Renaissance Man

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Karl-Edwin Guerre

Style

Renaissance Man

Words By Nick Scott

Considering he first became a household name while modelling for one of the largest style houses in the world, David Gandy is no ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, to borrow a phrase from Kinks front-man Ray Davies’s satirical swipe at those who succumbed to “the latest fads” in Sixties London. In fact, the 35-year-old is proudly impervious to the ephemeral whims and wherefores of la mode.

“If I see something I like, I get it – I don’t care if it’s been there three seasons: good, that means it works. People ask me about ‘my style’ and I just think, ‘Well Tom Ford wears the same kind of suit every day. Look at Domenico Dolce or Giorgio Armani – they usually wear black t-shirts and stripes. They’re not flamboyant: they just know what works for them. So when people ask me what’s on trend, my answer is always the same: ‘Who cares?’”

Ensconced in a comfy chair in the studio’s cavernous, eclectically furnished reception area, Gandy – dressed in a baggy chequered cap, loose white t-shirt, grey flannel trousers and monkstrap leather shoes with no socks (more on those later) – seems to be enjoying an existential purple patch. His manner has always been affable, unruffled, but the impression he gives off today is that he’s immensely comfortable operating in that life phase in which youthful exuberance and mature guile eclipse.

If I see something I like, I get it – I don’t care if it’s been there three seasons: good, that means it works.

For those unfamiliar with his back-story, while he was studying marketing in Cheltenham, one of the then 21-year-old Gandy’s flatmates mischievously sent his photos to a This Morning With Richard And Judy modelling contest (without his knowledge – it’s tough to imagine the almost disarmingly humble Gandy sanctioning the entry). He won first prize – a contract with the model agency Select – and within what must have seemed a blink of an eye, found himself in front of the lens of Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino, modelling for Dolce & Gabbana’s ‘Light Blue’ fragrance campaign. His vertiginous ascent from there bucked the conventions of male modelling – Gandy’s Adonic frame and smouldering gaze could not have stood out more amongst the androgynous, xylophone-chested teens who hogged the catwalks at the time – and also thrust him into the international limelight.

Gandy realised immediately that he was different to other models: not just because of his Adonic form, but in terms of his singularity of purpose. “I could never understand why models would go along to shoots and be shot one minute in a suit, the next in the most outlandish styling, and they’ve had no say in it,” he says. “They’ve been scared to say they don’t want to do it. So I’ve always said, ‘Sorry guys, this is my thing, this is the way I want to go. People ask me now, ‘Who’s your stylist?’ I’ve never had one in my life.”

In fact, it was his early modelling career, he says – along with his family’s influence (Gandy’s parents are successful freight, shipping and property entrepreneurs) – that cut his teeth as a businessman. “It’s where my entrepreneurial ethic came from,” he says. “What people don’t realise about models is, you’re self-employed. You don’t work for anyone – you pay an agency to work for you. They advise you but they’re not your boss. People say to me now ‘You’ve gone into business?’ and I reply, ‘Actually I’ve been in business for 15 years.’ What I was selling was me.”

Throughout this early period, David was also plotting a life-course leading to more creatively and commercially autonomous pastures. “From the start of the modelling career, in 2007/2008, there was a strategy – always a seven, or five, or three-year plan – in terms of where I wanted to be,” he says. “And my ambition wasn’t to be the world’s most stylish man. It always had more to do with my love of design, and of style, and my desire to support the UK fashion industry: my heritage, my city, where I’m from. It’s the London fashion industry that’s supported me over the years, after all.”

And so, he began working with select outfitters with whom he felt a personal connection. “Thom Sweeney, Henry Poole and M&S were all brands I wanted to push,” he says. “So we collaborated on suits, and ideas, and I helped get them coverage – but always doing what I wanted with my own sense of style. When I went to work with Lucky Jeans, I’d take pairs in from my wardrobe from years ago that I love, and they would make their own spin on them. I’ve always had that creative input because it was always my image people were using.”

To this day, far from being merely a face for the labels and ventures he promotes, David spends his days buzzing around the capital, liaising with designers over concepts and ideas. His lounge-wear and swimwear line for Marks & Spencer, meanwhile, was entirely his own concept and creation. “Because of that, I was more nervous when that came out than when the underwear came out,” he says, “but when it first launched we sold a pair every minute. So we’re expanding that venture next year.”

It was back in January this year that David shot up a few entrepreneurial weight classes, with his purchase of David Preston – the achingly hip East London label footwear brand launched in 2011 by the eponymous self-taught shoe designer. Three-quarters of a year on, the two Davids’ mission to create a lifestyle around the brand – “It’s having a cigarette and a whiskey after going out to a black-tie do, or being in your classic car with your Chelsea boots on,” as Gandy once put it – is in full throttle.

Alongside the mien of nocturnal decadence, the latest collection also conjures up the timeless elegance – as opposed to the transient sartorial oddities also prevalent on the scene – of Sixties London (the aforementioned Ray Davies would approve). “There was a time when The Beatles and The Stones met Carnaby Street and Savile Row, and that’s the period we’re taking aim at,” Gandy says. “David [Preston] is very into East London, very into the Stones, The Beatles and Dylan, so the whole Cuban heeled Chelsea boot and things like it were always going to be a great fit.”

Keen observers of popular music’s fashion sensibilities won’t be surprised that Blur, Kasabian and Iggy and the Stooges are among fans of the revamped brand’s output, the latest collection from whom includes: The Regent and Rivoli boots, both of which have Cubanesque heels and come in an impressive palette of elegant hues; a ‘Red Carpet’ capsule collection in black leather, patent, suede and velvet; and, perhaps the most groundbreaking sub-genre in the collection, a range of unlined shoes with formal appearance – which includes those soft brown Monkstraps currently wrapped around Gandy’s sockless feet.

They could be described as the Neapolitan tailoring of cordwainery. “They’re totally unstructured,” he says. “Just leather against skin. It started with me suggesting a really comfortable, slip-on canvas Oxford for the summer. Then David came back and said he knew of a leather which would work unstructured. So we got that made up and went with it.”

Between all this creative and entrepreneurial endeavour, Gandy somehow finds time to write his own columns for Vanity Fair, The Telegraph and GQ. He’s addressed the Oxford Union on two occasions. He’s ambassador not only for the British Fashion Council, promoting London Collections: Men, but several carefully selected charities (notably, at the moment, The Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Emma Willis’s Style for Soldiers and Achievement for All – a charity working with vulnerable, disadvantaged children and those with learning difficulties). Having received his racing license in 2012, he’s also a regular behind the wheel of classic cars on the Goodwood circuit and on Italy’s Mille Miglia (which he’s completed twice, once in 2013 with Jasmin Le Bon as his co-driver, and this year accompanied by Jodi Kidd).

He’d never describe himself as such – he’s refreshingly humble, for a man who spent a considerable amount of time being beamed over Times Square wearing only a pair of underpants – but Gandy is in many ways a renaissance of the archetypical virile male: not just in terms of form but function too; an antithesis to the preening, androgynous fop wearing painted-on jeans that represented the male ideal in the fashion world for so long.

Once a brand ambassador for Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, he’s a man more at home propping up the bar in one of Dunhill’s homes than in some neon lit celeb haunt blasting bubble-gum pop. He’s in his comfort zone restoring a 1960s Mercedes, piranha fishing in the Amazon or enjoying a weekend of belly laughs with the circle of friends he went to school with in Essex. He’s even being trained to drive a Vector Martini raceboat, and will soon undertake a series of world endurance record attempts.

“Someone asked me the other day ‘What does David Gandy stand for?’,” says this contemporary polymath as our interview comes to a close. “I said, ‘I don’t really know, but I’ve kept it along those lines of classic cars, three-piece suits, the London gentleman, old Hollywood kind of style.” In short, the phrase “the rebirth of cool” could have been coined with Gandy in mind.

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