“I t was a case of if not now, then when?” It’s mid-September and David Gandy is overly apologetic for arriving just a couple of minutes late to his third-floor studio in central Soho. But given the month he’s had – back-to-back press appointments, hospital check-ups, meetings with investors, investees, collaborators and, now, colleagues – and the weeks that lay ahead – October will mark the culmination of an almost decade-long dream, a project into which the 41-year-old has poured “tireless hours, blood, sweat and sometimes tears” – you can hardly blame the Essex-born model-turned-entrepreneur-though-still-very-much-in-demand-model for running two minutes out of sync.
Even by his own pre-pandemic standards – “50 or 60 flights a year, probably” – David Gandy has been busy. And things won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Not only is the world’s only true male supermodel – interviews always describe him as ‘one of the world’s top male supermodels…’ but, go on, name another truly international, truly renowned, still-at-it-since-the-early-noughties male supermodel… yeah, exactly – about to launch his first own-label clothing line – David Gandy Wellwear, a 20-piece anthology of accessibly-priced, gender-neutral sweats, tops, loungewear and pyjamas (we’ll get to the who, what and where you can buy later) – Gandy is also expecting his second child with his partner of five years, the barrister Stephanie Mendoros, like ANY! MINUTE! NOW! (Their daughter, Matilda, turns three in November.)
“Sorry if my phone goes off, mate, but I might have to answer this one.” (We were safe, in the end. The couple welcomed their second daughter the following week.)
There’s more. A double-height headache-of-an-extension to his new home in Richmond. Gandy and Mendoros swapped Fulham for the Royal Park in November last year. At first, officials from the Mortlake with East Sheen Society attempted to block the proposed new annexe on the grounds that it was unsympathetic to the original 1920s building. Mendoros had to go in and win them over.
“Yeah, the ‘project’ as I call it, big undertaking. I’ve done up houses before but this is the big one, the compromise between the country and the city. The ‘forever’ London home. We were looking at Barnes or Putney and then we found this. It’s a building of townscape merit, so we’re having to be careful.”
A new home. A new business. His own business! But no more old cars. Gandy’s just sold the Mercedes 190sl that he spent years renovating. “I did up the XK120 Jag, I finished the Porsche 356, that’s it.” No more cars. Except! During lockdown Gandy became addicted to CollectingCars.com. “Which is dangerous.” And also WatchCollecting.com. “Even more dangerous.” But, no, no more cars. For now, it’s all about clothes. “This is it; this has 100 per cent of my attention.”
A reminder of how we got here: In 2001, while studying for a marketing degree at the University of Gloucestershire, Gandy’s friends entered him into a modelling competition on ITV’s This Morning. The 6′ 3″, 21-year-old rugby-playing county-cricketer – life didn’t so much give Gandy lemons as pineapples from the Lost Gardens of Heligan – ended up winning, securing a contract with Select Model Management. This year marks exactly 20 years in the biz. Which means I probably should have asked him something profound about two decades in the game. But I hadn’t done the maths so I ask the infinitely less profound question of how he kept himself sane during the early stages of the pandemic.
“I spent the first lockdown at my mother-in-laws in Yorkshire. I played with Matilda and took the dog for a walk and cooked pies and worked on the land and built fences… Whatever it is you’re doing, you Google it or YouTube it and there’s always a demonstration of some sort.”
A lot of people love routine. Gandy is not one of those people. “I was used to having different things happening every day. I had to get used to waking up and doing the same thing.” Not that he was ever bored. He enjoyed the downtime. “To be honest, mate, it allowed me to have a few months off.” Not off, off. There were still meetings, almost every day. Zoom calls with the crews at the London Sock Co., in which Gandy has invested, and the Larry King Hair Care brand, which he founded with his favourite stylist. “But no one was travelling, no one was really doing anything. It was a bit like that week after Christmas and before New Year, when virtually everyone around the world is doing nothing.”
Has he spent more or less time on his phone over the past 18 months? “There was no real point of going on social media, was there? Because no one was really doing anything. I was on my phone but not on social media. I’m emailing, I’m using it for business.”
And then: “I heard a psychologist talking about how our phones impact us without us even realising it. Before social media, before mobile phones, we’d wake up and we’d read a paper. But it was a paper that we knew we liked, whose views we tended to agree with. We’d read the sport and we’d be relaxed. Now, as soon as you look at your phone, something annoys you. You look at Instagram and you think ‘what’s that person up to?’ You look at Twitter and you’re confronted with all these views. Straight away you’re annoyed by something and you leave the house and you carry that on into the day.”
Rewind. Early work consisted mostly of look-books for obscure German designers and campaigns for high-street names. H&M, Massimo Dutti, Gant, Zara. Then, in 2006, Gandy’s husky-blue irises and gym-toned torso caught the attention of the fragrance team at Dolce & Gabbana. They cast him in a pair of tight-white budgie-smugglers, dumped him in an inflatable dinghy in Capri and asked Mario Testino to capture the red-hot result for its Light Blue eau de toilette campaign. “The contract’s still in place – 15 years on.”
The Marks & Spencer thing became an even bigger thing. In 2014, Gandy modelled and part-designed a line of underwear, loungewear and swimwear for the then-as-now hag-ridden retailer that developed into one of the company’s best-selling lines. “I think we sold a pair of swim shorts every minute until they sold out.” Ever since then Gandy has dreamt of putting his name to a line of affordable, premium-quality, everyday essentials of his own.
And so to the pandemic – “if it wasn’t for Covid, I’m not sure whether Wellwear would exist” – and to the if-not-now-then-when epiphany – “it really was now or never” – and some soft fabrics and some hard graft and to being two minutes late to his third-floor studio in central Soho.
So, why sweats and tees? Why not double-breasted blazers and pleated flannel trousers? Like the outfit Gandy is wearing today (with brown double monk shoes). The stuff he’s always photographed wearing. That old-world, Savile Row gear that’s become his calling card.
“Look, I love dressing in a suit, I love tailoring. But am I an expert in tailoring? No. If I want to know about tailoring, I’ll go to Luke [Sweeney] and Tom [Whiddett] at Thom Sweeney. Or Simon [Cundey] at Henry Poole [& Co]. The credentials behind Wellwear go back to what I did with M&S. When I went back to the basics of learning about everything from fabrics to factories, lead times, marketing, learning the process of developing a line. We wanted to take those credentials and produce a better product, to improve the customer services end. Bring in more style credentials without scaring the buyers. We knew there was demand there from what we did with M&S – it would have been silly to then have gone in a completely different direction.”
And now it’s September and Gandy is keen to get the thing off the ground. The thing he’s wanted to do for almost a decade. The thing he’s always said he wanted to do whenever feckless lifestyle hacks asked that feckless end-of-interview question: ‘What next for David Gandy?’ (Who me? No, never.)
“Oxytocin,” he says. That’s the hormone that gives us that warm-and-fuzzy feeling. Apparently our bodies release it whenever a soft material rubs against our skin. “So everything had to be super soft.” So T-shirts and sweatshirts and polo shirts and joggers and hoodies and PJs in black, white, off-white, grey, navy, burgundy and khaki in spongy pima cotton, elastic organic lyocell and squishy semi-synthetic modal. Some of it anti-odour. Some of it anti-bacterial. Some of it containing aloe vera plant extract. All of it produced in Portugal.
“This is the core, this is where we needed to start, and this is where I believe a men’s core should start – getting the essentials right, and then on top of that you can build.”
Gandy is already thinking about next season, when more people will be back in the office. Not that he imagines anyone “rocking up to work in a pair of tracksuit bottoms.” Or that he thinks that tailoring is done. “People are saying that the suit is dead – that’s crap.” Just that he thinks that men have learned to adapt. “The formal uniform – as in tie, shirt and a suit for work – people are experimenting with that, things are getting more relaxed.” Everyone wants essentials. “Essentials aren’t going anywhere.”
Every detail, says Gandy, rifling through rails, pointing out the position of pockets, the style of collars, the depth of necklines, is the result of 20 years in fashion. Of 20 years of trying on other people’s clothes. “I can’t say we bought a load of stuff in and said we want that, exactly, but, you know, you borrow certain style elements.” Of something he remembers. “The pocket on the heritage sweatshirt is a pocket I remember from a Double RL T-shirt that I absolutely loved.” Of something he owns. Like the £99 Private White V.C. T-shirt he’s wearing today. Wellwear does something similar for £30. Of something he’s hunted high and low for but never been able to find. “The perfect scoop-neck tee!” Wellwear’s stab costs £35.
Teaser shots from the campaign, which Gandy co-cast, co-directed and co-stars in, started dropping a couple of weeks back, ahead of the collection’s digital, direct-to-consumer launch on DavidGandyWellwear.com at the end of October. On the day of launch, which will have been and gone by the time you’re reading this, Gandy will be locked to Google Analytics, sweaty-palmed, he jokes, half-jokes, watching user numbers fluctuate and anxiously tracking sales figures.
And then it will be done. And maybe the collection will fly or maybe it will flop or most likely sales will spike and then they’ll fall and then they’ll climb, slowly, to who knows where. But for now, David Gandy is happy because he has finally put his name to a collection of clothes that were designed and re-designed, and manufactured and re-manufactured, until he got precisely what he wanted.
“This is the first project that I’ve had 100 per cent complete control of. There’s not one piece here that I could say ‘hmmm that wasn’t quite right’. Everything was produced exactly how I imagined it. I’ve had tunnel vision to get this sorted – and now, finally, we’ve done it.”
All images © Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca, davidgandywellwear.com