From superstar model to entrepreneur, the inimitable David Gandy is now turning his hand to Wellwear, his fashion label that puts emotional wellbeing at its heart.
By Selma Day
David Gandy has made a business out of being the world’s most famous male supermodel. Having won a contest back in 2001 on ITV’s This Morning – and a contract with Select Model Management which is still his agency to this day – he shot to fame as the face of Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue fragrance campaign in 2007, rising to become Britain’s highest-paid model. He collaborated with M&S on loungewear before it became a thing and has worked with several luxury brands as a consultant, creative director and investor. But all this just didn’t happen – David, who grew up in Billericay, Essex, decided very early on in his career that he wanted to be in charge of his own destiny so set about working in a strategic way to achieve his goals.
“Life is like a game of chess – you’re moving the pieces to get to where you want to,” he says.
We are sitting on the terrace of the Ham Yard Hotel – a stone’s throw from his Soho studio – on a crisp November morning discussing his latest venture over coffee (mint tea for him) – and putting the world to rights along the way.
As ever, he’s looking effortlessly stylish, dressed in a denim shirt, tie, cords, a cap, sweatshirt and a pair of Edward Greens. It’s a casual but classic look most men struggle to get right but one that we are increasingly seeing on the streets of Mayfair and the City.
“I think even before lockdown, men weren’t dressing as formerly as they used to. But there’s been this big thing that suits are dead – no they’re not. Maybe ties are but I don’t think tailoring is. I live in T-shirts but in situations where you wear a suit, I would wear a suit – I’m not going to go on a red carpet in sweats and a T-shirt.”
One of David’s long-term missions was to create his own brand, having observed and learnt from some of the best in the business. The result is David Gandy Wellwear, a collection of clothing that puts the emotional wellbeing of the customer at its heart.
“Wellwear is all about wellbeing and positivity,” says David, who alongside his philanthropic work which includes being an ambassador for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and Style for Soldiers, has spoken openly about mental health issues.
“We do have to talk about this stuff. We are probably in the most polarised point of any time – things seem to be so black and white. There’s no middle ground, there’s no compromise and if you don’t agree, you don’t talk and that is dangerous.”
Based on the scientific benefits of wearing soft, comfortable clothing (studies have shown that simply touching smooth fabrics can create a sense of wellbeing and reduce negative emotions), Wellwear is about making people feel relaxed, confident and secure. Everything is made from quality, natural fibres such as Pima cotton, lyocell and modal using Aloe Vera plant plant extract – known for its healing, anti-inflammatory and moisturising benefits.
Anti-odour and anti-bacterial properties reduce the need to wash clothes after every wear, increasing longevity of the items and having a positive wider environmental impact.
David admits that sustainability in clothing is not a simple answer. “We are sitting here – okay, we are in London – but this cup of coffee is probably costing us more than what we could buy a T-shirt for. But I don’t think people when they buy a £4 T-shirt are thinking of the process – the manufacturing, the people who are making it, the transportation. There is an impact on someone somewhere.
“We are trying to eliminate all of those things as much as we can as a small brand but this will be led by the bigger brands and everyone else will follow. A lot of it is also down to the consumer to stop buying certain products like acrylics and polyesters and fast clothing, wearing it two or three times and chucking it away.”
As if launching a brand during a pandemic wasn’t stressful enough, the past year has seen David become a dad for the second time. He and his partner Stephanie, a criminal barrister, now have two daughters, Matilda and Tabitha and a dog, Dora, and are in the midst of renovating a historic property in Richmond (“a compromise between living in the country and living in London”) which they bought in 2020.
I ask David what has been the most stressful out of these three life-changing experiences. “Oh, the brand,” he says, without hesitation.“It’s all been slightly stressful – I seem to do this to myself. I like to challenge myself – I constantly want to strive and I’m not afraid of failure. I’ve always learnt from that.
“It’s probably the busiest I’ve ever been – the baby, the house, the business and I’m still modelling (he still has an ongoing contract with D&G), I’ve still got my other investments, the charities …”
How on earth does he fit it all in? “I just think having a rest (during lockdown) and having a good network around me – if I didn’t have a team, I couldn’t deal with it all. Yes, it is majorly stressful at the moment, but it won’t continue forever.
“We have a lovely office (in Soho) and we have a laugh. We are privileged to be in this position to be doing what we are doing. But it’s still fashion, so let’s not take it too seriously.
“I probably never really fitted into that element – I’ve always been tongue in cheek about what we’ve been doing sometimes. I understand the importance of it but it’s about putting things into perspective. So sometimes in the fashion industry, when someone says, ‘my God, these sunglasses aren’t the right ones and they are shouting and screaming, I almost find it funny that they can get so distraught about that and I’m like, ‘come on, let’s get some perspective’.
“That’s why travelling is important to me – to see other cultures, to see people far less fortunate. I count myself very fortunate I’m in the position I am. I have two lovely daughters. I never realised this but you have a very different perspective when you are a parent. It doesn’t really matter about you – it’s about your children.
“Life if pretty good – we all have our struggles but you have to try and look at the positives.”
It’s difficult to believe that someone whose face (and body) have been his fortune could have insecurities but life hasn’t always been so hunky dory for David. He was bullied at school and would find solace alone in the library at lunchtimes, but looking back, he says he would have imparted these words of wisdom to his young self: “Listen, this is the horrible at the moment, these are the worst times you are ever going to have, then it gets better from here. Trust your instincts, do what you think is best – you’re going to make mistakes but just get through this and will be fine.
“Life is a big lesson and learning to get through stuff, which is why I talk about mental health. Many men message me on social or come up to me and say it’s really helped them. You need that support. My dad is that typical older generation – he doesn’t really talk about feelings and that’s fine. My mum is different – she has always been my confidante, the person I can rant to. She doesn’t judge and she’s very calm. I can tell her anything – I’ve probably told my mum things I shouldn’t but I know she’s not judgemental. She will just listen and talk. And I have my best friends. No-one judges, we try to talk about things – and it’s important to have a laugh.”
So does it seem like 20 years? “I suppose when you look back. But you know, in this game, you are constantly looking forward, specially in fashion.
“I don’t have regrets but one think I would say to my young self would be to enjoy the moment, because now, I look back and see what a wonderful time that was and how incredible that was. But my mindset then was, ‘this is great, how can I capitalise on this? How can I move forward? Where am I tomorrow? What am I doing next week? Is this going to be my last job? Could this be my last campaign?’ It’s just the way mind works – I wish I could be more relaxed. It’s a form of anxiety in many ways – it’s overworking, overthinking, under-sleeping. People say, ‘it’ll be fine’, but I think, ‘it can’t be fine’. It’s that slight imposter syndrome, I suppose.
“But if I’d said to my young self, ‘don’t worry, relax, it’s going to be okay’, my young self would say, ‘okay, I won’t bother striving, I won’t bother about worrying’. It’s because I’ve kept on pushing those boundaries and knocking on doors that these things have happened. There’s been a bit of luck, but I think you make your own luck.”
By his own admission, David is still learning and adapting to a fast-changing industry. “We’ve all had to get used to digital and social – we are very aware that we are a very small brand but being a lean team means we can adapt very quickly.
“In fashion, a lot of people control you but now I am in full control. There are things I still need to worry about – creativity, marketing, budgets and everything else, but it’s a stress that hopefully gets better the more successful you become. Sometimes the journey is the the exciting thing. It’s these moments – the building, the struggling and the adapting that are the most fun parts.”
As a parting question, I ask what’s it like being David Gandy? “That’s one of the toughest questions I’ve been asked,” he laughs.
“I was fortunate to look how I do but then there are a lot of people who are much better looking than me – there are much better models. It’s opened a lot of doors but, at the same time, in this industry you can take a bit of a battering and when you are at a certain level, people want to bring you down.
“You have to know who to trust and the only way you can do that is by living life. I’m still surprised sometimes. I give other brands advice and I can sometimes see that they are going to struggle but you pick out the positives. Make that person feel better. I’ve never understood the negativity. As my nan used to say to me, ‘ if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all’. It’s something a lot of people need to learn.”
As I leave him to pay the bill for our drinks – at his insistence – the thing that strikes you about David, apart from the obvious, is that he is a true gent and just a really, really nice bloke.