Chiselled features and a torso to die for – Alex Clark meets the man who’s put the machismo back into modelling
David Gandy, one of the world’s most successful male models and the extremely handsome chap credited with helping men’s fashion turn away from the drainpipe shape and pale complexions that ruled supreme for several years and back to beefcake, is in the gym. I am watching him. Thus far, there have been multidirectional lunges and press-ups involving a large ball. I have done very little except perch on a stool and sip at some greenish water given to me by Gandy’s personal trainer, Nathalie, which, she explains, will help alkalinise my system (I think). I am, however, exhausted; watching a 6ft 2in, 15-stone man lift his own body weight while strapped into some kind of medieval stirrup contraption is enough to puff anyone out. “Do you want to have a go?” asks Nathalie, as her charge takes to a hideous-looking climbing machine. I do not. Even the warm-down involves lying on a bed of nails.
But, Gandy tells me afterwards, he reckons Nathalie was going pretty easy on him today, perhaps because I was there, and perhaps because he is not, at the moment, in one of the truly fearsome conditioning phases that precede a major advertising campaign and that see him virtually decamp to the gym, banish booze, bulk up on protein and cut down on carbs. Right now, in the midst of London Fashion Week, which happens to have coincided with him turning 30, he is letting loose a little, although the extent of that seems to be that he follows his healthy salmon lunch with a highly decorated cupcake. I promise not to nip back to the gym and tell Nathalie.
The (normally) rigorous routine shows. Gandy is an extraordinary shape, like an inverted pyramid on long, limber legs; he also has the kind of strong, chiselled features that make you think of firemen rescuing puppies from blazing buildings. Broad-shouldered, rippling of arm and tight of torso, it is little surprise that photographers often seem keen to persuade him out of clothes and into the scantiest of scanties; the breathless postings on numerous websites confirm that his fans are highly appreciative of such an approach. The “David” calendar, shot by Mariano Vivanco for Dolce & Gabbana in 2008, which poses its model in all manner of apparently quotidian situations – taking a shower, prone between rumpled sheets, eating a takeaway and, rather less obviously, adopting an attitude of prayer – is beyond suggestive. “Those shots were a little risqué,” concedes Gandy, before explaining that Vivanco had taken his very first head-shots and that they had subsequently become great friends. “It could have been embarrassing, but it was fun.”
Also fun – there were beautiful girls and speedboats, after all – was Mario Testino’s Capri shoot for Dolce’s Light Blue fragrance, the 2007 campaign that transformed Gandy’s career. Hitherto, he had been a highly employable commercial model, constantly hopping on and off planes to be photographed for catalogues and advertisements throughout the world. He was not, however, a particularly well-known name, and neither was he entirely satisfied with what he was doing. After Light Blue, he was the face of one of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses. Like all overnight success stories, though, there was more to it than met the eye.
For a start, Gandy might never have become a model had it not been for the good offices of a student housemate. “We were watching a television show,” he tells me, “and they were doing a modelling competition and she said, ‘You should go for that.’” He laughed it off. Only a month later, when the phone rang telling him he was down to the last 15 on This Morning (he hung up, assuming it was a wrong number), did his friend confess to having entered him secretly. When he won the competition, and with it a place on the immensely powerful Select Model Management’s books, he was told he’d been plucked off the “no” pile at the last minute. He was 21 and into computers, cricket and rugby, not clothes and cameras; he’d thought he might want to work with cars or animals. Subsequently, his university friends told him he was known around the campus as Model Dave. “I might have got a few more dates at the time if I’d known that girls were calling me that,” he says, a mite ruefully.
But, despite that initial triumph, Gandy had entered modelling at a tricky time. “It was when the androgynous, skinny Dior guys were in the industry,” he recalls. “I was laughed at when I used to walk into castings… people would go, ‘It’s the big guy!’” It was suggested to him (more tactfully, one imagines, than it might have been to a female counterpart) that he could lose a little of his bulk. But he stuck to his guns; if anything, he says, he wanted to have a bigger and better body. “It was the suits that mattered, not [the models],” he notes now, “which I don’t think appealed to anyone. It might have appealed to the fashion industry a little bit, but to Joe Public, I don’t think they could get what fashion was talking about.”
For three or four years, he worked steadily and successfully, but he was beginning to tire of the treadmill of economy air travel and endless shoots. After intense discussions with Select, he took the radical step of turning down all offers of commercial work and rebuilding brand Gandy; sophisticated, elegant, sensual – and undeniably big. Eventually came a Dolce & Gabbana shoot in Los Angeles with renowned photographer Steven Meisel (“I loved it. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do’”) and then, on the back of that, Light Blue. Goodbye economy, hello business class, and hello the covers of VMan (“The Making of a Supermodel”) and L’Optimum’s “Sixty Years of Cannes” special issue. Although Gandy doesn’t discuss money, it’s fair to assume that he earns a more than healthy living wage; and while he is keen to debunk the myth that models won’t get out of bed for less than £10,000, one imagines they don’t lease out their faces for peanuts.
So what is the life of a male supermodel like? Well, Gandy is at pains to point out in the week or so that I spend with him that what I’m seeing isn’t entirely typical; it isn’t always London Fashion Week (though, to my outsider’s eyes, it always seems to be Somewhere Fashion Week), and it isn’t always his 30th birthday. When he invites me to accompany him to a fitting at Dolce & Gabbana’s London store, he’s juggling his forthcoming runway appearance in Naomi Campbell’s Fashion For Relief show in aid of Haiti with attendances at the Elle Style Awards and the Harper’s Bazaar Love Ball, hosted by Natalia Vodianova for her charity. In between, he’s planning to pop back to his native Billericay to celebrate his birthday with his mates.
“David’s like our family, so I do bark at him,” says the lady at Dolce, as she ushers a slightly late Gandy towards the rail of suits, shirts, ties and scarves and rows of highly polished shoes that have been laid out for his arrival. But there seems to be more hugging than barking, even though the team is at full stretch dressing the likes of Kylie, James Blunt, Kasabian and Alesha Dixon for that night’s Brit Awards. The task today is to choose two outfits for Fashion For Relief, the only stricture being that the show’s creative director has stipulated a light palette for the catwalk, with no colour darker than grey. A period of consideration ensues, garments held up to the light, fabrics caressed, and then Gandy slips into a dressing room and emerges in a white suit, its jacket edged with black, white shirt and a thin white tie. Loafers and brogues go off and on; Gandy might be the only man I have ever met who uses a shoehorn. The effect, it must be admitted, is something else – suave, slightly edgy and thoroughly raffish. “Lovely,” I say, though nobody, quite rightly, has asked for my opinion; in any case, I later realise that the correct term of approbation is “stunning”.
The second outfit, a casual look, is more of a test for my limited understanding of high fashion. I’ve grasped – just – that jeans these days must be ripped; but I don’t get the clearly deliberate haven’t-tucked-your-long-johns-in effect created by the patterned lining that pokes out at waist, thigh, knee and ankle. But add a tight white waistcoat and a beautifully tailored grey jacket and the ensemble does, indeed, begin to look lovely. I mean stunning.