David Gandy on modelling, influencers and obesity in the UK
08 Dec 2023
Helen Coffey, The Independent
I’m picturing David Gandy, arguably the world’s first and only male supermodel, with plaits and bows in his hair. Sitting across from him as he casually sips an English breakfast tea, I thought I’d be picturing him in his famous tiny white trunks — the ones he wore in the Dolce and Gabbana campaign that turned him from a model into a household name back in 2006. But no — it’s ribbons in pretty, pastel shades that will stay with me as the takeaway image. That’s because he’s just told me that his recently turned five-year-old daughter, Matilda, is currently into hairstyles. And, being the well-trained father he is, he sits patiently in bed while she does her thing. “She’s always saying, ‘Daddy, I’ll style your hair.’ And I need all the help I can get in the morning,” he says wryly.
Gandy’s transition from bronzed model on the Med to father figure is perhaps unsurprising given he’s now something of an elder statesman in the fashion industry; at the age of 43, he’s been at this game for 22 years. But that doesn’t stop him from turning heads. Dressed down in blue jeans, a black T-shirt and camel jacket he may be, but there’s no disguising his impressive 6ft 2in frame, nor the face so familiar that it’s strange to be talking directly to it. It’s like having a conversation with a walking billboard — albeit one that can speak articulately on issues ranging from disrupting the fashion industry to body image pressures. Seventeen years on from that Dolce campaign, Gandy still has to fight to change the stereotype of the “dumb” model. He’s creative director of his own clothing brand now — Wellwear — which is the reason he’s sitting down with me today in a Mayfair members’ club to discuss its freshly launched lounge and sleepwear collaboration with quintessentially British label Hackett. But most people continue to know him best for the white trunks (which he’s still got at home, in case you were wondering). Does he feel like he’s been categorised as a “Himbo” — or, in the aftermath of the Barbie movie, a “Just Ken”, “my job is beach”-type airhead?
“Of course, I’ve experienced that,” he agrees. “I definitely had to fight the cliché of being a model. Most people’s only access to that world was Zoolander. People would say, ‘We’re having a meeting with David Gandy,’ and someone else would go, ‘What, the guy in the white swim shorts? Why is he coming on as creative? Why is he coming up with ideas?’
“You have to break those boundaries. You have to prove everything by experience and results.” The trouble is, the Gandy brand is so strong that his face still sells. “I’m trying to get behind rather than in front of the camera. But people keep pushing me in front of it again,” he shrugs. “The traditional sense of what people would say modelling is – I don’t do much of that any more.”
Instead, his life is a constantly shifting mix of being on set as both the creative director and model, recording voiceovers, overseeing the sales and marketing of his clothing line — and, the day after we meet, volunteering to help out on his daughter’s school trip to Battersea. “Everyone tries to pigeonhole what you are,” he says. “I don’t really try and categorise myself as anything. One day I’m a model, the next day I’m a businessman.” Though he does look back wistfully at the days where he would just have to turn up and look pretty. “I sometimes think, ‘Oh my God, how easy was that?’ Someone dresses you, someone does your hair and make-up, they say what they need — and then you walk away and don’t worry about anything.” Not so with Wellwear, which is, in his words, “quite intense — which I kind of love”. The latest collaboration with Hackett is the first time he’s fully partnered up with another clothing company, and Gandy had to think hard about which brand would be the right fit. “The word collaboration is used far too much these days,” he argues. “Brands will say, ‘we just want to send you some pieces and you can take some pictures and post them on social media.’ I’m like, that’s not a collaboration.” By contrast, he has a history with Hackett, having done one of his first ever look-books for them 22 years ago; “there’s a longevity, we’ve been working together for a long time,” he says. “They’re about quality.”
You get a sense that here is a man who could be summed up by the term “hands-on”: he apologises for the paint under his fingernails, courtesy of his latest home renovation project in Richmond Park; he tells me about the time he hosted his parents’ anniversary party and ordered 400 plants for the garden, which he was “up until 2am watering like a mad person” himself as there was no one else to do it.
And, as previously mentioned, he’s just as involved when it comes to the role of “dad” to Matilda and two-year-old Tabitha, splitting the school runs with his partner Stephanie, a barrister, and taking them to swimming and horse-riding and all the rest. Has becoming a father to two girls changed how he sees the fashion industry — does he try to shelter his daughters from the body image pressures inherent in seeing “perfect” women advertised from every platform?