If you don’t know his name, you’ll almost certainly recognise his work: starring in the iconic 2006 advertising campaign for Dolce & Gabbana’s bestselling fragrance, Light Blue.
The image saw him spread-eagled on a boat in Capri, wearing nothing but pair of white trunks, resulting in a moniker: ‘The White Pants Man.’ Yeah, you remember now, huh?
Almost a decade later and when he still isn’t serving as Dolce & Gabbana’s muse, the 35-year-old, 6ft 3in Essex boy, dubbed ‘Dagenham Dave’ after Morrisey’s 1995 hit, is jetting round the world, building a global million dollar brand and spearheading his own charity, Blue Steel Appeal – an organisation which directly supports Red Nose Day.
More recently, the British cavalier signed a design contract with Marks & Spencer for his own loungewear line, David Gandy for Autograph; has written columns for the likes of GQ, Vogue and The Telegraph; and even found himself endorsing Johnnie Walker’s $250-a-bottle Blue Label whisky. As for his knee weakening effect on women, well, just check his Facebook wall. Sorry to disappoint – he’s happily taken.
Up close, the gentleman who is comparable to a modern day James Bond, is suited up, perfectly stubbled, well-chiselled and radiating an Amalfi Coast tan. The reason for our meeting at Sydney’s Park Hyatt Hotel? To talk about the launch of the second campaign for Light Blue, which involved flying (back) to Capri to this time have bikini-clad Italian model Bianca Balti wrapped around his waist for a morning.
It’s a tough life but someone has to do it. Ladies, meet that someone. Meet David Gandy.
Gritty Pretty: Your ‘Light Blue‘ campaign for Dolce & Gabbana is undeniably iconic. What do you remember about the shoot?
David Gandy: I remember everything about that day! I was 26 at the time. It was something I had always wanted to do – I always dreamed of creating an iconic image. I’ve always thought Levis created these iconic images that anyone – from anywhere around the world – could recognise and that was what I really wanted to achieve. I remember I was in Milan walking for Dolce & Gabbana when my agent called me and said they were talking to P&G [Procter & Gamble] about a new fragrance by the brand. I asked my agent when was it to be shot and they said in two days! I walked the show in Milan and then jumped on the next flight out. I remember going to a fitting for Dolce [& Gabbana] and thinking I might need a tan for this shoot as I was told it was going to be shot on the beach so I quickly dashed to the park for an hour to get a bit of a tan. I was hugely excited when I was told I would be going to Naples, Italy. I didn’t know anyone there – I was completely on my own. The next morning after arriving, I met Mario [Testino] around 5:30AM. That was a big moment meeting Mario Testino – one of the greatest photographers that has ever lived. We jumped on speed boats and headed over to Capri where I was able to smell the fragrance for the first time. Now, every moment I smell that fragrance, it takes me back to Capri. It was a lovely one day shoot. A year later, the incredible crew and I returned to Capri to shoot the campaign video – which dramatically was right after I had smashed my face driving a car. I had black eyes, a broken nose, everything. It was all good in the end though [laughs].
GP: Did you know that campaign would go on to become so memorable?
DG: When we saw the shots throughout the course of the day, we certainly knew it would going to be special. It was very different for its time. And, when something is very different, it either goes very wrong or very right. That’s the genius behind Mario Testino and Dolce & Gabbana. To have that kind of foresight to completely change the fragrance and beauty industry, I was very much in the right place at the right time. When I started in the modelling industry, it was all about the androgynous, thin male models. Genetically, I was never going to be that so I went the other direction by building more of a masculine physique and at that time, there weren’t many big masculine models that they needed for this particular campaign brief so in my way, it was a good call. To be part of it, it was truly amazing. I owe a lot to Dolce & Gabbana and Mario for booking me for that campaign.
GP: There are a lot of female models – Cindy, Christy, Naomi and Kate and more recently, Cara, Kendall and Gigi – who are recognisable by both face and name. Why do you think that isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to male models?
DG: With Instagram, it’s a whole other ball game now. To be honest, it’s not a question I can really answer. Back in the 90s, I don’t think it wasn’t as accepted as it was such a female dominated industry. It’s much more accepted nowadays as I think young men may aspire to be a model whereas before, they didn’t. They more so fell into it. Back then, no male model really took it to that next level and after 2006 and the success of the Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue campaign, that was when I started thinking, okay, where am I taking this now. I made a conscious business decision to work on my brand as a model. I believe to be successful in an industry such as modelling, you have to be different. You only had to look at beautiful women like Christy [Turlington], Cindy Crawford or Kate Moss and you knew them by name. Any campaign they appeared in, they instantly added a prestige to that brand immediately whereas you might recognise a few of the male models but you certainly wouldn’t know them by name. So, I decided to look at my career and see what else I could deliver. Over time, brands began booking sports and film stars to appear in campaigns so I started to look to that and see that as a model, you need to have your own brand. It was difficult at the time because I’m quite shy and introverted and people couldn’t quite understand why I started doing press interviews but I knew being pushed outside of my comfort zone was my way of working towards something bigger. As soon as that Dolce & Gabbana campaign dropped, I became recognisable overnight – it was very, very strange. That thrust into the media had to be controlled and I knew I had to protect my brand and my image otherwise my career would be very short lived and I wouldn’t be sitting here in Australia right now.
GP: How does that make you feel when you are recognised and stopped by people on the street?
DG: It’s completely surreal. At that time, social media wasn’t really present. People would literally stop me and say, “You’re that guy in the white pants.” After a while, that had to change [laughs]. But really, it’s an absolute pleasure when people come up and have a chat. People are very lovely.
GP: With a career spanning over 15 years, what do you think is the biggest misconception about the modelling world?
DG: There’s too many. We could be here for hours. I think for male models, I think people compare them to Zoolander. There’s this notion that, because you’re a male model, you’re thick and unintelligent. Sure, some guys live up to that – that exists within any industry – but personally I look at clever guys like Nicolas Malleville who is an old school model and has gone off to own five hotels around the world. Other men have gone off to buy rights in UFC fighting and they’ve used what they earned out of modelling in a clever and viable way. Years ago, they probably had to because the money then wasn’t what it is now. As I’ve gotten older, I have started my own production company and invested in both small companies and film projects. I’m also a big car enthusiast and enjoy writing regularly for GQ and other numerous publications. This career has definitely opened my life up to more opportunities than just modelling.
GP: Australian men can be quite masculine and perhaps not as into grooming as others. Tell us, what’s your approach?
DG: There’s nothing worse when you walk past someone in the street and they’ve doused themselves in fragrance. I like to mix it up based on seasons. In the winter, I take more care of my skin so it doesn’t become dry and dehydrated and I also wear a deeper, musky cologne. In the summer, I like to keep it light and fresh. I feel a bit naked without leaving the house without cologne – it’s a bit like walking out the door without your watch. Don’t get me wrong – men don’t have to do too much. I’m not a big metro-sexual who says let’s pluck eye brows and go for facials but there are a few things like an exfoliator, serum and moisturiser that is all you really need to use. I would also tell men don’t be scared of it or afraid to spend some money – investing in your skin is just as important as your diet or exercise routine.
GP: We’ve got to ask – when do you think a woman looks at her most beautiful?
DG: In the morning, when you wake up next to her.
Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Pour Homme Eau de Toilette, available at David Jones.
Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau de Toilette, available at David Jones.