Karl Lagerfeld — the titan of Chanel and Fendi — loved nothing more than to create a sensation in life. And, following his death in February 2019, a final scandal has been brewing which once again is captivating the fashion world. At stake is the ‘Kaiser’s’ fortune which is said to stand at £178 million, but many in fact say it can be closer to £400 million. The beneficiaries are a collection of male models and former employees — plus his young Godson — who are now bickering among themselves over who Lagerfeld loved best, and who will therefore be getting the largest slice of the loot. Meanwhile, Lagerfeld’s accountant, who is 87, has ‘disappeared’ from the scene, while the 16-month wrangle over his fortune is no closer to being sorted out.
So where is all the money? And can the reports that Lagerfeld’s beloved cat Choupette is about to become a very rich kitty indeed possibly be true? It’s the story of a very fashionable fracas . . .
Dark glasses, powdered ponytail, black jeans, starched white Hilditch & Key shirt — Lagerfeld created his own iconography.
His fashion career began after he won the coat category in a Paris competition in 1954. He was hired by Balmain and later went on to transform Fendi. Then came Chanel — he was creative director from 1983. He became famous for shaking up the said brand.
His aphorisms were so waspish they were eventually collected into a book in 2013, The World According To Karl. He said of the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister, Pippa Middleton: ‘I don’t like the sister’s face, she should only show her back.’ Princess Diana was: ‘Pretty and she was sweet, but she was stupid.’
His dislikes included travelling any other way than by private jet, manicures, ugly short men, selfies, telephones, the smell of cooking, meat, rice, meetings of any kind, New Year’s Eve and ‘all children’.
He had one great love, Jacques de Bascher, known as Jako, who died of Aids aged 38 in 1989. Home was a glorious 18th-century, nine-bedroom apartment on the Left Bank in Paris.
Here he slept in beds once used by Marie-Antoinette, covered his floors with Louis XV rugs, and ate off Meissen porcelain created in 18th Century Saxony, close to his native Hamburg. Such was its splendour, that when the designer auctioned off some of its antiques and furnishings, he made £16 million from the sale.
He also had a house in Vermont, another in Biarritz and a £25 million apartment at the top of a block in Monaco, with 360-degree views.
He told an interviewer that his library held 300,000 volumes and he had more than 1,000 of his signature white shirts. He said: ‘My greatest luxury is not having to justify myself to anyone.’His favourite car was a Rolls-Royce Phantom convertible, with a list price approaching half a million pounds.
The will has been filed in the tax haven of Monaco, it is not a public document. However, the Press in France report there are seven beneficiaries — all human, and all of whom stand to inherit millions
One reason for the delay in declaring probate is confusion over the extent of his fortune. Before his death, detectives working for the French tax authorities took a close interest in Lagerfeld’s financial arrangements. A source connected to France’s Economy & Finance Ministry told the Daily Mail that they suspected tax fraud. ‘There was a raid on one of Mr Lagerfeld’s businesses to seize evidence, and further enquiries have extended around the world,’ he said.
‘The situation has become extremely complicated, and this is why the settling of Mr Lagerfeld’s affairs is far from simple.’ In 2016 investigators leaked details of their inquiry, alleging that Lagerfeld had failed to declare the equivalent of at least £19 million in income.
His accountant of 30 years Lucien Frydlender was said to have been pivotal in setting up a nexus of companies around the world and defending his fortune. He had no close blood relatives and he often suggested that he would leave everything to Choupette, his beloved red point Birman cat, whom he said he would have married if it were legally possible. The truth is, however, that there was never any legal possibility of Karl leaving everything to his cat.
The will has been filed in the tax haven of Monaco — it is not a public document. However, the Press in France report there are seven beneficiaries — all human, and all of whom stand to inherit millions. Five of the seven are what are called: ‘Karl’s boys’ — young men who have become his muses over the years.
The beneficiaries are a collection of male models and former employees — plus his young Godson — who are now bickering among themselves over who Lagerfeld loved best ..
THE LUCKY SEVEN
Sebastien Jondeau, 45
A part-time boxer and odd job man turned model, bodyguard and chauffeur (pictured left with Lagerfeld and Baptiste Giabiconi), who was with the designer for two decades. He has been hailed by French media as ‘the true heir’ and is said to have ‘held the designer’s hand’ at the time of his death.
Baptiste Giabiconi, 31
A French model who was ‘like a son’ to the designer after they met at a nude modelling session in 2008 when he was 19. Giabiconi became Lagerfeld’s favoured model and he had a facsimile of him carved out of Belgian chocolate. Le Parisien claimed Giabiconi’s claim to the title has sparked ‘jealousies and dissensions’ between him and Jondeau.
Jake Davies, 40
A chisel-jawed, lean British model, originally from Yorkshire, whose main claim to fame before catching Lagerfeld’s eye was that in 2009 he briefly dated Amelle Berrabah of the Sugababes. He became another of his muses, starring in a number of campaigns — usually with his shirt off.
Caroline Lebar, 55
Parisian Caroline Lebar is one of his longest-serving team members, and worked for him for more than 30 years, handling public relations and as head
of communications for Lagerfeld’s fashion house.
Lagerfeld’s housekeeper who became Choupette’s ‘nanny’, manages her social media account and lives with her in Paris, catering to her every need in Karl’s apartment, which has not yet been put on the market.
Brad Kroenig, 41
Originally from Oakfield, Missouri, Brad caught Lagerfeld’s eye after being pictured in an Abercrombie & Fitch shoot. The designer said that his best feature was ‘the curve of his thigh’ and after starting to work with him in 2003, shot a four-volume book Metamorphoses Of An American devoted solely to pictures he had taken of Brad. Married to Nicole, daughter of famous tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, Brad is one of the most successful male models in the world.
Hudson Kroenig, 12
Brad’s son and Lagerfeld’s godson. Hudson has been appearing in Chanel shows since he was two and Lagerfeld once put the boy in £1 million worth of diamonds for a fashion show. He called him ‘the little prince’.
PLUS ONE VERY
Lagerfeld described blue-eyed Choupette as ‘the centre of his world’, saying: ‘She is a kind of Greta Garbo. It’s the way she moves, the way she plays. There’s something unforgettable about her. She is an inspiration for elegance.’
From 2011, Chanel suddenly included a new colour called ‘Choupette blue’ and the Karl Lagerfeld brand put out a range of Choupette face handbags. A hardback book, Choupette, was published in 2019 and sold out. All royalties went to Choupette — a registered business with a bank account. She is said to have made £2.5 million from numerous advertising campaigns, and has her own agent and Instagram page.