In the gaps between serving as Dolce & Gabbana’s muse, David Gandy flies around the world, building up his personal brand, which is already worth millions. Even if you do not know his name, you will probably recognise his face from the work that he has done, such as the iconic advertising campaign in 2006 for the Italian label’s best-selling, award-winning fragrance for men, Light Blue. It was that gig that launched the hunk into the public consciousness, and overnight turned the Englishman into the most famous male model.
In the campaign, he gazed out of billboards and magazines around the world as he lounged spread-eagled on a boat drifting on an azure sea, wearing nothing but a white pair of swimming trunks. His looks were famous before his name was. Since then he has posed for some of the most seminal of this generation of photographers, such as Mario Testino, who shot the Light Blue campaign, and Mariano Vivanco, whose intimate, black-and-white portraits of Gandy may have broken the Internet long before Kim Kardashian’s did.
Another iconic moment in Gandy’s career was at the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in London in 2012, when he was the only male model to take centre stage side by side with premier British fashion exports Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. That appearance probably cemented his claim to the status of greatest male supermodel ever to have some out of Britain, if not the world.
That claim may well be justifiable. In the flesh, Gandy looks exactly like he does in the innumerable photos of him you can find on the Internet. Up close, his chin is perfectly stubbled, his jaw is square and chiselled, his brown hair is tousled to just the right degree and his piercing blue eyes gleam with self-assurance.
The tale of how Gandy got into modelling is almost a cliché. Friends entered him in a modelling contest on the British television show This Morning in 2002. He was reluctant to compete, having just earned a degree in marketing. But he competed and won, and was propelled into the well-paid but uninspiring world of modelling for catalogues.
Gandy toiled for five years before he got his big break, with Dolce & Gabbana. The Italian designers had hired him for their runway show and were looking for a fresh face to front the campaign for their new fragrance. Gandy stood out from the host of pubescent-looking boys whose look was in vogue at the time – his rugged, masculine appeal being a welcome throwback to that of the alpha-male models of the 1990s. The androgynous waif look was still in vogue, but Gandy ignored advice to streamline his physique, and instead almost singlehandedly reintroduced the appeal of the Adonis. He inspired other models, and men in general, to hit the gym and get fitter rather than skinnier.
However, success did not come easily, Gandy says. “It is not like I went from one business to something else,” he says. “I went from being a student at university to fashion. I had the preconceptions that probably everyone has about fashion. I did not know what to expect, so I did not have expectations. I said to myself, let’s see where this takes me. I thought that it could be fun for a few years – and it has turned out to be 15.”
The model has adopted numerous personas in fashion editorials over the years, including dressing up as Superman for a fashion spread with supermodel Carolyn Murphy for the US edition of Vogue. Gandy likens modelling to acting, although he has so far refrained from pursuing a career on the film set. He has turned down several coveted roles Hollywood has offered, including that of Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey, because he has yet to decide whether acting should be on his to-do list.
That is just as well, because the model has a lot of other things on his plate. Gandy is his own brand now, a brand that has spread beyond the catwalk and ad campaigns to help sell a hugely successful range of Marks & Spencer underwear, lounge wear and swimwear, and to help sell shoes made by his own London footwear company, David Preston. The model juggles advertising contracts with Marks & Spencer and Jaguar, and endorses £180-a-bottle Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky. For fun, Gandy races cars and powerboats, which underscores his macho appeal.
A lover of racing and a long-time friend of Jaguar, Gandy was in Hong Kong in October for the city’s first ever Formula E. He was here to support Jaguar’s first return to racing since Le Mans, and it was a thrilling moment for both Gandy and Jaguar’s new generation of electric car drivers.
The 36-year-old Essex boy strives to be the best at what he does. Gandy has something to say about the younger generation of male models, who he thinks focus more on the fame than the hard work required to achieve it. “A lot of the young guys now who I’m speaking to ask me for advice. They want to know how they can quickly achieve what I have achieved when they have only been at it for six months,” he says. “Patience is good, and determination is everything. I’ve always said I was never the best-looking model, but you can change things with determination, and having that willpower and drive. You need to have a goal.”
Gandy acknowledges that, in modelling, the future can be hard to predict. Fashion, he says, is one of those industries where success can be sudden and immediate, but fleeting. “You can be taken off the street Monday and be in an ad campaign by Friday,” he says. But Gandy says that sort of experience can make you take success for granted. “I knew the slog to get up to first place. And that just gave me a platform to push even further and further and further, and, constantly having goals to keep on moving, I don’t take anything for granted,” he says.
Gandy laments that in the fashion industry, enterprises now focus on a model’s popularity. But he understands why they do it. “It is easy to earn a lot of money,” he says. “They do not have to come up with an amazing creation or strategy. They just need to bring a person in who has 3 million followers, and that’s it. To me, that’s ruined a lot of the creativity of campaigns, and editorials and print magazines are suffering hugely, and they haven’t got the money to produce the shoots. People don’t bother producing good campaigns anymore, and I cannot remember when I last flipped open a magazine and thought, what an amazing campaign.”
There may be an imperative to modernise and reinvigorate the fashion industry, but Gandy is uncomfortable with the phenomenon of fashion bloggers. “They may be the future of fashion, but can they run a fashion house or a fashion company?” he says. “The people who are watching fashion shows, from the editors to the former models, have been in the industry for 20 or 30 years, and they report on the shows. They have experience, and that experience cannot be taught, because one needs to learn it. Having a blog and going to a fashion show does not make one an expert. By simply taking a selfie at a fashion show – how is that going to help the fashion industry?”
Gandy says many celebrities and fashion bloggers wear only certain clothes at fashion shows or other events, because they are paid to wear them. He dislikes the disingenuousness. “I choose what I wear and I will help new brands out, such as new British brands that need the coverage,” he says. “If we don’t support these new, upcoming brands, then we are only ever going to see big brands who can afford to pay models to wear them, and we are never going to see what else is out there.”
The model often takes it upon himself to be something of an ambassador of all things British. But he emphasises that he collaborates only with companies he admires. “I am working with Marks & Spencer and Jaguar because I think that the brands are great, and I appreciate and believe in their products,” he says.
On top of doing his work, Gandy runs several charities, so he finds himself short of time to get everything done. “More time in the world would be luxury to me,” he says. “We already live so far in the future. I’ve just designed a range by Marks & Spencer for winter 2017, so we are already thinking a year in advance anyway, so it is constantly about looking ahead.”
Being a model is not all that defines Gandy, even though the fashion industry opened up the avenues that led to his being able to do everything that he has ever really wished to. “I went out to be successful,” he says, “and with success came the fame and the recognition – and that is more than I could have asked for.”