Saturday, September 6, 2014

David Gandy covers Times Magazine (UK) unveiling his range of underwear for Marks & Spencer (Picture Update)

David Gandy covers today edition of The Times Magazine photographed by Mariano Vivanco with hairstyle by Larry King. The British model is interviewed about his new underwear line for M&S, David Gandy for Autograph, which will launch on September 18th with David making personal appearances at several M&S stores worldwide. 

By Deborah Ross

The model has designed a range of underwear for Marks & Spencer. Deborah Ross talks briefs with ‘the most handsome man on Earth’ – and masters the art of self-control. Almost

Within five minutes of meeting David Gandy, otherwise known as “the Tighty-Whitey Man”, he is showing me his own underpants, the naughty boy, and inviting me to stroke them. Actually, not quite true. I ask if I might stroke them.

Can I have a stroke, I ask, as I would never, being well brought up, simply dive straight in. He says, “Yes, you can have a stroke,” so I do have a stroke which, in truth, turns into a more of a thorough feel. What I feel is all silky and soft with just a hint of stretch (ping!), and then I ask if I might sniff them (again, I would never, ever dive right in) and what I smell is also lovely: all fresh and cottony and wholly sanitary, which is important. “Thank you,” I say afterwards. “You have made a middle-aged woman extremely happy.”

Alas, the pants were not on his body, that body, at the time, but on the table between us. Still, at my age, you have to take what you can get, and what you can later dine out on. “Did I tell you about the time I buried my face in David Gandy’s underpants? And never wanted to come out? It was heaven.” As it was.

Gandy is the world’s foremost male model, may even be the world’s first male supermodel, and is said to be “the most handsome man on Earth”. Sit on that, George Clooney. And I spent the day with him, talking pants, mostly, because he’s just designed his first underwear collection for Mark & Spencer, entitled David Gandy for Autograph, which “is so exciting”.

It is a steep learning curve. I’ve never given much thought to men and their undercrackers before, but here I am, discussing fit, fabrics, styles, packaging, seams and buttons, as well as Jeremy Paxman’s famed complaints about “lack of adequate support”. (Interesting Pant Fact #1: too much Lycra, I’m told later, and the flattening is intolerable, but too little and it’s a jiggling mess down there; you have to find the right balance.)

It’s a whole new world, as Disney would say, but what I don’t now know about men and their pants truly isn’t worth knowing. (Interesting Pant Fact #2: one in five men gets his pants from Marks.) I can even tell you what Gandy’s favourite style is. “Briefs,” he says, “or hipsters. I’m a briefs or hipsters man, but do still love a traditional boxer.” Trunks? “I would never wear a trunk.” What have trunks ever done to you? “If you wear tapered trousers you can feel them down your leg.” Too grippy? “Too grippy,” he confirms. I’d had no idea trunks could be too grippy. Don’t ask me anything about “moisture management” either, because when that comes up in a meeting I totally zone out. You understand.

We meet at the M&S HQ in Paddington. Gandy, already the face of M&S Collection menswear, arrives on-message, dressed head to toe in M&S, but he has that quality that makes M&S not look M&S, if you get my drift.

He is 6ft 3in – put that in your pipe and smoke it, George Clooney – but it’s not just that. He has it. He is dressed from the Sartorial range – wool jacket, twill shirt, trousers in a window-pane check – and is so good-looking, so blisteringly hot, it’s hard to believe. There is no way of saying this without sounding all Mills & Boon, so I’m just going to get on with it. His eyes are a brilliant blue, fringed by black lashes. His hair is thick and dark and dashing. His cheekbones – the zygomatic bones present in the faces of all primates – are high and pronounced, but not too pronounced. He’s an Essex boy, originally, but obviously hasn’t dipped himself in a vat of Immac, which some Essex boys are wont to do. Do I need to go on? You can’t just look at the photographs published here to see what I’m talking about and, ahem, rather more?

I was sent the photographs in advance and spent some hours carefully studying them (for a friend, who loves Gandy’s belly fuzz, and also his thigh fuzz, and all the bulging fabric action in-between) and wondered not only if M&S had missed a trick by not incorporating some lift-the-flap element into the advertising – I should be in marketing – but what it must feel like to shoot a campaign such as this.

Doesn’t it get boring? Don’t you, David, get fed up of whole teams of people staring at your crotch all day? I don’t, I tell him, have any experience of such matters, but if I did, I think, by lunchtime, I’d probably want to say, “You’ve seen all there is to see. Move along now. Chop, chop.” He says this is not his style. “I am always so involved creatively. I do have a say, so I’m always thinking about that, and how to make the work better.” And if you get a stiffy? (Sorry, just popped out.) “You don’t! There’s a whole crew there. That’s the last thing you have to worry about.”

We sit, initially, in the HQ’s canteen, along with his agent and two PRs from M&S, so not as intimate as I might have hoped. The pants are here, so I get my feel and my sniff. (Interesting Pant Fact #3: 50 per cent of male underwear is bought by women, and the number one colour is white, which makes me think we are our own worst enemies. Why make work for ourselves when we could just go with black and throw everything into a mixed wash? Mad.)

We do the small talk. He has come from his home, in Fulham, where last night he cooked beef wellington for his family for the first time. “And it was delicious, even if I say so myself.” Make your own pastry? “No. Waitrose.” I ask him about his appearance in J-Lo’s most recent music video (First Love), which is quite raunchy, and ends with him resting his face between her breasts. Was your face tired? Did it need the rest? “A perk of the job,” he protests. “Two perks of the job.”

He is potty about dogs, is an ambassador for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, but can’t have a dog because he travels so much. But if you could, what breed would you have? Any, he replies, although one must beware french bulldogs “as they do fart a lot”. I show him photos of my dog – look, he’s wearing a yarmulke! He’s chewish! – which must bore the beautiful a*** off him, but he doesn’t show it. He is polite, laughs, affects interest, later opens doors for me and pulls out chairs, and when we escape to a hotel for tea, even lets me – me! – link arms with him on the street. He is, as the M&S blurb has it, “the very epitome of the English gentlemen”, so sit on that, too, George. Now, back to pants.

Into the M&S marketing meeting, to update Gandy on plans for the official, September 18 launch of his range. There will be full-body, wrap-around images of him on buses – “We must watch where the doors open,” someone remarks – and his picture will be plastered over 750 bus stops and there will be posters at every exit and entrance to Oxford Circus Tube station (which means “they’ll be seen by 1.3 million people a week”) and adverts across all media, and in-store signings, and special David Gandy for Autograph bags and “a window takeover in Hong Kong” and look books and one-to-one interviews and a social media offensive and “17 million digital impressions”, whatever that may mean, and maybe signed photographs for the first 500 purchasers online.

I find I have nothing to contribute beyond Interesting Pant Fact #4. Did you know, I ask all assembled, that the jock-strap was invented for men who rode penny farthings back when the streets were cobbled? Not much of a response, so I get a little shirty. “Next time I feel a pant fact coming on,” I inform them all, “I’m going to take it to John Lewis.”

The meeting was an eye-opener. I don’t know what I thought. That products end up on shelves by themselves? It’s not as if the male underwear market is small potatoes, as if no one cares about carving out their share. It’s worth about £700 million a year in the UK, and growing. Men’s pants, it seems, are going the same way as trainers: from an item that did the job, and was all about comfort, to one that is all about choice, fashion, aspiration, sexiness, identity and saying something about yourself, or having a woman say it for you. In other words, they’ve stopped being a commodity, replaced only when absolutely necessary.

I don’t know how I feel about starry campaigns at Marks, though. A little sad, maybe? I’ve always liked to think of M&S as the last retail outlet where you can buy a plain brown jumper in a size 22 without someone’s beautifulness shoved in your face, but there you are, that’s capitalism for you (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s debut lingerie line for M&S practically sold out overnight).

I do wonder, though, if men are increasingly getting it in the neck, body-image wise, which may be only fair, given how long women have had to endure it. I ask Gandy about this, but don’t get very far, or he gets the wrong end of the stick. He says, “I was brought up by a family who would never judge anyone by their body.” And it’s not as if a body like his is readily available or even realistic – “It takes hard graft. I have to work at it all the time. I’m in the gym every night at 10pm” – which was kind of my point. But if I’m honest, I’m so taken with the looking – it’s like a fever has come upon me – I’m struggling to pay attention to anything he’s saying anyhow.

Now 34, he grew up in Billericay, Essex, where his father and mother built up and ran a property and freight company. He is close to his family. What’s your mother like? “I couldn’t fault my mum in any way. She is just the loveliest person. She is supportive. She is everything you want a mum to be.”

His earliest memories are of going to visit his grandfather, James, who lived in the East End, every Friday night. His grandfather could make anything. You’d say you wanted a steam train and he’d potter off, gather a few materials, go to his shed, “and there it was, a steam train”. He then says his grandfather worked for Margaret Thatcher at No 10. I perk up. Really? What as? A messenger, he says. And everyone knew him by name, “even Reagan, who’d say, ‘Jimmy, can you get me this?’ and ‘Jimmy, can you get me that?’” Did Jimmy like Margaret? “The staff did. There were police officers on duty over Christmas, who got back one evening to find she’d personally decorated their room with trees and lights, so everyone very much warmed to her.”

Gandy did not set out to be a model. He wanted to be a vet, “but my brain let me down”, so he ended up studying “multimedia computing” at university. Modelling only came into it when, unbeknown to him, a friend entered him into a model competition on This Morning, hosted by Richard and Judy. He won, much to his surprise. You didn’t know how blisteringly hot you were? He says his university friends later told him that his nickname had been Model Dave, “but I’d had no idea”. His first job was for a look book for Paul Smith. “I wasn’t any good. I wasn’t a natural showman. But I did get £400.”

Gandy wasn’t a hit, initially. Too big, at a time when the look for male models was skinny, weedy, androgynous; the sort of boys you wanted to mother and feed and hook up to Berocca rather than take to bed. He says that, at castings, he was always greeted with, “Hey, it’s the big guy,” and was laughed at. He remembers going for a casting at Dior, “and I couldn’t even get one leg in the trousers, let alone get the jacket on”.

His breakthrough came in 2006, when he was cast in Dolce & Gabbana’s commercial for the male perfume Light Blue, as photographed by Mario Testino, and which clocked 11 million internet hits within a day of its launch. You know that ad. You do. Gandy is so tighty-whitey, he is effectively a fabric bulge with limbs, lying back in a dinghy on an azure sea.

Did you sense it was going to be huge? No, he replies, but his mum did. “I got a preview of it and sent it to her and she said, ‘It’s going to be big.’ She spotted it straightaway. And, literally, the day afterwards, everyone was requesting interviews.” I say I’d read a more masculine, muscular form always comes back into fashion during a recession, because everyone wants a man who looks as if he can do a proper job, can go out and come home with a dead bear hanging over his shoulder. He doesn’t know if there is anything in it, but if there is, “It was very good timing for me.”

He is choosy about the brands he works for, won’t unleash the Gandy Effect willy-nilly, so to speak. It is quite an effect. “Light Blue is now one of the biggest selling perfumes in the world,” he mentions at one point. He has modelled for Lucky Jeans, “and their sales went up 53 per cent”. Marks & Spencer was a no-brainer because, although he’d been asked by many brands to model their underwear, “I wanted to be with a British brand. I’m such an advocate of Britishness.”

He loves films, has loved them ever since he was little and his father allowed him to stay up late one night to watch Jaws. I wonder if he is thinking of a Hollywood transition at some point. He says he’s been offered projects, but none of them has been right. “I was asked to go to a casting for Fifty Shades of Grey, but said, ‘No.’” How so? Did you read the book? “I thought it was very badly written.” But fun, though? He shrugs. I say: if you want, you can come and stand amid my white wash that got caught up with a black sock. That could be our Fifty Shades of Grey. Or our Fifty Shades of Decidedly Off-White, if we want to distinguish ourselves in the market. He doesn’t look keen, but I am hoping he’ll think about it, at least.

On to the technical meeting where Mark Yates, head of quality and innovation, greets Gandy with, “I’m wearing your pants today,” and then, quickly, “But not your actual pants.” Naively, I had thought Gandy was simply the face of the product, but he has been exceptionally hands-on, choosing buttons, requesting hem lines are made less bulky, insisting the neck lines on the undershirts are less generous (“Men don’t want to show their collar bones – too feminine”), approving colours (“I love this; so pastelly”), and inspecting fabrics. Mostly, the fabric is Supima cotton, fed through with “free-fit Lycra”. (“It has a softer stretch, so gives support, but is incredibly comfortable,” says Yates. Jeremy Paxman would approve.) And Supima is the best cotton, so divine against the skin that, says Gandy, “you never want to take it off. It sells itself when you feel it.”

The pants have been packaged in boxes designed with a cut-out, so you can feel all that silkiness before you buy. Touch is very important to shoppers, I’m told. And sniffing? Sniffing, not so much. (I think I do it because I buy from charity shops and have to assess if the Old Dead Lady Smell is simply too overpowering.) I impress them with Interesting Pant Fact #5 – in Henry VIII’s day, codpieces were so roomy men would keep their snacks in them – and then Gandy and I are off to Brown’s hotel for tea. With linked arms.

We settle in a corner and chat away. He earns well, but it’s still much less than a top female model, which is annoying, but understandable. “Female clothing is much more lucrative. People earn more money from selling women’s clothes. It’s a much bigger industry than men’s, but that gap is closing.”

He says the worst style mistake British men make is not thinking about their shoes. They may wear a lovely suit, but then you look down, and what’s on their feet? “Shoes that are old and brown and curly.” He is fastidious about his own dress. “My handkerchiefs and my shoes and my watch straps are always matched. That’s the way I am.”

We talk about his Fulham house, which is finally ready after years of renovation, and sounds gorgeous. “I’ve got wood panelling and parquet floors and fireplaces, and a lot of the fabrics are Savile Row.”

Gandy has, in the past, dated the model Sarah Ann Macklin, as well as Mollie King from the girl band the Saturdays, but is currently single. “I dedicate so much of my time to work and travel, it’s very difficult. Someone would have to be very understanding.” I could be understanding, I volunteer. I would wait happily in a wood-panelled room for your return, occasionally poking the fire to keep myself busy. And I could place a pair of your pants on my lap, and stroke them if I got especially lonely. He laughs as if I’m not serious, which is upsetting, although I can see my error.

We finally have to part, by which I mean his agent has to prise me off him, although I am rather pants-ed out by now. Maybe you have something to say about socks? Actually, he does. Too tight and they are uncomfortable; too loose and they pool in the shoe … but we decide to leave that for another day.

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