David Gandy on fashion, entrepreneurship and doing good

David Gandy on fashion, entrepreneurship and doing good | Soho House

Scott Wimsett sat down with model and David Gandy Wellwear founder at Soho Farmhouse to reflect on his illustrious career

Thursday 11 May 2023   By Soho House

The modelling industry is famously one of the few in which women consistently – and by some significant margin – out-earn their male counterparts. As the first male model legitimately able to be called a supermodel, David Gandy remains one of the very few that has managed to buck that trend.

Having come to the industry at the age of 21 after acing a televised modelling show, Gandy went on to transform it with his breakout (and still iconic) campaign for Dolce & Gabanna’s Light Blue, shot by Mario Testino in Capri, which saw the model – and the tight white briefs he’s since become synonymous with – flying high on a 50-foot billboard in Times Square.

Fast-forward 20 years, and Gandy is firmly a ‘brand’ in his own right. After successful collaborations with the likes of Marks & Spencer and Aspinal of London, he went on to launch his own label, David Gandy Wellwear, in 2021. The brand is designed to support living well – and yes, he continues to front the Light Blue campaign.

Gandy recently visited Soho Farmhouse for a live Q&A with Scott Wimsett, an established voice in fashion, beauty and lifestyle, where he talked style, entrepreneurship and becoming a force for good in front of an audience of members. Here’s what he had to say…

On becoming the face of D&G Light Blue
‘During my one and only show season I was cast for Dolce & Gabanna, but I would have to cut my hair. I was up for another campaign at the time, so I said no. I flew back to LA and lost out on the Armani campaign as well. It wasn’t the best weekend I’ve had in my life. Four years later, I met them again at a private dinner. They cast me again shortly after – that time I did cut my hair – and around the same time I found out I was being cast for Light Blue. I went to Naples and met Mario Testino that evening. Even at the time I think we knew we were doing something different.’

On becoming the first male supermodel/ a brand
‘There was a lot of press attention as soon as the campaign came out. But I was basically the guy in the white pants and I didn’t really want to be known as that my whole life, so I had to start getting my name out there. That was how we started branding. I probably could have sat on my laurels and done nothing else but Light Blue, but to me that was the platform I could build from.

‘I’ve always been a curious person and my question at the time was why are these women getting paid so much more than us? When I got to work with Christy Turlington and looked at what Cindy Crawford was saying, it was about branding, it was about running it as a business – not a hobby, but a business – you had a team, you had accountants, you had lawyers, it was about longevity. Cindy said, “I don’t want a one-night stand with a brand, I want a marriage”, and I thought who better to follow than the female supermodels.’

On becoming more than ‘just’ a model 
‘The more experience I gained, the more I knew how to create the look a photographer is after. I know what a photograph is going to look like before I see the image – I’ve done it a million times and I know how to get the right shot. I really enjoy that side – creative directing – I understand lighting and angles, and the rest of it. That’s why I knew I’d love the design side, the creative directing side as well. 

‘I always had a very strong image in my head of how it should look. That’s when I knew I wasn’t just sitting there being told what to do. I try and offer that to my models in Wellwear and give them the opportunity to shine as well. I really love that.’

David Gandy on fashion, entrepreneurship and doing good | Soho House
David Gandy on fashion, entrepreneurship and doing good | Soho House
David Gandy on fashion, entrepreneurship and doing good | Soho House

On becoming the founder of Wellwear
‘I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, where I learnt that you didn’t get anywhere unless you worked for it. I always work on a five or 10-year goal. I knew that in 10 years I wanted my own brand. The line of nightwear and leisurewear I created with M&S Autograph was part of that. It was successful, but after about five years I felt we’d taken that as far as it was going to go, so we ended that and then lockdown hit. 

‘The pandemic changed everything – the way people dress and so on, what they’d wear going back to the office. But with Wellwear we wanted to change the narrative. I wanted to create a whole new clothing category that combines apparel and wellbeing.

‘It was important that we were responsible in terms of how things were made, but also with the fabrics. We found some that include aloe vera, that are antibacterial. It’s all very well using recycled polyester, but there’s a point where they can’t be used again and then we are left with plastics. We found a fabric that is a polymer, but if it’s on landfill – which is where a lot of clothes end up, unfortunately – it takes just two years to break down instead of 50.  We just kept pushing the boundaries in terms of fabric tech and design, and a more ethical approach in the whole journey of it.

‘We’re not reinventing the wheel here – you want a sweatshirt; we’ll make the ultimate sweatshirt. We’re giving you very simple essentials for men. And that ethos and culture sort of lives and breathes within the campaigns and the casting, too – everyone has so much fun. And that extends to the customer as well – I want them to be happy and to enjoy it.’

On becoming a force for good
‘Battersea Dogs & Cats Home was my first charity. I’m also an ambassador for Style for Soldiers, which was founded by tailor Emma Willis MBE. She visited members of the military who’d been injured in combat, and started making shirts and other items for servicemen and women who’ve lost a limb. She’s gone on to get a lot of other brands involved and designed a walking stick, and so on. It’s a wonderful charity. It puts everything in perspective. 

‘That’s the side that’s kept me slightly more grounded in the fashion industry, because it can be very seductive, but also sometimes it can be a whole load of nonsense. The dogs is a bit of a selfish one. I like dogs, so that’s an easy one for me to do.

‘Poor mental health is the biggest killer of men under 44. I don’t think those numbers are coming down. I would love to be wrong, but after the pandemic we are in a polarised world of people communicating less. 

‘I have plainly talked about my own experiences of having darker periods and how I got through that, my remedies for that and how I’m in a better place. It’s not about talking, it’s about listening. A lot of people are in the same boat as you, and if you can relate to them and you can do the same as them, that’s a relief in itself. We’re working on a couple of initiatives at Wellwear, such as helping with the cost of getting to a psychiatrist and so on. I do believe we’re beyond telling men to talk, we’ve got to get people to listen.’