The first thing to know about David Gandy is that he really cares about your pyjamas. Really cares.
You don’t get to become the world’s finest maker of eponymous undergarments and loungewear (you heard me, Calvin Klein) without putting in a little bit of legwork, after all. In the small hours of the morning, by the flickering light of his computer screen, David is trawling the feedback forms and comment sections of the David Gandy pyjama range, battling with sizing conundrums, ordering cashmere trousers under a pseudonym, putting his own work to the most exacting of tests.
“First and foremost, I’m a customer of every brand I work with.” he says. “You wouldn’t believe how involved I get.”
David doesn’t need to do this. In fact, he doesn’t really need to do much, one suspects. The most successful male model of any generation, you would forgive David Gandy for resting on his laurels at this point; for retiring once and for all into the light blue waters of Capri, or wherever it is beautiful people go on holiday when no-one’s watching.
But there’s no time for that. Not when there’s businesses to run, shoots to direct, stories to write, footage to edit, soundtracks to commission, fun to be had. This is the adventurous, all-consuming, madcap life of David Gandy 2.0. And it’s a wonderful beast of his own creation.
“I’m a customer of every brand I work with - you wouldn’t believe how involved I get...”
“When you think about something like my M&S range, that’s my little baby,” says David. “I can’t not become obsessive. If you’re asking me to be part of that, and I’m putting my name to a project, I want to see that brand do well and succeed.” This is the hard-nosed business pragmatism of a man who’s spent the last 16 years helping brands to sell, in one way or another: in front of the camera, behind it, in the edit suite and the boardroom; with a calibrated eye for the right shot and an ear for a good line. Not that people would always listen, of course.
“I remember when I was younger I used to suggest things to directors and photographers and they didn’t want to hear it. I remember one photographer saying: ‘David, don’t run before you can walk, my boy. You leave this to us.’” Well, he’s up and running now. In the past few years, David has put together a punchy portfolio of editorial and branded films, each with his name on the directing chair, if not on the label. It has been a new learning curve, but one worth clambering up.
“I may be hard work when I’m stressed and I have a hundred projects on the go, but I’m so much worse when I’m bored,” he says. “So I’m always looking for the new thing.” The first new thing was a 2017 collaboration with Gentleman’s Journal and Iguana Yachts, the Bond-esque amphibious boat makers. On a shoestring budget, but with a laser-eye and a bustling team, the striking short was completed in just a single day. As debuts go, this one went — all the way down the Thames, in fact, and out the other side.
“Slowly I’m getting to know more about it and the terminology, the technical backend, what each lens does. But it’s a learning process. I know how I want it to look, but I need a team to help me get the vision out of my head.” Teamwork — that’s a common thread that ran through each of our several short conversations as David prepared for his most ambitious shoot yet: a gallivanting week-long affair set in the manic energy and heat of South Africa.
“The team is amazing and the team is everything. And it’s easy when the team is right.” David says. Right, in this case, means utterly committed and endlessly collaborative. “I’m a harsh judge on myself, and I can probably be a bit harsh on other people as well. I know what I want, and I expect everyone to care as much as me about it,” he says.
After David’s debut short came a deeply ambitious film conducted at a sprint from London to Monaco — a point-of-view extravaganza, all high concept and fast living. Again, it was shot on the tightest of budgets and with a shifting cast of moving parts — superyachts, jet skis, helicopters, private jets; more champagne than you can shake a sparkler at. And all done within a 24 crazed hours.
“I know that I will work for hours and go through the night to get the job done. And when you find a team who have the same mentality, that’s when something special happens.” Art, in this case, imitates life. A recent set of stories, made in collaboration with M&S tailoring, places an emphasis on one thing above all others: camaraderie.
A scene set in the highlands is brought to life by the obvious natural chemistry of the stars; in his South African short, three chaps try to make it to a glittering event after a series of caperous mishaps. For both, David directed to a highly authentic, behind-the-scenes brief.
“Guys are very much pack animals. That’s what I wanted to make real — that group dynamic that people can relate to.” he says. “That’s why I brought in actual friends of mine, who also happen to be great models. We’ve known each other for years, and I knew we would have that dynamic. I didn’t want anything to be staged.”
There’s always one eye on the commercial back-end, however. “I don’t think you can get away, really now, from the fact that things are product led. Think about Daniel Craig drinking a Heineken as James Bond,” he says. “There’s this other line — ‘Is that a Rolex? No, it’s an Omega.’ Come on! You can sell without making the product the star.”
Instead, David champions a more natural way of building a story — by starting not with the brand, necessarily, but with the characters, with the situation, or with the music. “I remember in the eighties there was an advert set to that song Easy Like A Sunday Morning. And when I was a youngster, I wanted to be that guy,” he says. “It was an advert for Halifax bank. But I wanted to be him because of that music — the guy in the London apartment, drinking the coffee with his cat on the balcony — they had me.”
Halifax bank. It’s an unusual creative reference for a man best known for working at the sharpest edge of classic design — Dolce & Gabbana, Jaguar Land Rover, Henry Poole of Savile Row. The living room of his townhouse illuminates a few more seasoned influences: dark woods and olive tones, parquet flooring, bold black and white photography, houndstooth check.
The house has a distinctly mid-century appeal that is informed, subconsciously or not, by the heroes that dot the wall and weigh down the bookshelves — Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra and Paul Newman, peering out from behind vintage skis and brown liquor.
"It’s a learning process. I know how I want it to look, but I need a team to help me get the vision out of my head..."
“They’re still a mystery to us in some ways. We don’t have access to them any more,” he says. “I’d love to bring that world to life again. Because to me they were men — Paul Newman, an incredible movie star, a family man, paid millions to charity… but also had a race team where he won at Le Mans.”
There’s clearly a great sense of wonder here: for the jack of all trades and master of all; for the nice guy finishing first. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad thing said about Paul Newman, have you?” he says. “I think you need people to aspire to, and he’s a huge inspiration. But am I ever going to get near Paul Newman? Of course I’m not.”
Still, there’s a piping note of Newman-esque ambition here. “With my first ever films, Gentleman’s Journal took a punt on me, which I’m very grateful for,” he says (no, really — he did). “People probably thought we had a huge budget to do the two movies. But we didn’t at all.” (This, certainly, we can verify.) “But I saw it as an opportunity and a chance for another creative outlet,” he says. “More importantly, I can see where it might take us next. It’s about seeing the bigger picture. I hope I’ve always done that.”
“Even in 2006, with Light Blue, [the Dolce & Gabbana campaign that launched him into the world armed with little more than a pair of white trunks], I had one eye on what could come next,” he says. “No-one knew me then, but what I could see were the stepping-stones to where I wanted ultimately to go.” So, what’s the next stepping stone? After all, a natural line runs through branded skits to filmic commercials, and on to music videos and short films. And from there…
“I’m not sure what will come next. But it will be collaborative and may involve a few different things.” David says. “There has been a changing of the guard in fashion. The new lot don’t go in for old school thinking, and they don’t say ‘you’re just a model’. There’s none of those different categories any more. Everyone does a bit of everything. I like it. There’s no segregation.”
In essence, of course, the nature of the next project doesn’t really matter. More important for David is that it’s a challenge — that it’s new and that it’s tough. “I was reading a book about Scott, the Antarctic explorer,” David says. “You read about these horrific conditions, but then once they’re back home, they’re straight away planning for the next trip.”
David’s South Pole may not be quite so monumental or life-threatening — it could be a perfectly calibrated pyjama leg, a viral short film, an untold number on a spreadsheet, a story based around a single bar of music. But he will be chasing after it into his own private snowstorm, no matter where it takes him, at all hours of the day and night.
“After a shoot or a project, if I think it’s gone well, I can be quite chipper for a couple of days,” he says. “But then I grow a bit restless, and it’s on to the next thing. I don’t think I’m trying to compete with other people, actually — I think I’m trying to compete with myself. I’m trying to prove something to myself.” What does he think that is, then? “I don’t quite know, actually. That’s a good question,” he says. “But I’ll let you know when I find it.”
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