For a man who gets looked at a lot, David Gandy is one hell of an observer. For twenty years, as the flashbulbs sparked and the shutters clacked, and as everyone else in the room was thinking about what was happening in front of the lens, David Gandy was looking elsewhere. “I didn’t know anything, really, when I started modelling — so that’s what I did,” Gandy explains, as we sit down to fresh mint tea in Ham Yard square, just a short trot from the HQ of Wellwear, his newest venture. “I literally just observed. I observed what the big female models were doing. I observed what the industry was doing. I was collecting data. And then, once I got the opportunity, I felt I could press go.”
He’s been going ever since, often like gangbusters. Gandy is a one man industry: the most successful and recognisable male model of the modern era, who elevates every brand he touches (and doesn’t hurt their sales too much, either). In 2015, the Times wrote of the ‘Gandy Effect’, whereby sales of swimming trunks skyrocketed across the UK following the model’s particularly spicy M&S campaign. The camera doesn’t just love him: it writes him adolescent poetry, keeps a shrine under its bed, and shouts his name from the rooftops. It would have been very easy, in other words, for Gandy to rest on his handsome laurels and ride out into some glittering sunset. But instead he has made a habit of constantly diving down new avenues and into greater unknowns. (Including, but not limited to: investing in Savile Row Gin; investing in the London Sock Company; setting up a haircare brand with his best pal and hairstylist Larry King; directing short films; and racing powerboats, in which he holds a world speed record.)
“But I was always watching, taking it in,” he says, “with my collaborations with Aspinal, with Jaguar, and of course with M&S. Just thinking: how do you do this? From the design process, to the creative, to marketing, to factories, to fabrics, to lead times, to delivery times. How does it all work? All these different things that you just don’t have to think about when you’re on the other side of the label… I wanted to be involved in everything.” The Marks & Spencer collaboration lasted for seven years, and it sometimes felt, from the outside at least, that the legacy brand’s entire menswear offering was propped up by the glowering brow and Olympian physique of Gandy, and his exceptionally comfortable underwear. (You know you’ve entered the culture in a unique way when strangers approach you in the street, as they do with Gandy to this day, and say: “I’m wearing your pants, mate!”)
"I don't think we'd be sitting here if it wasn't for the pandemic..."
The collaboration came to its natural conclusion in 2019, and then the pandemic happened. And somewhere along the way, Wellwear was born. “I don’t think we’d be sitting here if it wasn’t for the pandemic. I’d have continued in my busy life, and working for other brands. But I had time to think.”
“Seven years ago, I did loungewear [with M&S] before lots of people were talking about loungewear. And then everyone did loungewear last year. So the question for us was: how do I move it on? How do I move out towards outerwear, towards utilitarian ‘everydaywear’, as we call it? It still needs to have that loungewear element. It still needs to be the most comfortable clothing. But our thinking was: how can you put style credentials into that?”
The conclusion of that line of enquiry is Wellwear’s inaugural collection: a precise, understated super-capsule that leavens comfort with sharp lines and day-to-day style. (It’s an important word, that. “I’ve never really been associated with fashion — I wouldn’t say I’m particularly fashionable or trendy,” Gandy says. “But I associate with style — that resonates with me.”)
It’s complicated, however, to create something so simple. Gandy, who once told me he used to wake up in the middle of the night to scribble down Eureka ideas about the cut of a boxer short, has done the deep thinking so we don’t have to. “What I wanted to know was: why have I kept this denim shirt I’m wearing right now for 10 years?” he says. “Why do I love it? What is that? We looked at this scientifically, and there are also sorts of studies which put students in fashionable clothing that may be quite uncomfortable; and then put them in more comfortable but less fashionable clothing. And their happiness levels were always higher in the comfortable, well-fitted clothing.” Gandy has spoken before about the importance of oxytocin — sometimes called ‘the cuddle chemical’ — and the way that soft, comfortable fabrics can help to stimulate its release. Other high-tech innovations in the range include anti-odour and anti-bacterial properties baked into each garment, reducing the need for frequent washes, and in turn extending the lifespan of every piece. This is a collection for a kinder, softer, post-pandemic age, where feeling good is just as important as looking good — and the two needn’t be mutually exclusive any longer.
“There’s a huge guilt around fast fashion, and that has a psychological impact,” Gandy explains. “You get this buzz when you initially buy something — we call it retail therapy — and then you don’t wear it, or it doesn’t wash well, so you get rid of it, and you end up going from a big high to a massive low.” The Wellwear team are making t-shirts for now, and t-shirts for ten years hence, he explains. “This will last,” Gandy says. “I’ve done my best to put that to the test by giving it to my missus, who can shrink anything,” he laughs. “But she hasn’t succeeded so far…”
Is it nerve-racking to put his name above the door, so to speak? For all the complications of working with a big corporation like M&S, there is a safety net built in with a company of that size and legacy. The success of Wellwear, however, falls much more squarely on Gandy’s shoulders. “I’ve always wanted 100% control in what I’m doing,” he says. “And that is in many ways putting my balls on the line. The team are incredible — they’ve worked for places like Tommy Hilfiger, Reiss, The Kooples. It’s a massive team effort. But I’m where the buck stops at the end of the day. I oversee absolutely everything. And when decisions need to be made, it’s on my head,” he pauses. “This is something all very new, and everything I stand for has gone into Wellwear.”
"Everything I stand for has gone into Wellwear..."
This is the third chapter of Gandy’s career, then, in many ways — something he has been working towards ever since he won that modelling contest back on the This Morning sofa, almost precisely 20 years ago. The project seems to have more of his personality in it than his previous work, too. The smoulder and simmer is absent from the campaign shots, replaced with David’s default disposition — smiling and friendly and relaxed. The other models seemed to have had fun on the set too, which is by no means guaranteed in a high-stress fashion shoot. And there’s a pleasing playfulness in the way, for example, that the new burgundy items in Wellwear’s new Holiday Collection have been dubbed ‘Burgandy’. David Gandy Wellwear is David Gandy’s most David Gandy creation yet.
“I still love modelling,” he says. “But I have to challenge myself. I have to scare myself a little bit. There’s a risk-reward element to everything. But in a modelling sense, I feel like I have achieved everything I wanted to.” Wellwear is another chance, then, to get back into the deep-end.
“I often talk about five year plans, ten year plans. To me, if you don’t know where you want to get to, you can’t make the moves to get there. The individual moves might change, and other doors might open. But you’ve got to have the ultimate goal right here,” he says, and he holds his hand out in front of his face.
“I know what my goal is. I don’t tell people precisely. But I can see it,” he says. “And this is part of that journey. Really, with Wellwear, I’m selling everything I’ve built over the past 20 years.”
You can check out the full David Gandy Wellwear collection here.