Monday, July 4, 2011

David Gandy, model

By Alice Wyllie

I honestly believe that some people think I go to work on a dinghy every day," says David Gandy with a smile. "Really I'm on the number 14 bus going down Fulham Road in London."
And it's true, while the rest of us are commuting to work in the rain, in our minds Gandy will forever be in that little white boat, and more specifically in those little white pants, floating off the coast of Capri on a sunny morning.

Helen of Troy's unparalleled beauty made her the face that launched a thousand ships, while David Gandy's striking visage launched just one small dinghy, in which he reclined almost naked in a 2007 ad for Dolce & Gabbana's Light Blue fragrance. Almost overnight, however, the ad caused a sensation online, and in the internet age 12 million hits trumps 1,000 ships.

Four years later, 31-year-old Gandy is the most in-demand male model in the world. He is probably the only man in the industry who could be described as a "supermodel" and certainly the only one with whom – alongside the likes of Kate, Naomi, Claudia and Cindy – the general public is increasingly on first-name terms.

David. When God created Man, this is surely what He had in mind. Sipping a glass of white wine, he looks like he was realised in a lab by Italian design duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who have taken him as their muse. He's 6ft 2in with a deep, natural tan, dark wavy hair and piercing pale-blue eyes, and that famous physique, swathed in layers of grey knit, is defined, not bulky; toned, not overly muscular. His cheekbones are so sharp that I still feel their impression in my cheek from the obligatory air kiss, long after I've sat down. Gandy has just landed in Glasgow, here to present a gong at the Scottish Fashion Awards, and if he's tired, it doesn't show. He meets me off the plane, leaving himself less than an hour after our interview to dress and head to the awards, but frankly, he could go as he is and still have all eyes on him.

When Domenico Dolce first saw the Essex-born Adonis "he immediately gave me the impression of embodying a universal ideal of masculine beauty between Michelangelo's David and those chiselled Greek and Roman sculptures of the classic era". Quite.

However, Gandy's first steps in the fashion industry weren't quite so lofty. A decade ago while studying marketing at university, a friend secretly entered him in a modelling competition on This Morning. He won, naturally, but spent the first few years of his career adrift in the not-so-glamorous world of catalogue modelling.

He was repeatedly told, inexplicably, that he was "too good-looking" for jobs, at a time when designers were championing androgynous waifs with pale complexions and tiny waists, in both men's and women's fashion. At a fitting for Dior, he couldn't even get his leg in the trousers, let alone squeeze into the jackets.

"I never really understood that," he says with a shrug. "I was always inspired by the iconic Levi's ads. I always said I wanted to be a Levi's guy, a man who was classically good-looking and actually had a bum. I wasn't really aware of this skinny aesthetic until I came into the fashion industry and people told me the androgynous look, that's what's in. I'd go to a fitting and they'd say to me 'oh, it's the big guy, here he is!' Yeah, that was, um, fun."

Then along came the white pants, about which Gandy is refreshingly good-humoured. The print ad featured Gandy reclining at such an angle that his crotch filled a third of the frame. Considering it was plastered across a 50ft billboard in New York's Times Square, that's a lot of crotch. What on earth did his mother think?

He grins. "When it first came out I was a bit taken aback," he says. "I showed it to my mum and said 'it's a bit risqué but have a look'. She said 'David, I think this is going to take off. I absolutely adore it and I haven't seen anything like it in ages.'"

Mrs Gandy was right, of course. In a few short years, her son has starred in numerous campaigns and television ads for Dolce & Gabbana. He regularly appears on their catwalks and a day was recently named in his honour at Men's Fashion Week in Milan. He is the only male model to have appeared on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, and he has addressed students at the Oxford Union. Next up, he hopes to start his own charity under the Comic Relief brand, encouraging other members of the fashion industry to give something back.

Add to that a style app, an upcoming fitness and nutrition app, a regular blog on and a gig reviewing cars for GQ, and it's safe to say that brand Gandy has landed. Oh, and last week Dolce & Gabbana published a coffee table tome devoted entirely to him, a first for any male model.

"Good God, 304 pages of me. It's scary." Of course "scary" isn't the adjective that most people would select, but then Gandy is repeatedly, persistently self-deprecating. Indeed, he's an interesting mix of modesty and confidence. He's humble and unpretentious, yet unapologetically ambitious. He refuses to beat his own (41in) chest but he certainly won't waste time on false modesty, doesn't talk down his looks, and is proud to call himself a male model.

"The women have done it brilliantly," he says, acknowledging the fact that some of his female counterparts can command ten times his salary. "In the hierarchy of a shoot you have the female model, the photographer, the stylist, and below that somewhere is the male model. Now I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I think it's amazing what women do in this industry because they actually use it brilliantly for themselves, and don't get used by it. They make so much money and they work really hard and the guys should take a leaf out of their book. I don't know why they haven't."

However, he believes there has been some progress among his contemporaries.

"It has changed. When I first did this the big male models at the time wouldn't say they were male models. If someone asked, they'd say they worked in advertising. It was a great thing to be a female model but it wasn't for the men, to be earning money from the way you look. Now it's different, the general public are much more open to it."

Gandy has never been embarrassed by his job title. Indeed, he has embraced it, and envisaged his career ahead of him long before he donned those white pants. In his early modelling years he was doing regular catalogue work for high street stores, but he wanted to work with the best photographers, the best directors, and the best designers on the planet. He told his agent that he was done with catalogues. A row ensued and the work dried up for a while.

Then he got the call from Dolce & Gabbana and everything changed, not just for Gandy's career, but for the fashion world's perception of male beauty, which returned, almost overnight, to one of an idealised, sculpted physique and classic, handsome good looks. In short, the beefcake was back.

Celebrity photographer Mario Testino, now a good friend, who shot Gandy for the Light Blue campaign, said at the time: "He has something of what the 1980s supermodels had. He radiates health and positivity. It's exciting because it signifies a real shift in men's fashion. That whole skinny, decadent look is very limited."

Gandy is regularly credited with bringing a "real-man" aesthetic back to the catwalk, but he insists that credit should be shared by both Testino and Dolce & Gabbana.

"I quite like it that we're shifting the boundaries," he says. "Shifting the boundaries of what's possible for a male model to do, from a calender to getting millions of hits on the internet, to a book.

"And I hope it's finally pushing other male models along, because the guys take it to a certain extent and they're very happy to just plateau and say, 'yeah the girls get paid ten times what we get paid. We're happy here.' I always thought 'well, why are we happy with that? Why is no-one else doing this?' One guy who I thought was going to go down this route was Kylie Minogue's boyfriend, Andrés Velencoso, and then he did a campaign for kitchen worktops. I was like 'what are you doing? You're absolutely bonkers to do that'. But money talks. Male models will do it for the money, but as for the longevity of your career …"

Gandy recognises the difference between a job which pays the bills and one which furthers your career, and he understands the importance of both, suggesting that many other male models will only ever opt for the job with the fattest pay cheque. Indeed, he's lost money on jobs which he knows will help raise his profile. He appeared on the cover of the impossibly cool VMan magazine in a shoot by Mario Testino, a job which ended up leaving him £3,000-£4,000 out of pocket after covering his own flights and expenses. "But a lot of female models probably understand that they have to do that," he argues. "It ups their profile. Men would look at it negatively and think 'it's going to cost me, there's no way I'm doing that'. They don't see the bigger picture. And the funny thing is that it's those jobs which people think you're getting paid a fortune for, the glamorous ones with the amazing locations, but it's actually a catalogue in Hamburg which pays the bills."

Despite his success, the life of a male model is not yet so removed from that of a mere mortal that the novelty of the fun and the freebies has worn off. Where a female model might quickly grow used to, nay expect, the champagne and private jets, Gandy raves about the occasional perks he receives in a wide-eyed way that's rather endearing. When I ask him about his biggest "pinch-me" moment so far, expecting some star-studded party or tale of excess, he simply describes the view from the balcony of a hotel room in Positano in which he once stayed during a shoot.

"It's not me, it's not how I live normally," he assures me. "It's surreal, completely surreal. And you go from that, from being picked up in a car and staying in these amazing places, to flying back to Heathrow and taking the Paddington Express back to real life. Then there are other shoots where you're getting changed in the back of a Transit van.

"And of course, what people don't see about something like the Light Blue shoot is that when I was on that dinghy, holding that boat in place was a huge tugboat with 20 Italian fisherman on it, all smoking these cigarettes and staring at you, wearing these little white pants."
He laughs, a laugh countries would go to war over, all white teeth and crinkly eyes. Our time is up. He has to get ready for the awards. Later that evening, I catch up with him at the ceremony. In a neatly tailored tux almost as sharp as those cheekbones, he is James Bond made real. I almost expect him to hand me a box of Milk Tray before disappearing on a helicopter.

Watching as he politely obliges the queue of women asking to have their photograph taken with him, as he puts a blushing waitress at ease, I realise that everyone in the room has been Gandied. Why him, I wonder, and not the legions of other male models out there? There's a charisma and an openness to him, drive and ambition, modesty, confidence, humour, something beyond tall, dark and handsome. Whatever it is, David Gandy is more than just a pretty face, and certainly more than a pair of little white pants.

David Gandy by Dolce & Gabbana is available in Dolce & Gabbana stores now, £110.

• This article originally appeared in The Scotsman Magazine on Saturday 2 June 2011



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