He has won Model of the Year numerous times.
He has represented Britain at the London Olympics. And of course, he’s ridiculously good-looking. But all that didn’t exempt David Gandy from having to take time off during the lockdown. Thankfully, he was back in full work mode when he met us to do a shoot on a boat, on the Thames in London this autumn.
“It’s weird, you get out of practice, not having shot for so long,” he reflects. “But I suppose then you have a bit of muscle memory kicking in, reminding yourself what you have to do. It was a little bit daunting, being on a set again, being on my game. We were all slightly relaxed. Photographer Charlie Gray suggested ʻWhat if we got boat?ʼ A boat on the river, weʼd never done it before!”
At 41, David is entering a new phase of his career, launching his own fashion brand, Wellwear. We couldnʼt pass up the opportunity to discuss the many endeavours of this iconic supermodel.
Can you tell us what was it like growing up?
I read a good description of the ʼ80s: “one big bad hair day!” It made me laugh. I was a kid, growing up and playing sports. But I look back at it fondly. The ʼ90s were a great time in music and fashion, especially in the UK. We were ahead of the game, it was an exciting time to be around. But I always wonder about the “zeros,” [the first decade of the new century], what are the zeros going to stand for? What are going to be the iconic pieces from that time? We almost always regurgitate fashion, itʼs always coming back.
Weʼre still looking at Steve McQueen bomber jackets, Chanel, etc. Weʼre rehashing history. I wonder if the digital world has held us back from creating new pieces. If you take away incredible photographers and art directors and replace them with influencers, what do you get?
We go back to the ʼ80s with Richard Avedon, Bruce Webber, Mario Testino, Steven Meisel, Steven Klein… these books with the most incredible editorials and creatives have shaped fashion in many ways. But what about now? What are we going to make books of, what are we going to be looking at if no one shoots these incredible images.
It worries me slightly. And I love creatives. For my brand Wellwear (instagram here), I worked with Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca, Ralph Laurenʼs photographer. Even though we’re digital and direct to consumer, we still wanted to create incredible editorials. For me, itʼs about creating a legacy of pictures that last.
Do you have fashion memories, as in how your parents dressed in the ’80s or ’90s?
My grandfather would come for Sunday afternoon lunch, and he would always have a tie on. None of my family came from a wealthy background, so they never had money. They didn’t have disposable money, so everything had to last. My dad had good suits. Not name suits, not branded suits, but good suits. They would always have Windsor ties, tied perfectly. They werenʼt expensive, but everything fitted well. All those things have crept into me when Iʼm doing my own brand. It has to be quality, it has to last a long time, it has to be a comfortable fit, it has to be right. It still has to be stylish, but it has to be attainable. We call it a “lifestyle brand” because thatʼs what I am. Iʼm very fortunate to have been given the “stylish man of the year” award. Thatʼs style, thatʼs not fashion. Thatʼs a lifestyle. People see the classic cars, the house renovations, the tailoring, the jeans, the T-shirts ‒ thatʼs just me, thatʼs not a stylist that does that. Iʼve never had a personal stylist.
Were beauty and appearances important? I know they were in my family, in the’80s and ’90s. But mainly for women, men got a free pass, in a way.
There was no criticism over appearance. My mum always said, since I was small, that I could choose what I wore. I had a headstrong element on what I wanted to wear. And whatʼs funny is that my three year-old daughter is the same. Sheʼll go into her room and choose her jeans, her leggings and her jumper. Itʼs not always going to match, but itʼs what sheʼs feeling. Sometimes it drives my partner mad. But I love her having the creative freedom to put something together, be a ballerina, be a princess, etc. I love that creative element. I was never about brands “oh she has an Hermès or a Chanel bag.” Or “oh heʼs got a Rolex or a Cartier.”
Iʼm a big watch collector, but Iʼve never had those brands. Iʼve never been a branded person. To me itʼs more about the style, about how you wear something. I used to shop at Club Monaco in the States. But when it came to London, I loved it less, because everyone had access to it. J Crew is another one ‒ it used to be only in the States, so I shopped there. Thereʼs always an element of being slightly different. I shopped in second hand stores as well. It was always about quality, and about looking after my clothes.
People probably think I have a much bigger wardrobe than I actually do. People ask me “is that a new suit” and I laugh, because Iʼve had that suit for seven years. Itʼs like how I adore classic, vintage cars. No one in my family likes cars whatsoever.
You went to college, which not all models do since many start their career very early. I imagine modelling wasn’t necessarily seen as a viable career choice in a British college. Was it a rebellious decision to pursue that career?
There was one thing I learnt at university, and thatʼs that I shouldn’t have gone to university. It was the biggest waste of time of anything Iʼve ever done in my life. Thatʼs the honest truth. I wanted to progress and see the world. It wasnʼt for me. When I came to the fashion world, I didnʼt get Dolce until five years into my career. I absolutely adore traveling. A lot of people want to be at home, have a routine, a wage, know when theyʼll go on holiday. My routine is there isnʼt one. Itʼs calmed down now, but for 20 years, I didnʼt know where the next wage was going to come from. You could be on a plane tomorrow, you could be on a plane next we… or you could be on five planes next week. And that was the excitement for me. So, it wasnʼt rebellion, it was a way of discovering the excitement of life.
You’ve creative- directed ads and shoots. What are the challenges when you go from model to creative directing?
A lot of people are happy to turn up to a set, be dressed by people, play the part and go home, and not to have to worry. Itʼs the same with acting, a lot of actors donʼt want to direct, but some do want to. I just wanted to expand. Some photographers gave me a chance, they brought me into the creative process and said I had a good eye and great ideas. I progressed and progressed until I felt confident to direct some shorts for Gentlemanʼs Journal, The Rake and stuff like that. And then creative direct. Itʼs quite scary to constantly want to learn different things. I like educating myself and taking those risks. You have to do a good job, youʼre really putting yourself out there. I challenge myself to do different things all the time. Iʼve written for Vanity Fair, for GQ, for Telegraph. Itʼs one of the hardest thing Iʼve ever done. I get bored easily, so I need new things constantly to stay engaged and prove myself.
Images stay online forever and ever, versus after a few months people tend to forget about a print magazine’s specific issue. Has that changed the way you view your job?
There are positives and negatives behind everything. I shot with David Bailey a few years ago, and he has this incredible archive. To be in the middle of all these magazines, to not only see a specific campaign, but be able to put in the context of everything else that was going on at that time, the journalism ‒ I absolutely enjoy that. On Instagram, you canʼt even have captions because people donʼt read them. People only see snippets, unless they click through. Of course, if someone looks up “David Gandy August Man Cover” in 200 yearsʼ time, thatʼs the beauty of digital that print couldnʼt achieve. I suppose if you didnʼt grow up with magazine covers, you donʼt miss them. But I miss them. I grew up before digital photography, when people were still developing films. I miss that too, capturing that moment in time, not being sure what youʼre going to get.
I’ve heard you say you want to be less in front of the camera, help young models, etc. I’m wondering if you could see yourself missing being on the cover of a magazine, as you’ve been on so many.
Fear of missing out. I think Iʼve been so fortunate to have done what I have done, iconic covers, campaigns, my book, etc. If I hadnʼt done all this, maybe it would be different, but I look at everything I have done and Iʼm very proud. Designing for my brand, thatʼs almost the last tick in the box. For my own brand, I donʼt want to always be the face of the brand, I want other models in the future to bring my vision to life.
Affordable luxury (M&S) > before, now casual-wear, athleisure – how did that come about? I have an image of you as a guy in suits, but that’s probably wrong.
We did that at M&S already. We talked about loungewear and sleepwear, and that was six or seven years ago. Everyone now has done loungewear because of the pandemic, but I feel like we really started the trend. M&S became the third biggest loungewear in the UK, with a very small team. But youʼre right, when Iʼm in the public eye, of course Iʼm wearing suits. But if you had pictures of me at home, youʼd see me in jeans a lot, youʼd see me in sweatshirts, in T-shirts, youʼd see me in a short collar. Itʼs just not in the public eye. People would come up to me and say “this is an amazing T-shirt, where is it from?”
Iʼd say, “you can buy this T-shirt, but this is a T-shirt that fits ME,” it fits me on the shoulders, but it might not transfer to you as well. You need to find something that fits you. Iʼm so pedantic about my T-shirt, about style, about quality. Even with tailoring, Iʼm very specific about what I like, with sweatshirts and lounge pants too. It looks very thrown together, but actually, itʼs very choreographed and thought about. Iʼd already done loungewear, so I wanted to move into the more day-today wear.
We looked at what was the success of M&S, and that was the comfort, the softness and the quality. So, we checked everything. Weʼre making it in Portugal. We’re making it more sustainable and we’ve pushed the boundaries on affordable fabric innovation with technical treatments called Wellwear Breathe and Wellwear Care which are applied to the natural fabrics to enhance the wearer’s physical well-being. These include anti-odour, anti-bacterial, wound healing, anti-inflammatory and moisturising properties.
So, we made it such that you donʼt have to wash them as much. So thatʼs the sustainability element, but then thereʼs the quality. Iʼve done my best to have them be the best quality I can get, when shrinking and dying this clothing. Itʼs the first time Iʼve had 100 per cent of a say of what comes out of that factory. With M&S, it was only 80 per cent, I still had to work under their conditions. Thatʼs what weʼre saying to guys and girl. Weʼre not trying to reinvent the wheel here. If you want a sweatshirt, hoodie, lounge pants or a T-shirt, theyʼre the best. Weʼve made them the best, and theyʼre attainable for everyone.
Can you explain the T-shirt with the “perfect fit?” It must be a challenge to design it since guys come in different body shape.
For M&S, we sold £6 million of T-shirts. We only really made two styles of shirts. We were really narrowing down who we made them for. But by making them a certain size, by adding sizes, youʼre expanding the amount of people youʼre making them for. Unless you bespoke-make a T-shirt, itʼs going to be difficult to please everyone, but Iʼve used companies you supposedly make bespoke T-shirts, and Iʼve gone back to them eight times it still wasnʼt right.
So, I went back to my usual brands, and they fit me. Weʼve done the loose crew, weʼve done the heritage-T with a pocket, different ribs, V-neck, etc. You canʼt please everyone, but weʼre trying to please as many people as we can. With the quality and the softness we use, I think weʼve created something very, very special.
It’s quite affordable, which is also a break from what you wear in many of your shoots.
Again, itʼs something Iʼve always done in all my collaborations, the quality of luxury brands, but making it attainable for everyone. High street prices, with the quality of luxury. We start at £30, and finishing around £80, £85 pounds for the most expensive items.
I’ve watched some of your interviews and you’re quite knowledgeable about sustainable fashion. I imagine it’s an important element of Wellwear.
Iʼm in the fashion industry, and itʼs a heavily polluting industry. I have to know about their practices. Itʼs something thatʼs essential for me to understand. Iʼm not saying Iʼm an expert, but I have my views on it. Itʼs logical for people to want sustainable clothing, but if you take plastic out of the ocean, and make clothing out of… I get what youʼre doing, but those plastics are still not biodegradable. Natural fibres are biodegradable. When you wash them, plastic is not washed into our water system. If that clothing is washed away into the sea, it will biodegrade. You can recycle polyester, and itʼs very good material, but you can only do it a certain number of times. And then you still have got to get rid of it somehow.
I know you have a partner [Stephanie Mendoros], I’m wondering if your wife teases you by pointing out grey hairs, the usual stuff people do as couples?
No, but weʼve been together for six years, and recently something came up on my phone, a picture of when we were dating and we both joked “look at how young we both looked.” When youʼre with someone every day, you age with that person. We both like to look good and look after ourselves. But sheʼs probably a little bit vainer than I am. People expect me to be vainer than what I really am.
I worry as much as the next man about grey hair and wrinkles. Sometimes sheʼll say, “can you get changed before we go out?” but I donʼt care, Iʼm comfortable with what I wear at home. We were laughing at each other during lockdown. We were in the country side, and I was working on the land a lot. I was cutting down trees and building fences, taking my dog on walks. I would then go shopping and make sure I would change. But gradually, I stopped changing, and in the end, I didnʼt care anymore and would go out with dirty clothes. We were joking about it, because, in London, weʼre much more observant about what we wear, but then we relaxed. There was something lovely about that. There werenʼt events. In London, youʼre in this fashion hub. Youʼre much more conscious of what you wear. In the country side, we thought “shove it, no oneʼs around!” There was no one to judge.
How to make sure clothes last the longest? This adds up to sustainability. Some guys iron T-shirts…
I actually like an ironed T-shirt, but I canʼt be bothered to do it. But I look after other things. Leather is a skin, itʼs got to be waxed, itʼs got to be fed. Iʼve always looked after my leathers. Same with jackets, with Barbourʼs ‒ they need to be waxed. The tailored clothes I always dry-clean. The shirts too. Thatʼs about it. A lot of the tailors, the suits will go back to them for a proper clean, a proper press. At the Wellwear factory in Portugal, they take all our clothing, take one out of every 10 items, cut it up in pieces, take one piece and they rotate it 30,000 times, and that imitates the effect of being worn for a few years. All our stuff goes through that. If it doesnʼt pass the test, we donʼt put it out. Thatʼs as far as we have gone to ensure of the quality of Wellwear.
Zoolander, good or bad? Did you find it funny?
Hell, yes. Of course itʼs funny! Donʼt get me wrong, there are Zoolanders. Theyʼre all exaggerated elements, exaggerated parts of the industry. I can spot little bits of everyone Iʼve met in my 20 years in the fashion industry ‒ the managers, the designers, the models, etc. We all need to make fun of what we do. The fashion industry probably is guilty of taking itself a bit too seriously. Thereʼs always time to laugh at yourself.
(Main image: Khaki sweatshirt, David Gandy Wellwear; sunglasses, Persol; Octo Roma on navy leather strap, Bvlgari)
Photos Charlie Gray; Styling Catherine Hayward