"I don't really do straight modelling anymore. It's business now." David Gandy is breaking the mould (again)
Model. Designer. Amateur racer. David Gandy is a man of many parts. He sits down with Max Williams to discuss his latest project: a design collaboration with Aspinal of London
Think ‘model’ and your mind might turn to Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Hornby. Think ‘male model’ and you’ll promptly visualise David Gandy. (As visuals go, you could do a lot worse.) The man from Billericay has now been at the top of his game for more than a decade, even walking the catwalk for Great Britain at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. Now he has turned designer, joining forces with Aspinal of London to launch The Aerodrome Collection by David Gandy – a selection of luggage and accessories that’s perfect for a stylish weekend away. We sat down with Gandy to talk flying, fashion, and future plans.
Firstly, nice photoshoot! Why Spitfires?
We’re coming up to 100 years of the RAF. The Spitfire is a piece of design engineering that the British did really well. We have the best engineers in the world: think Rolls-Royce, Concorde, the Channel Tunnel. The Spitfire was the best fighter plane in that period.
Without the Battle of Britain, would we be in the same position we are today? Probably not. Those guys are the most heroic guys ever. And Spitfires are one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in the sky. If you see one flying over you, you don’t forget it.
Did you get to fly in one?
Not on the day, but we will be going up in one. My first time in a Spitfire! That will definitely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Have you ever been tempted to take up amateur flying? Get the wings?
No! Driving, I’m fairly capable: I’ve got my race licence and I’m racing again next year. Flying is a big commitment, and my schedule all over the shop, so it would be quite difficult. Maybe one day. I keep saying, “One day.” In retirement, I’m going to restore my own classic car and learn how to race properly and fly.
I thought when I was doing this, “What is the ultimate boy’s toy? What is the ultimate thing you could own?” and somebody was saying, “A classic car,” and I thought, “Spitfire.” If you said, “I own a Ferrari California 250 GT worth £15m” and I then go, “I own a Spitfire…”
It’s Top Trumps, isn’t it?
You’d just go, “Ok, you win.” I challenge anyone to say anything bad about the Spitfire. It is one of the greatest achievements and we should be very proud of it.
There are some great products out there, but I’m not seeing such creative advertising like we did in the 1980s and 1990s
Was that always a boyhood thing? The love of Spitfires, the love of cars?
The love for anything fast and noisy? Probably, yes. Is there anything better than hearing a Spitfire with its Rolls-Royce engines? Imagine during the second world war, being a soldier and seeing two Spitfires fly over to fight the Germans. That’s a hair on the back of your neck kind of experience. That heroism is incredible.
So how did this collaboration come about? Did Aspinal book you?
It was a very mutual thing, actually. I was a customer of Aspinal, like I am with all my brands. I’m always a customer first of all. I love the brand. Ian Burton [Aspinal founder and CEO] lives in West Sussex, near Goodwood, where the Spitfires often fly by his house. We got talking and he said, “Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we did something like that?”
It’s more than a decade since you made your name with Light Blue…
I’m still working with Dolce & Gabbana today. I’ll have been doing Light Blue for 11 years this year: it’s still the number one selling Dolce & Gabbana fragrance. So, of course that put me on the map, and it was instant. That’s what gave me the platform to be able to achieve hopefully whatever I’ve achieved since then.
When people say, “You’re in fashion,” I say, “I’m kind of in design. Creative direction.” I think something’s lacking. There are some great products out there, but I’m not seeing such creative advertising like we did in the 1980s and 1990s.The digital age is very disposable.
The Spitfire photoshoot is a cog in the wheel – as well as working with brilliant influencers, great press. It’s a part of the larger strategy. That’s the way I’ve been taught. Brands like Dolce & Gabbana don’t just create one part. There wasn’t just Light Blue – there was the commercial, the PR, the press. It was a strategy, even though it was also something that took off overnight.
Do brands still do strategies? Or has social media changed the game?
The clever people do have a strategy, and that’s why the difference is still there. A lot of people think, ‘Let’s get someone with great reach and give it to them’, and that’s where it does work – but it’s part of the strategy.
Now we’re used to seeing so many images on Instagram and social media that nothing really surprises you anymore. It’s the same. It takes something to be super-clever, super-creative to stand out from the crowd. Technology means everyone can be a creator and come out with these incredible videos. So it does take something a bit special to get people’s attention. A person’s attention span is about 15 seconds now: anything over 15 seconds and you’re off onto the next thing.View on Instagram
Do you include yourself in that assessment?
Yes, don’t get me wrong, if a commercial hasn’t got me within ten seconds I’m off to the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. But when I see something good, I watch it again and again. You want to have people coming back.
People don’t want to see something completely different. I see brands now using a different person for every campaign. You think, ‘If you look at case studies of what’s done really well – Calvin Klein and Christy Turlington, myself and Dolce & Gabbana – can you not see a correlation of success?’ Choose great ambassadors for your brand and great collaborators. Hopefully, that’s what myself and Aspinal have done here. It’s not just this range. We’re talking about the collaborative piece of the creative. It’s got to align with myself and the Aspinal brand.
What decade informs your personal style?
I’d probably go back to the style icons of the 1950s and 1960s: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, James Dean. There’s a mystery, because there’s not the accessibility of images that we have from everyone now. Those guys were style icons, but they weren’t stylish people. They raced cars, they rode bikes, and they wore the best stuff that was appropriate to riding a bike, driving a car. Belstaff or Barbour – all those things that now we think of as stylish fashion items.
That’s my kind of era, but then there’s also tailoring. I realised the other day that I was complicating things by trying to be a little bit more dressed down. I was doing it subconsciously and I thought, ‘Actually, what am I doing here? What am I happy in? I’m happy in my suits and my shirts and my ties.’ Of course, I don’t wear that all the time, but that’s what I feel comfortable in.
Does your standing in fashion bring added pressure to launching personal collections?
I suppose it does if you’re in the public eye. I’ve always tried to make everything tangible to the man on the street. With this collection I’m not saying, “You have to go out and spend £900 on a bag.” What I’m saying is, “If you like the toiletry bag, this is where you can start.”
Same with the tailoring range in M&S. I’m not trying to scare people, I’m trying to simplify things for men. Men shop in a very different way to women. It’s not that you have to be in fashion; just take more of an interest in what you’re wearing. It’s never been about trying to get people into trends: it’s just the simplicity of getting men interested in style.
So, yes, there’s pressure. But I choose stuff I’m comfortable with; I don’t follow trends. I spoke to Tom Ford a couple of times – he says sometimes he’ll have the same suit, the same shirt, the same tie, and he’ll wear that every day. It’s one style. I thought, ‘What a great philosophy that is.’ That’s the way men shop.
You starred in the London Olympics closing ceremony. How was that experience?
I was with all these supermodels, but I just remember trying not to shit myself. We were in these trucks and they fell down. We had to walk on – I’ve never been in front of that many people in my life. It’s all a bit of a blur, if I’m honest. I was just trying not to fall over.
We all went for rehearsals in Dagenham. The glamorous side of fashion! I was the only guy and I think there was a carp about who was walking out first, who was walking out second. I was just happy to be part of it. I was just, “You know what? It doesn’t matter if I’m first or second or last. I will go anywhere, because I want to be part of it.” It was lovely to be accepted like that: as one of the top models. So, a very proud moment.
Did you mind being the only man on the catwalk that night?
It would’ve been nice to have someone else there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never going to complain about being around the most beautiful women in the world. I’ve had worse days. However, it would’ve been nice to have another male representing. But even if they did it now, I’m not sure there would be anyone else. No-one’s taken that step.
Why do so few male models break through to become household names?
The fashion industry has changed. A lot of industries have changed because of digital and social media. Brands might not have chosen me back in 2006 if I didn’t have a big enough reach. That is how people sometimes choose talent now. Not, do they fit the campaign? Not, are they good for our brand? It’s – what’s their reach? That reach can be fake sometimes. It could be bought followers.
Brands have quickly had to adapt. They’ve suddenly realised this strategy hasn’t led to sales, it hasn’t led to a good reach of people. It’s led to nothing really and they’re suddenly wanting to bring in these digital experts, and there are not that many around.
When someone’s successful – Jim Chapman is a great example. He took the bull by the horns, but a number of people tried to follow in his footsteps and haven’t quite grasped the idea of how he’s done it.
Even Chapman’s been around for a while…
He has been around for a few years. After 16 years, I feel like a dinosaur!
If you were starting now, would you follow the social media route?
No, I don’t think I would. I use social media, but I’ve never purposely used it for that process. I use it for the brands I work with. If you want to really have that following you have to put every part of your life on there – what you’re cooking for dinner and eating for breakfast. I would never be able to do that.
Do you own a copy of David Gandy by Dolce & Gabbana?
The David Gandy book? Yes, I do own it.
On the coffee table?
It’s not on the coffee table. I think I have one copy left. Somebody told me they were going for stupid amounts online. I’ve got one up on the bookshelf and I’ve got one in a cupboard somewhere. Anyway, something to maybe show the grandkids one day. Maybe they won’t read books by then.
In terms of straight modelling, I don’t really do it anymore. I’m not on the runway. I’m not shooting with different brands. It’s business now
How did you cope with waking up and seeing your face on billboards worldwide?
It’s very alien at first. You’re obviously very proud and excited to have been part of that. I still am. It’s just keeping grounded. I’ve met some of the most famous actors in the world, some of the most famous models in the world, and the most famous ones are the most discreet, lovely, down to earth kind of people.
Then you’ve got the people, and it seems to be the younger generation, who are not famous yet and they think they have to act like a famous person. They expect to be given stuff by people, and it’s very, very strange. My family and friends would never let me get big-headed or above my station. Hopefully, I’m still that today. People come up to me and go, “You’re very normal.” I’m not sure what that means, by the way – whether normal is good…
Definitely. You aren’t walking around in fur coats with someone holding your suitcase…
Only on a Sunday. But why should I? I’m not someone who thinks I’m better than anybody else. No-one is better than anyone else and no-one should think that.
You’ve directed a couple of short films...
Directing was me not wanting to be on the screen, but very much having that creative role. I’ve always had that vision, I’ve always had ideas. It’s getting a team together to create that vision. Could I do a whole film? No, I’m not ready for that. I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing yet. However I would maybe do a television commercial, then maybe a music video, then you step up from that.
Never tempted by acting?
I was never an actor. I’m not an actor. But I got offered a few things here and there.
Including Fifty Shades of Grey?
No, that was always a bit of a rumour. Once I got a script and I spoke to the author, she said, “Please have look at it.” But it wasn’t for me. Jamie Dornan is an incredible actor, and Jamie wanted it. He aspired to be an actor so he had that passion; I had the passion to be successful in the fashion industry. I much prefer directing people than people pointing the camera at me.
How long will you keep modelling?
Obviously, I’m in this campaign as a model and a collaborator. The modelling is the easy side compared to everything that’s gone behind the camera. In terms of straight modelling, I don’t really do it anymore. I’m not on the runway. I’m not shooting with different brands. They are all my projects, they are collaborating. I have equity or licensing deals. It’s business now, and I already much prefer being behind the camera. Will I ever come out of the fashion industry? Probably not, because it’s hopefully where I’m going to be for a long time.
Where do you see yourself in a decade?
I don’t know! Would we have known social media was going to be our future ten years ago? Of course we wouldn’t. What’s going to come in the next ten years? I have no idea, but hopefully I’ll have a good time doing it.
The Aspinal of London, The Aerodrome Collection by David Gandy is out now. aspinaloflondon.com