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David Gandy: “Talking is so important and men can be so shit at it"

David Gandy has launched his own clothing line, Wellwear –a fitting celebration of 20 successful years in the fashion industry. The model and businessman invites Sam Hancock to his Soho studio to talk sustainability, body image, and the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace

David Gandy

One of the first things David Gandy tells me, which he admits might come as a surprise, is that he “doesn’t really like being the centre of attention”. Yes, the man arguably best known for promoting Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue fragrance in a pair of snug white swimming trunks isn’t always a fan of having his photo taken. Instead, he says, he likes working behind the camera.

I wonder at first – as anyone interviewing him would – if this is just a line to promote his new clothing brand, David Gandy Wellwear – for which he is not just modelling, but heading up the production and business sides, too. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case.

When we meet at his Soho studio on a particularly grey September afternoon, the 41-year-old comes across as inviting, knowledgeable and, most of all, sincere. After walking me through almost every product his new brand offers, I’m struck by the science and the environmental awareness that has gone into his eponymous line. The man knows his business, in every sense.

He makes the joke before I have a chance to that “it’s funny, I’ve made a career out of sitting in front of a camera with a grumpy look on my face, when I’m really into this kind of stuff.”

That ‘stuff’ being the creation, manufacturing and promotion of an apparent “world-first concept, bringing apparel and wellbeing together in a lifestyle brand that fuses fashion, function and feeling”, or at least that’s how a press release I’m sent before our interview describes David Gandy Wellwear – or just Wellwear for short.

My life is a bit like a game of chess – working out where I need to be and when

Of course, Gandy already has experience on what he calls the “production side”, following five years of high-profile collaborations with British retailer Marks & Spencer. “That was invaluable and really taught me a lot,” he says, before admitting he prefers the “100% input” that he gets now compared with the “I dunno, 80” that he had then.

But that isn’t to say being behind the scenes is easy – if anything, Gandy seems to suggest it’s quite the opposite. “My life is a bit like a game of chess anyway – working out where I need to be and when,” he explains after I ask what it was like when lockdown hit and he had more free time. “Creating this company has been no different: it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

There was one advantage to his jet-setting lifestyle being put on pause, though: getting to spend “more time than normal” with his two-year-old daughter, Matilda, who he shares with his partner Stephanie Mendoros, a barrister. Especially good, he adds, considering his “missus is heavily pregnant” with the couple’s second child.

Not what you might call a quiet couple of months, then. He laughs. “No, I guess not, and the fact that [Wellwear] could totally flop, with my name on it, is a terrifying thought,” he admits. “But we are all working this hard because we really believe in the business and the products that we are making.”

David Gandy Wellwear

As well as a newborn and a business launch, there’s another important milestone coming up for Gandy: the 20th anniversary of his fashion career. In those two decades he has worked with some of the industry’s biggest names, from the aforementioned D&G adverts – shot by Mario Testino – and M&S, all the way through to Banana Republic, Zara and Massimo Dutti. He’s also done some pretty cool stuff, like being the only male model to walk on a Union Jack-shaped catwalk during the London 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.

It seems striking, then, that to mark such a successful career, Gandy’s decided to go mostly behind the lens with the launch of Wellwear. He will be doing “promo and some of the campaign modelling”, he says, but there has been an entire casting process for other models to represent the brand.

The much-debated trend of celebrities transitioning from ‘the photographed’ to ‘the photographer’ is well known – thank you, Brooklyn Beckham and Kendall Jenner – but with Gandy, it’s different. Firstly, he isn’t claiming to have taken all the photos himself – rather he’s taking a “creative director” role – and second, he’s using his 20 years of experience, on sometimes “painfully awkward shoots”, to ensure that this new generation of models “feel happy and part of a family” while they are working for Wellwear.

“At our first shoot, I was behind the camera throwing hats around and encouraging the models to do this or pull that face and my team just looked at me in bemusement and asked, ‘Who are you today?’ and it’s because no one is used to seeing me like that,” he says. “But actually, I thrive on that, because – and I know this may sound weird – the centre of attention [afforded to models] is not my natural environment.”

I absolutely agree with Rihanna that it’s important for there to be diversity and representation in the industry

Personal experience also helped Gandy understand – and “be sympathetic” during – the dreaded casting sessions. “I think I was able to realise, after the last 20 years, that sometimes someone is absolutely spot-on for a brand and sometimes they’re not. And as long as you can articulate that to them properly, and explain to someone why, that’s OK. That’s life,” he tells me.

Gandy wasn’t the only one imparting his wisdom on set, though, as so too were some of the models. Citing the importance of Wellwear’s charitable partners, Calm and Style for Soldiers (the latter of which he is an ambassador for), Gandy says he was struck by how “clued up young people are now about wellbeing”.

“There we were thinking that we were going to have to feed them lines about the importance of mental wellbeing in fashion, and they just knew it all already,” he says of the models chosen to work with Wellwear. “They were absolutely amazing, so much more clued up than I was when I entered the industry in my early twenties.”

Asked if he thinks the conversation around mental health has developed in the fashion industry since he began working in it, Gandy says it has, for the most part: “And not just in fashion but everywhere, it is more accepted to talk about mental wellbeing now, which is great.” But, he continues, “There’s always more that can be done, which explains our partnering with a charity like Calm.

“Talk, talk, talk,” he adds. “It’s so important and men can be so shit at it.”

David Gandy Wellwear
David Gandy Wellwear

The day before I sit down with Gandy, there’s a video doing the rounds on the social media platform TikTok. It shows pop star-turned-fashion designer Rihanna in October 2020, talking about the praise she has received for including plus-size male models in her latest Savage x Fenty range.

In the clip, the Barbadian singer tells a reporter she thinks that body image and body type diversity has been widely discussed in women’s fashion, but skipped entirely in men’s. I ask Gandy how he and Wellwear are positioned on that.

“I think we have been diverse,” he says of Wellwear. “We haven’t used one body type, it wasn’t all muscular, classical-looking men that we cast.” Citing examples, he goes on: “There’s Michael, who’s over 50, with a bigger physique, and then there’s Marvin who’s much skinner. We’ve got big builds and middle builds, so a really diverse bunch of people who can hopefully appeal to anyone and everyone that sees us.”

There’s the obvious elephant in the room: that Gandy himself is the so-called ‘classical’ looking man, in terms of what fashion brands put out to consumers nowadays. But, he says, “Nobody ever told me to change my body for fashion – and if they did, I didn’t listen.”

“I’ve always been into sport and into the gym but actually when I started out, being bigger wasn’t fashionable,” he explains. “It was very much about the androgynous look then and so as I got bigger, people kept saying to me, ‘You’re going the wrong way’, but I told them, ‘This is what I’m comfortable with – mentally and physically.’”

“So, I absolutely agree with…” Gandy stops to double check it was Rihanna whose name I said, to which I nod, and he continues: “Rihanna, that it’s important for there to be diversity and representation in the industry. Because actually, and this is what Wellwear is all about, it’s so important to be confident in who you are as a person, which is, I believe, massively helped by the clothes you wear.”

We looked into the addiction of fast fashion because we wanted to understand why someone would buy something they know is harmful for the environment

Wellbeing and confidence are words Gandy uses a lot, but what’s interesting is how he believes people can achieve both feats. “Talking about your mental health leads to better wellbeing,” he says, and it’s a sentiment we’re all familiar with. “Good quality clothes can help you feel more confident,” he continues, a notion that isn’t talked about so much but, again, makes sense when considered. Another he suggests, which is certainly entering public consciousness more but isn’t necessarily agreed on by all, is that “being environmentally friendly – specifically, sustainable – makes you feel happier.”

“I just feel people have lost touch with why they buy clothes,” he tells me. “We all know how harmful disposable fashion is, but that’s what it has become – so I wanted to try and change that [with Wellwear]… to encourage people to consider ‘why this?’ or ‘why that?’ when they’re shopping.”

How does one person – or one company – possibly go about doing that, though?

The answer is a hell of a lot of research, as Gandy explains: “We looked into the addiction of fast fashion – and it is an addiction – because we wanted to understand why someone would buy something they know is harmful for the environment.

“Obviously, the answer is simple: you can buy yourself a new T-shirt for the same price as a coffee. So, it’s no wonder people get addicted to buying cheaper clothes. And I say addiction because there’s a high associated with that new purchase, followed by a real low when you feel the guilt of realising that piece of clothing can’t break down entirely – or just how harmful it is [for the planet].”

David Gandy Wellwear

Some days after our interview, Gandy’s PR agent emails me to clarify that he wasn’t implying Wellwear is fully biodegradable, rather that some of the “fabric compositions used” in it are. She writes: “Wellwear is committed to sustainability and being environmentally responsible… The clothing is designed to last for longer between washes owing to the technical treatments applied… As a new business, we will continue to learn, develop and always seek the most sustainable practices where we can going forwards.”

Without claiming to have solved the world’s climate crisis then, what Gandy appears to suggest is there are processes people don’t consider when selecting their clothes. “Going for that bit of extra quality, which, yes, comes at a slightly higher price tag, for instance, means you’re going to have an item that lasts for years and you associate with positivity,” he says. (Wellwear’s launch collection starts at £30 for T-shirts, £65 for sweatshirts and £70 for joggers.)

It’s this, I’m told, that allows Wellwear to be considered a mesh of fashion, sustainability and wellbeing – not just clothes. Gandy and his team have purposely selected fabrics with anti-odour and anti-bacterial properties, for instance – plus they’ve used aloe vera extract to promote anti-inflammatory measures – which all combine to reduce the need to wash clothes as often and provide wearers with extra comfort and, ultimately, “happiness”.

“The effect clothes can, and do, have on the people who wear them is amazing,” Gandy tells me with a smile on his face, all the while sporting an entire Wellwear outfit.

Coming from a man who has been honoured with multiple fashion awards and is generally considered to be one of the most stylish men in Britain – if not the world – you’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Environmental awareness is, after all, long overdue in almost all industries, and not just fashion.

Presumably, though, the pressure to acknowledge that awareness and not be accused of something such as being a ‘climate denier’ must have shaped how Wellwear was created? “I think it’s just a natural way of thinking now,” he refutes. “A little like if you have a car, you are expected to – and should – look at hybrid and electric options.”

“It’s the same with this,” he continues. “If you start a brand at the moment then, of course, you have to be very aware of the sustainable elements that go into it.”

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As our time comes to an end, one thing becomes resolutely clear: Gandy thinks about sustainability in more ways than the environment. With conversation returning to the “positive vibes” at Wellwear’s first shoot, he tells me his intention is to create a kind of Wellwear “family” in which models are recycled again and again – rather than being constantly binned and new ones sought.

“Then they become the face of the brand and hopefully believe in it as much as we do,” he says, adding: “That’s what I’ve been lucky enough to do in my career; it only seems right that’s how Wellwear operates too.”

And it seems Gandy’s already practising what he preaches. Recalling an incident in which one of the models on set, Jack, had a crisis of confidence and “really didn’t want to do all the dancing and moving around” that he’d been asked to do, Gandy stepped in. “I just knew he was going to be like me and find it all a bit… uncomfortable, so I took him aside and I told him, ‘Trust me, this is going to look great and you can do it’, which he did and it was. It was brilliant.”

Two weeks later, Gandy continues, he was on set himself with D&G, being told to do something similar. “There I was, being asked to dance around and make a fool out of myself, and I just wanted to hide under the table or run away,” he says, laughing.

“But then I remembered what I’d said to Jack and I thought, ‘I can’t say one thing to him and then do another myself.’ So, yeah, a little bit of karma there – but it’s really nice to have that kind of relationship with [the Wellwear models].”

To that, all I have to say is this: Jack, mate, whoever you are, and if you happen to read this, what could be more of a confidence boost than David Gandy talking about what a great job you did in a magazine interview? 

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David Gandy Wellwear launched in October. See davidgandywellwear.com for info.

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