Girls, classic cars and, erm, luxury underpants. Male supermodel David Gandy ushers David Whitehouse into his very own fantasy world
Maybe we are all kneaded into shape by a divine baker of people, but if so, he or she is at best inconsistent. Regardless, 19 February 1980, the day of David Gandy’s birth, can be considered a remarkable day in the kitchen, not just by the baker’s wobbly standards, but by any. Popularly considered the world’s biggest, perhaps only, male supermodel, Gandy is in person as he is in portrait – immaculately proportioned, part sculpture, part human – a man set apart by the alignment of muscle and bone beneath skin. To be in the same room as him is to hop the red rope that parts punter from exhibit. People edge around the walls as if mindful of the signs, ‘do not touch’.
Instantly you assume that because he looks like, and indeed is, someone somewhere’s fantasy, he’s living out a fantasy version of a man’s life. Then you see the great watch and the sharp suit and the fast car and the beautiful girlfriend, and you realise, the knife of jealousy twisting in your gut, that he is, he actually is. He’s the James Bond no one is trying to kill.
“I have [all those things],” he says, “but that’s just because they’re my loves. My expensive habits that I can fulfil. I’ve just restored a Sixties Mercedes-Benz. It’s a hobby, the enjoyment of something classic and old-school. I appreciate design, and design for me doesn’t stop at clothing. It’s architecture, materials, everything. It’s a lifestyle. I’m not going to be able to do it forever. One day I will have a family and responsibilities. Hopefully I’ll have a boy, and he’ll be seriously kitted out when he’s older.” Never before has something been uttered that so many men wish they could truthfully say.
Gandy lounged to fame aboard a yacht in 2007 as the face of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue fragrance, a campaign that saw his image loom over Times Square and on billboards worldwide, putting paid to the idea that wearing white pants is a fundamentally bad idea. Having charged the public imagination with the kind of sexual fireworks that makes people crash their cars, he set about trying to achieve a parity between his career and that of female supermodels, whose pay and treatment in comparison to male counterparts represented a topsy-turvy version of the struggle for equality in every other workplace on Earth. He wanted to capitalise on what he’d won in the genetic lottery, to become a brand, and in turn has morphed into an ambassadorial figure for the billion-pound British fashion industry, both here and abroad. A statesman for Savile Row. We meet him at a point in his life where he has gone full circle, in underpants terms at least, as Marks & Spencer launches David Gandy For Autograph, a 28-piece underwear and sleepwear range that he has helped design.
“Everyone has their go-to underwear. You can have 20 pairs, but you have your favourite. I wanted to create your favourite underwear,” he says, and his success – indeed, any man’s success – might be measured by the fact that his mother doesn’t buy them for him any more. “Not for quite a few years. Though ironically, if she did, they’d probably be from Marks & Spencer.”
Back when his mother did buy his underwear, the posters on the teenage David Gandy’s bedroom wall were not of bands or the cast of Baywatch (“I never had pin-ups,” he says). Instead he had pictures of the things it was his goal to one day own, starting with an Amiga 600 computer, and moving on to far more stylish aspirations: a Ferrari F40 and a Porsche 959. But it took a while for his sense of personal style to catch up with his desires, as evidenced by an old photo of him outside 10 Downing Street, where his grandfather worked on Margaret Thatcher’s staff.
“You’d laugh at this picture of me and my sister,” he says. “My grandad took us up there one Saturday. Now we look at that picture and ask our mum if she actually knew what we were doing that weekend. Why did she not dress us properly? We were wearing hand-me-down ankle-high tracksuit bottoms, the most awful trainers in the world and sweatshirts that didn’t fit. But there is something lovely about it. Now we live in a world where we’re judged on what we own and what we look like, not on what we do. And that grinds on me a little bit nowadays.”
Black leather shirt £2,020 by GUCCI AT HARRODS, 020-7730 1234; blue and green roll neck £110 by CHESTER BARRIE, 020-7439 6079; plum slim cords £270 by DOLCE & GABANNA, dolcegabanna.com
Gandy is evidently uneasy with our new culture of vanity, and he might well be. Here is a man whose image is his trade, yet whose image is taken and shared every time he sits down in a café next to someone with Instagram on their phone. In a world where everyone is posting their own photographs online, where does it leave the man who is paid to do it best?
“I do envy people in the public eye and stars of the Sixties and Seventies and Eighties who could still have a lot more privacy,” he says. “You’ve now got people Instagramming you in the street and tweeting saying you might be in London when you’ve told someone you can’t go to a meeting because you’re not in London. It sounds strange, but I still don’t like having my picture taken. I am still quite naturally shy, which is something I’ve had to overcome. I sort of switch. I always say that my suits, when I wear them… it’s almost like a suit of armour. I put it on and it’s protection for my real self.”
This dedication to privacy means he doesn’t appear on panel shows. He doesn’t take the countless offers he’s had to appear in films, or host his own TV programmes. Instead he endeavours to embody a lifestyle as tailored as his Savile Row suits. The watches, the cars, “the creation of an iconic image”, unsullied by our modern obsession with celebrity. He fronts a number of charities, has twice spoken on the subject of style at the Oxford Union, and even appeared in a part of the 2012 Olympics’ closing ceremony devoted to what was best about Britishness. He’s also a loud advocate of an aspect of homegrown dressing that he feels we’ve lost.
“Before globalisation, before the internet, you could have a really individual style. Don’t get me wrong, you can still do that with a good tailor. But back then, everyone could be an individual with their style. Nowadays a trend is set overnight. It’s been Instagrammed, it’s been tweeted, then it’s in the shop and suddenly everyone is wearing the same thing.”
Individuality, though, is what Gandy does best. It’s a flair much coveted by the current incumbent of the Downing Street address he once stood outside, and those fighting to replace him in it. “The Labour party particularly,” he says. “In choosing the other Miliband they’d have had a much better face. But that goes back to JFK. When JFK and Nixon had the TV debates in the Sixties, Nixon was sweating a lot and JFK was a good-looking guy, and just like that the vote changed to JFK. Nixon might have had the better policies, but people weren’t looking at that.”
David Gandy is a man who understands what people are looking at, because usually, it’s him. And you do look. Too much. This arrangement of flesh and skeleton makes his an otherly presence. The shoot’s attendees try to act naturally, but the truth is Gandy seems to be, physically, on a different step of the evolutionary ladder, one of the X-Men, but not magnetic or blessed with flight. Just handsome, to an extraordinary degree. Some bakes just turn out better than others.
The David Gandy For Autograph collection at Marks & Spencer is now available from selected stores and at marksandspencer.com
(Images: Richard Stow)
Blue floral patterned shirt £315 by GUCCI AT MATCHESFASHION.COM, matchesfashion.com; cords £270 by DOLCE & GABANNA (as before)
Navy overcoat £595 by CHESTER BARRIE, 020-7439 6079; black Henley top £25 by DAVID GANDY FOR AUTOGRAPH AT MARKS & SPENCER, marksandspencer.com