He changed the fashion world’s perception of what a man should look like. How does it feel to be the most handsome guy in town?
Ph. Lionel Guyou (Madame Figaro Shoot)
June 26, 2013 by Naomi Mdudu
DAVID Gandy is one of a handful of male models who can accurately prefix his job description with the word “super”. He has been called the most beautiful man in the world. He has graced billboards clad only in a pair of tight-fitting briefs. But unlike his equivalents in the worlds of film or sport, he stands or falls exclusively on this beauty. That’s got to screw you up, right?
“I often talk about myself in the third person,” he says. “‘David Gandy’ is a character I’ve created; a figurehead for people to aspire to but I’m not this Mediterranean guy on a boat. When people put labels on me – like ‘supermodel’ or ‘best looking man in the world’, I feel apologetic when I meet them: they tend to look a bit disappointed.”
That’s not to say he isn’t stunningly beautiful. Sitting opposite me in his tailored suit, he’s the epitome of effortless cool: exquisitely groomed, his face perfectly proportioned, his body tanned and athletic.
Life hasn’t always been so rosy. As an aspiring young model he was shunned. Fashion’s concept of male beauty was shaped by then-Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane, who introduced a long, lean aesthetic with trousers so small Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld had to lose a third of his body-weight to fit in to them.
I often talk about myself in the third person. 'David Gandy' is a character I've created; a figurehead for people to aspire to
“I was always the big guy. I think stylists used to ask me in just to have a laugh as they watched me try to fit into one of the suits. I used to ask myself, ‘Am I really that big?’, and I wasn’t even the size I am now.”
Then, one advertising campaign changed it all. Gandy raised eyebrows when he was chosen to be the face of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue campaign, in which he stripped down to a pair of tight white shorts on a dinghy. It aired just a month after Slimane left Dior, and Gandy’s traditional, “manly” aesthetic sent the fashion world’s entire concept of male beauty hurtling in a new direction. It is no exaggeration to say he was the springboard for a generation of male models; the man behind the blueprint that David Beckham exploited with his campaigns for Armani and H&M.
Almost overnight, Gandy’s face became fashion’s hottest ticket, with brands falling over themselves to work with him.
“When men want to be the guy [in the campaign] and women want to sleep with him, that’s when you know things are working. Sex sells. The idea of skinny guys in suits wasn’t me, and I don’t think women want to sleep with that kind of guy.”
His reputation underwent an astonishing turn-around, and he was catapulted from the world of commercial modelling to high fashion.
“I had the catalogue market covered,” he says, “but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to work with the best creatives. I wanted to shoot covers. People thought I was crazy when I left commercial work for high fashion but I had a ‘go big or go home’ mentality.”
Soon, the industry’s top fashion designers, photographers and stylists were clamouring to work with him.
“David has something of what the 1980s supermodels had. He radiates health and positivity,” declared photographer and long-time collaborator Mario Testino. “It’s exciting because he signifies a real shift in men’s fashion. The male model world is changing.”
Crucially, and in contrast to his peers, Gandy has been ruthlessly efficient in exploiting his position. Few male models are in control of their brand the way he is. “Female models have always been focused. Cindy Crawford is an incredible businesswoman; she was the person I used to look to for inspiration. For a long time I was just observing how things worked and strategising about where I wanted to be. The girls would come to a job with their team, talking about their assistants, their financiers and their PRs. Even today the guys aren’t taking it seriously. They’re controlled, they’re not in control.”
His desire to be in control has opened him up to criticism. Last year he took to his vogue.com blog to react to a Men’s Health cover story in which the writer suggested he thinks he’s perfect. “There’s a big difference between what they said and me being a perfectionist. When you’re a perfectionist, you often don’t find anything perfect, especially yourself. I can never understand the idea that something will ‘just do’. David Beckham is supposed to be like that. Tom Ford too.”
NOW Gandy has a string of endorsements under his belt. Everywhere he goes, crowds queue for his autograph. Has it all gone to his head? Has he become a rampant narcissist; a bona fide member of the club including Julius Caesar and Salvador Dali who talk about themselves in the third person? It would certainly make the best story, a tale worthy of Greek tragedy: the boy who fell in love with his own reflection.
Alas, it’s not the real story. He’s… well… he’s really nice. He’s personable and self deprecating. He makes jokes. He’s about as far from the spoiled model stereotype as you can get. When we met he was in the midst of preparing for London Collections: Men [S/S 2014], the biannual fashion week for which he is an ambassador.
"Dylan [Jones, chair of the LC:M board] kindly invited me to join the panel. People like Tinie Tempah and Tom Ford were involved so I could hardly say no. I usually wear British designers so this felt like a way I could give something back. Now I try to go to every show and every party and, somehow, I’ve almost become the face of it.”
His involvement with the event is part of a bigger picture: Gandy branching out from modelling to working on his own terms. “Modelling is now the dull side of what I do. I love the creative side.” Does that mean a fashion line is on the cards? “I’ve had offers so it’s definitely an option. It would be inspired by British heritage and tailoring.”
Gandy’s story has – as so many of these stories do – humble beginnings. He was discovered on a modelling competition on ITV’s This Morning (“we’ve tried to burn that footage”) and shortly after signed with Select Models. “After I won, I remember playing cricket with my dad and he kept saying, ‘watch the face, watch the face’. My friends thought I would go off into the fashion world and never come back but they haven’t got rid of me. My parents are very proud but they don’t know anything about that world.”
His ascendancy has come with the usual irritating side effects, with gossip magazines fixating on who he is dating. “They’re wasting their time”, he says. “That will happen when it’s right. The right girl will come along and it will be amazing: the house and the kids. But with the amount I work, things get sacrificed. I don’t get to see friends, I don’t get to see family and I don’t always get to be at things that I want to be at. That’s part and parcel of what I do. I’m 33 – hopefully I’ll still have time for a family, girlfriends and all of that.”
For now, being the world’s most beautiful man is a full time job.