know the answer. Will Gandy junior join his famous father in front of the cameras? “No. No, no, no and no,” he splutters, seemingly outraged at the thought. “The baby will not be on any social media, any campaigns, anything! We will be very strict about that. My baby will not be used for Instagram posts.”
It’s the answer we were anticipating, and one that fits right in with his entire persona — a traditional man’s man who values integrity, hard work and family ethics. Gandy is an old soul in the fast-paced modelling industry, with not a work-shy millennial ethos in sight. “As a father, one of the main things is to be there to protect your child from the dangers of life, and I don’t think that’s achieved by putting babies and children on sets, or on Instagram pages.”
It’s clear his family means a lot to him, and if his role as an uncle is anything to go by, he will be a very present father. “My oldest nephew, who is 15 and very good looking, asked ‘Do you think I could model’ and I said, Of course. But when you’re 21,” he says.
Strict but fun, we suspect ‘fun’ will be more Gandy’s fatherly stance. We ask if he is worried that his child will be teased over his old man’s sexy pouting imagery at some point. “They probably will be teased. I have had enough abuse about it over the years!” he jokes. “I haven’t thought about that to be honest… well, now that’s another thing for me to worry about. Thanks!”
Boy. Girl. Model. Designer. Entrepreneur. Whatever Gandy’s child becomes, we know David will approach his parental duties with the same vigorous work ethic as he has his career, so he has little to worry about. On the other hand, he does raise the bar somewhat for the term ‘dad bod’.