“Going into a shop can be a scary prospect for men,” says David Gandy, the British supermodel whose buff, masculine physique was at odds with the waif-like, androgynous models in vogue when he landed his first contract in 2001. “People see fashion weeks and the shows and it’s not an attainable thing for them. I see my role as being the link between the shows and the guy on the street.”
And he’s got the eye and the experience for it. Fifteen years since his first booking—which came after he won a modeling competition a friend secretly entered him in—the 36-year-old Essex export is one of the few male models to have achieved wealth and celebrity akin to his female counterparts. He has walked for most of the major brands and featured in all the big glossies. He’s been the face of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue for almost a decade and, since 2012, of Marks & Spencer and Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
David is on a mission to help men dress better. Understanding that they “often find it quite hard to know what to wear on holiday,” last year he added an entire stylish but affordable holiday wardrobe to the David Gandy for Autograph range he designs with Marks & Spencer. The line, which was launched in June 2014 and initially consisted of underwear and sleepwear, “did and is still doing ridiculously well,” says David. “Now I have 6 per cent of the UK men’s underwear market, so we are very proud of that.” When swimwear joined the range, a pair of Gandy trunks sold every minute on the collection’s first day in stores, and three sizes sold out entirely within two weeks, making it M&S’s fastest-selling menswear line ever. David’s holiday style tips? “I think people should wear whatever they like. That said, I don’t think shorts are particularly appropriate for cities or for dinner, and I’d always choose espadrilles over flip-flops.”
When it comes to his own holidays, David is too restless to laze on a beach—“I love the idea of it but I get a bit bored,” says the 6’3” model, whose childhood holidays involved spotting orangutans in Borneo, walking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in Peru and exploring the Amazon rainforest. “My parents always educated me and my sister through travel.” He recalls a particularly hair-raising experience in Africa when a nighttime trip to the loo was nearly the end of him. “We were in this completely open camp and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve been to Africa a few times, I’m sure I’ll be fine.’ I was walking with just my torch and this rhino came hurtling past and missed me by about an inch.”
It was swimming trunks that really boosted David’s career into the international spotlight, care of Dolce & Gabbana’s super sexy 2007 campaign for its Light Blue fragrance. The Mario Testino-shot advert, featuring David skimpily clad in white bathers on a boat in the cyan waters of Capri, had 11 million online hits in its first week and was supported by a 20-metre billboard in New York’s Times Square and others elsewhere.
Since then he has parlayed his fame into numerous projects and business ventures, focusing particularly on players in British fashion. “I was absolutely clear that I wanted to do it with a British company,” he says of his decision to partner with Marks & Spencer. He’s also an ambassador for London Collections Men, the face of Savile Row tailor Henry Poole and an active champion of emerging British designers such as Craig Green and Sibling, despite admitting some of their designs are a little wacky for him. “It’s so far out there sometimes you think, ‘Whoa! What’s that?’ But this is the future of our fashion industry. They’re not playing to the masses. It’s creative, it’s art, and it’s good to see London has a platform for that.”
Outside of fashion, David’s passions include powerboats, classic cars, and car racing. He drove the four-day Mille Miglia race around Italy with Yasmin Le Bon in 2013 and with Jodie Kidd the following year—“It’s so much fun and it could only happen in Italy. They’re a nutty nation and I love them for it”—and he’s due to race at Le Mans in France a few days after we meet. His GQ and Vanity Fair car columns are popular with both men and women—“I don’t really write much technical stuff, so it engages members of my fan base who would never normally read about cars”—and he writes lifestyle blogs for Vogue and the Daily Telegraph.
The success of the David Gandy brand is down not only to the fact he’s an excellent clothes horse with an obvious appeal to the opposite sex, but also because Gandy is the kind of guy other guys want to be. The winning combination of sartorial savoir-faire and easy masculine charm make him the ideal person to translate the catwalks of the fashion world for the ordinary man in the street. “I have a style and I know what works for me. That’s what I say to men: have a style and know what suits you.” And there you have it. Just don’t turn up for dinner in a pair of shorts.