DAVID GANDY, the British heartthrob often mistaken for a Sicilian stud, talks to VINCENZO LA TORRE about life beyond modelling
AH! THE LIFE of a model. Access to glamorous parties; jet-setting to far-flung destinations for the creation of stunning images that will plaster the billboards of cities around the world; hanging out with celebrities and designers.
That’s certainly the case if you’re one of a handful of the so-called supermodels, women such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, who have turned themselves into bona-fide brands and can command exorbitant fees just for walking down a Parisian or Milanese runway. Remember Linda Evangelista, who back in those prerecession heydays, reportedly announced: “I don’t get out of bed for less than US$10,000 a day”?
But for the countless models trying to break into the cut-throat business of fashion, the glaring klieg lights of stardom are a faint and often faraway dream. It gets even harder if you’re a guy, for modelling is one of the few industries in which women by far outperform – and out-earn – the boys. After all, how many male models can you name off the top of your head?
One man who has been able to parlay his success as a mannequin and poster boy into something more than just lucrative endorsement deals is David Gandy. The extremely good-looking and affable Brit, blessed with an Adonis-like chiselled physique and a Mediterranean look redolent of an Italian macho, owes his success to a print and TV ad that is probably one of the most indelible moments of fashion advertising of the last decade.
Gandy is the man whose tiny white Speedos take centre stage in those ubiquitous ads for Dolce & Gabbana’s fragrance Light Blue, the culmination of his fruitful collaboration with the Italian maison. During an interview at the brand’s opulent Milan office – think Sicilian baroque flourishes meets the Vatican by way of Renaissance Florence – Gandy sat down for a chat.
(Prestige)Take me back to your early days in the industry.
(DG) I’ve been in it for 13 years and I’ve been very lucky. I’ve taken a different route in so many ways. I haven’t been doing casting for anything since 2006 and I’ve been fortunate. But that’s the way we planned it out and that’s what people don’t see. The first few years for both men and women are pretty tough. You’re casting a lot, you’re travelling a lot, you’re not getting paid much at all – you’re being rejected; you’re being pulled to pieces. You’re not tall enough, you’re too tall, you’re too skinny, you’re too this, you’re too that and you have to have very thick skin. Day after day it takes its toll. I first went into the commercial market, which is where most models make money, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with the best photographers and to create something iconic, which we did with Dolce. I was going to be the best at something or I wasn’t going to do it at all. My agency and I sat down and they couldn’t really believe what I was saying and they said, “We don’t get this. You’re earning good money and some guys would kill to be where you are.”
Your relationship with Dolce & Gabbana really helped your career.
I did my first ever show in Milan with them – it was the only show I did. The shows in general are not the best places to be: you’re cast with a hundred guys and I said I’d never ever do it again. You’re treated like cattle, hanging around, and you’re just a number. Then I did an apparel campaign with Dolce before the shoot for Light Blue. That was in Capri. I was on a speedboat from Naples to Capri with Mario Testino and you finally go, “This might be the turning point, this might be it” and once you saw the campaign, you kind of realised it was. We didn’t know how big it was going to be, don’t get me wrong, but it was a genius way to completely turn the male modelling world on its head from the skinnyguy look to this male Mediterranean look. Every brand is still trying to recreate the brilliance of what we’ve done, but hasn’t really succeeded.
How does it feel as a British man to represent such an iconic Italian brand?
Well, Italy has part of my heart. People know me here and so much has started from here. I feel as comfortable here as I do in the UK. It’s funny: because of the ad, Italians come up to me in London and they’re usually lost or need directions and they think I’m a fellow Italian.
You’ve branched out into other fields. Can you tell me more about that?
I’m ambassador for London Collections: Men, so I’ve been pushing that and I’ve been writing about fashion for The Daily Telegraph and GQ. We’re not asking men to sit at women’s fashion shows. I’m not interested in women’s fashion. Men’s fashion is very different, but my idea of men’s fashion – where I get my inspiration from – is through history, like Savile Row or the military, where it started.
What do you make of the current British men’s fashion scene?
I have very strong opinions about the very fashion-forward designers in the UK and that’s what gets the headlines. They do something ridiculous and put planks of wood in models’ faces, and I think it’s very disrespectful to models and I think you’re going to scare off men. I said that and they didn’t like it, but that’s my opinion. You can imagine a normal guy who buys clothes, and that’s what he sees, and he wants nothing to do with fashion, can’t relate to it. I on the other hand turned up at the shows in a classic British sports car in a three-piece suit with a pair of Steve McQueen sunglasses and men are like, “Oh, that could be fashion.” Of course it’s fashion, it’s design and that’s what you have to relate to. When I talk about history I’m talking about that military uniform from the Germans to the Italians to the English to the Royal Air Force and then looking at Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Bryan Ferry.
What do you make of the many stereotypes associated with modelling, such as the eating disorder issues?
Underfed people is just a ridiculous comment in itself. If you were sitting here with an athlete, with a ballerina, with a dancer, with a jockey, would you be going, “Do you live an unhealthy lifestyle?” An athlete will have a very strict diet, a jockey probably stricter than any model. But we’re all professionals; we use our bodies; that’s our profession. So why not look after it? A lot of female models – and I have dated a lot of them – will eat more than me, but they just have a very high metabolism and they’re naturally skinny and this is why they’re at the top of their game. They’re called supermodels for a reason: they have a tremendous body. If you want to, there’s a lot of pressure. I can talk for men – you must be down in the gym. If they knew what I actually ate on a daily basis, because I have to eat to maintain my size… Another stereotype is about age, but look at Naomi and Kate; they’re still working.
How did it feel to be with them at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics?
Very proud. I was the only guy. It would have been nice to have another guy there. That’s what I’m trying to explain to guys, to push the boundaries of where they can explore the modelling industry and how far they can go with it, and there’s not really anyone taking that perch up. The Olympics was great for London and all the athletes did so well and the opening ceremony was fantastic; everyone had been pessimistic and thought we Brits were going to ruin the whole thing, but it was fantastic. So doing the ceremony was an honour. There was a little bit of me that was utterly scared out of my wits, and you’re sitting there with Naomi and Kate, but the beautiful thing is that when you meet Kate and Naomi we all had a great sense of humour. Everyone thought it would be a bit devious backstage and it wasn’t.
In a way, you seem to want to make fashion more accessible and approachable.
Yes, absolutely. Kate Moss has done hardly any interviews – I think she doesn’t do interviews and there’re reasons for that – but I hopefully give that access to an intangible element of the fashion industry, that I’m a normal guy.
Is that why you called your charity Blue Steel, to show that you don’t take yourself too seriously?
When we talked about how men don’t relate to fashion, you go, “Zoolander!” [laughs]. The charity we started is for comic relief, so you have to have a comic element to it. I couldn’t be bothered any more to get away from that stereotypical Zoolander sort of thing, so why don’t we gulp it and embrace it? So I started my own charity and Dolce & Gabbana helped, and they donated some wonderful prizes. I also have a charity for dogs and one for combat veterans.
So what do you do to unwind and get out of the fashion world?
The gym is my solitary hour, usually at night. I go down there at half past nine. There are also people at home that I’m close to and they’ve got families and they’ve got little children and dogs, and I’ll go and have a good time with them. Apart from that, driving is absolutely my passion. I’ve got two vintage cars and I just got a new Jaguar F-Type.
You also seem to be low-key and under the radar, not into social media.
Well, I’m on the same level as Tom Ford is. I understand Twitter as a marketing tool and I think people have seen the cynical side of it and people are very much doing it to benefit themselves and getting free products and free this and free that. I personally don’t want to know, I don’t want people to know where I am, what I’m doing and that’s getting really difficult now because people are turning into paparazzi.
I go somewhere and they Instagram you without you even knowing and that’s very difficult. The other day I was walking past with someone and it got on Twitter because it came up on my Google alerts. “We just saw David Gandy walking past in Putney. Isn’t it nice that everyone is leaving him alone?” But at the same time they put it on Twitter [laughs], so they’ve just ruined that! I think people have grown up with social media so they don’t understand privacy. But you have the true big stars like Daniel Craig and Clive Owen. You don’t know anything about them and that’s lovely, I respect them.
Source: Prestige Hong Kong