The traditional concept of masculinity is built on several atavistic notions: That a man needs to be a stoic provider and protector for his family; whatever emotional shortfalls he has can easily be made up by a female partner, who is almost always expected to shoulder the brunt of emotional and domestic labour. But with the changing times comes a renewed understanding of what masculinity means.
It’s something that singer and model Gabriel-Kane Day-Lewis is keenly aware of. The son of British actor Daniel Day-Lewis and French actress Isabelle Adjani, the 25-year-old says that he has long grappled with the thought of what being a man means, a struggle that’s been exacerbated by life in the spotlight, and of course, the ever-changing conversation about gender roles in the 21st century.
Like many of his peers, Day-Lewis says that he was brought up with the notion that men needed to abide by an unsaid set of rules. “From very early on, you are sort of programmed to think that a man needs to be strong, he can’t cry, he should be the caretaker,” he says. “I grew up with those sort of preconceived notions as well. But I think I broke out of that understanding at a pretty early age.”
Day-Lewis credits his mother and the many strong female influences he had in his life for that. “I grew up with both my mum and dad, but spending a lot of time with my mum, I was surrounded by a lot of women as a child,” he says. “I think that, for me, shaped my idea of what a man was like: To be respectful, and to be kind.”
Day-Lewis features alongside his mother, French actress Isabelle Adjani, in Zegna’s latest campaign. Of her son, Adjani says: “Sometimes my son sounds like he has an old soul... Behind the boy that’s sometimes rebellious and really stubborn, there is so much wisdom and beautiful philosophy about love and kindness and generosity."
Both Day-Lewis and Adjani star in Zegna’s Spring/ Summer 2021 campaign as part of their long-running What Makes A Man series, which was incepted as a means for the 111-year-old Italian brand to question the nature of not just its works, but also that of their subjects. This campaign is especially noteworthy, given that it is the first time a woman has appeared in the series — something that the singer was thrilled about. “When they confirmed both me and my mum were going to be shooting at Oasi Zegna, I remember I was really excited. I hadn’t seen my mum in almost a year, so the Zegna shoot was the first time I got to see her in that long,” says Day-Lewis. “I called my mum and we were both really happy to be able to do it together.”
He adds: “My mum was very easy to work with — we had a lot of fun on the shoot. We were laughing around and having a really good time with it. We have a really good relationship, and we always have a good time when we are together, but that energy was stronger than ever, considering how long we hadn’t seen each other.” It’s something that comes through in the campaign materials as well, elevating it beyond a routine commercial project. Back in his natural brunette hair and clad in a series of sharply tailored suits and relaxed knits, Day-Lewis appears at ease beside his mother — a far cry from his saturnine appearance on social media.
“I definitely grew out of that ‘don’t kiss me on the cheek in front of my friends’ phase pretty early on,” he says of his mother, smiling. “I love giving my mum a good cuddle, too. It definitely feels like we have a close bond. I would definitely consider myself a mummy’s boy.”
Being in touch with his emotions was never something “emasculating” to Day-Lewis. “If anything, I find that level of vulnerability and self-awareness to be quite empowering,” he says.
In the campaign film, Adjani says of Day-Lewis: “Sometimes, my son sounds like he has an old soul... Behind the boy that’s sometimes rebellious and really stubborn, there is so much wisdom and beautiful philosophy about love, kindness and generosity.”
Day-Lewis says he only heard the recording when it was released to the public, and was moved to tears. “It’s not the first time she’s told me something like that, but it’s the first time I’ve heard all of those things together,” he says. “It was really moving for me, to hear those kinds of things from a parent... I teared up a little bit.”
But Day-Lewis admits that his mother’s reflections on him might not have been so kind if she’d been asked the same question in the past. Says Day-Lewis: “Who knows what her answer would’ve been like five years ago?” Day-Lewis does not elaborate, but hints that there were parts of his past that his mother might not have agreed with.
“Nothing makes me feel more manly than being able to be there for others, and to be kind to them”; in this series of photos, Day-Lewis appears relaxed and at ease with himself .
Music has played a large part in Day-Lewis’ life. The singer has fond memories of his mother playing him music by Bach, Handel and Vivaldi on a bedside CD player as a boy, and his father introducing him to Jimi Hendrix. After telling his mother he was keen to pursue music, Adjani got him started on piano lessons at the age of 8; Day-Lewis soon picked up the guitar and began penning his own songs when he was 12. So it is little wonder, then, that his works have always been honest reflections of himself and his personal struggles. In one of his earlier songs, Day-Lewis spoke of his teenage woes: On the 2013 track “Green Auras”, Day-Lewis raps, “Trying to feel good about myself but all I felt was lame... Trying to understand what it means to be a man.”
Of the song, Day-Lewis now says: “When I was younger, I used to have more intense reactions to certain things. Whereas today, I’m able to sort of put things into perspective for myself... I’ve learned to remind myself of how much I have to be grateful for, and how much positivity I have in my life, rather than focusing on the negatives.”
Day-Lewis would go on to shed his thorny exterior with his first official album in 2016, “Every Scar Is a Healing Place.” The title of the album, says Day-Lewis, was a quote from his older brother, and is a motto that the singer lives by. “I am a human being, and I do get down sometimes,” he admits. “But I think I am able to be very accepting... I always try to stay optimistic.”
His latest song released last month was a collaboration with English singer-songwriter Pixie Lott called “Safe”,
a soothing acoustic-and-piano track about being able to find comfort and draw strength from a loved one, and from one’s faith. On the track, Day-Lewis sings: “Sometimes it hurts and it eats me alive... A brighter day is going to come, we just gotta pray.”
As Day-Lewis explains, he is not at all afraid of being in touch with his emotions. “I’ve never found that to be emasculating,” he says. “If anything, I find that level of vulnerability and self-awareness to be quite empowering. Nothing makes me feel more manly than being able to be there for others, and to be kind to them.”
It’s an ethos that Day-Lewis strives to share with some 70,000 followers on Instagram. A fervent advocate of mental health rights, Day-Lewis also starred in a recent campaign for 2020’s National Suicide Prevention Day.
He often shares uplifting quotes and captions with his followers. On a post commemorating World Mental Health Day, Day-Lewis said: “Talk about your feelings with the people you trust. Take care of yourself. Prioritise yourmental health. Remember never to let those who can’t understand your daily struggle judge you. You deserve to be here and the fight is worth it.”
For Day-Lewis, self-love is more than some nebulous phrase: He says that in learning to love and understand himself, he is better equipped to care for the people in his life. “I think that anybody who practises self-love is capable of loving other people,” he says. “That love starts with yourself, and [leads to you being] capable of loving others in abundance. And I think that because of that philosophy, my mother has obviously seen that change in me.”
It is also why, ultimately, Day-Lewis says he has no lofty ambitions of becoming a silver-screen heartthrob or record-breaking chart topper: All he wants to be remembered as is as someone who made others feel happy. “There’s this quote that goes, ‘People don’t remember you for what you did, but for how you made them feel’,” he says. “I want to be remembered as someone who made people feel good about themselves, as someone who is kind —
and as someone who helped others in need.”
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