Olivier Rousteing and his #balmainarmy, Taylor Swift and her #squad, Giambattista Valli and his #valligirls – they’re just some of the cool gangs at the intersection of fashion, celebrity and society, whose fabulous exploits and globetrotting lifestyle populate social-media feeds for all to admire – and envy. But if there’s a glamorous bunch that truly induces #squadgoals envy in fashion circles, it would have to be Karl Lagerfeld’s posse.
This rarefied group of insiders – no hashtag needed for this chic circle, bien sûr – accompanies Lagerfeld on his trips to beautiful spots around the world, whether it’s Rome for his frequent visits to the city where Fendi is based or the far-flung locations where Chanel holds its unforgettable off-season shows, from Dallas to Havana and Dubai. They also star in Chanel and Fendi campaigns, work behind the scenes at the shows he stages for those labels and join the German renaissance man every August on his summer jaunts to his palatial residence in the South of France.
This “diverse” group of beautiful people is not your average entourage and spans the globe as well as the age bracket. Lagerfeld’s loyal bodyguard, Sebastian Jondeau, who has become a mini celebrity thanks to his good looks and modelling side gigs, is always at his side, whether the designer is courting eager journalists backstage after a show or browsing the packed aisles of Colette in Paris during the shows.
Lady Amanda Harlech, the Shropshire-based fashion maven, whose received pronunciation, aquiline nose, jet-black hair and elegant hauteur cut a striking figure, is also a constant presence when work is concerned. She famously decamps to The Ritz in Paris for weeks on end around collection time to be near the Chanel headquarters on Rue Cambon, where she oversees late-night fittings with Lagerfeld and his regular fitting model, Amanda Sanchez.
Carine Roitfeld, the former Vogue Paris editor who has come to epitomise Parisian chic and collaborates with Lagerfeld on campaign shoots and a bunch of other projects, is another character from this troupe of Lagerfeld-approved iconoclasts, which also includes her former close collaborator Stephen Gan, editor-in-chief of V Magazine and creative director of Harper’s Bazaar (though the two are not talking any more, according to the latest fashion gossip). Baptiste Giabiconi, the chiselled French model who also dabbles in pop music, is another on-and-off member of Lagerfeld’s crew, part of a triumvirate of male Adonises, along with the aforementioned Jondeau and all-American model Brad Kroenig.
The most intriguing members of this gang are indeed Kroenig and his brood, sons Hudson and Jameson, who often travel with Lagerfeld together with Brad’s wife, Nicole Bollettieri, mother of the two young boys. Brad, who has been working with Lagerfeld for more than a decade, and his eight-year-old son, Hudson, who often accompanies Lagerfeld when the designer takes his bow at Chanel shows, consider the designer as family and the feeling is clearly mutual, given that Lagerfeld, who is the godfather to Hudson and Jameson, checks on them on a weekly basis and flies them on his private plane.
While Brad’s working relationship with Lagerfeld, which started when the latter first shot him for VMAN in Biarritz in 2003, made all this possible, little Hudson has slowly started to share the spotlight, whether he’s stealing the show on his finale walks on the runway with models such as Cara Delevingne, or hanging out with the swarms of celebrities and models who fall head over heels with him at Chanel events. This is a kid who’s been profiled in Vanity Fair (“The Boy Who Loved Chanel”, according to the late Ingrid Sischy); takes selfies with the likes of Pharrell and Kanye West; calls The Ritz home when in Paris (Le Meurice had to make do as a temporary replacement when it closed for renovation); and boasts a wardrobe featuring a series of Chanel custom-made jackets and suits that hang in the closet of his New Jersey home.
While you may think that all this would turn Hudson into an out-of-touch spoilt brat, the reality is a different story. When he’s not gracing front rows or mingling with top models and Beyoncé, Hudson is in fact a well-behaved eight-year-old who lives in the country, loves Justin Bieber, plays the guitar and goes to soccer practice.
As his father explains when we meet the family on a windy and sunny day in New York during fashion week in September, “It’s a perfect mix. We have school, soccer and it’s not that we do it weekly, the trips with Karl and Chanel. It’s also a great way to learn about the world and other cultures when we travel with Karl. We always check out the places we go to for Chanel. You learn so much travelling around the world with Karl. But as soon as we get back from a trip, we go back to our normal routine: school, soccer, guitar lessons, farmer’s market on weekends.”
“It’s a good mix of boy time and all that,” adds Bollettieri, a Florida-raised soccer mom, whose good genes rival those of her handsome hubby. Although she attends these Chanel extravaganzas with the handsome men in her life, Bollettieri likes to keep a low profile.
“My friends give me a hard time about it,” she says about her lack of presence on Brad and Hudson’s Instagram feeds, “But it’s just not what I like to do. I obviously take family pictures but nothing outside that.” It doesn’t take long for Hudson, whose witty remarks belie his young age, to butt in, “My mom, on every trip we go, overloads me with pictures. She takes like 80 million photos!”
Watching this beautiful and wholesome family, it’s hard to believe that they’re part of the inner circle of the world’s most celebrated fashion designer and that they are bona-fide fashion A-listers. In spite of all the apparent glamour, their daily life in New Jersey and their weekends spent in a pied-à-terre in New York’s East Village keep them down to earth and real.
“Some may think we’re not great parents taking the kids around but I think it’s great for them,” says Brad. “We don’t like the reality-show life,” he adds. “We turn down a lot of people. We always say no. With Karl, it’s different. He’s family. But most times I say no to shoots and other projects.”
While exposing young children to the world’s attention is not an easy choice to make for a parent, Brad explains that it all happened quite organically. “We were in the South of France seven years ago and Karl said, ‘Do you think Hudson can do a shoot?’ And we did a German Vogue shoot with Karl, and then Karl asked if Hudson could walk in a show when he was two,” he says. Hudson is quick to interject, “I don’t really remember that first one. I was probably scared then but now I’m fine. I just try to pose my best.”
It’s actually a bittersweet morning, as we’re meeting on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and Brad recalls how he moved from his native Missouri to New York City to try his luck at modelling the same week 9/11 happened. Although he was already an established model by the time he first shot with Lagerfeld for what was going to be the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration, it wasn’t until he met the designer that he made a name for himself in the ultra-competitive world of male modelling, which is a different beast from the more glamorous and remunerative women’s business.
“Without Karl I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had, but also from the beginning I treated it as a business. A lot of models see their job as fun but I take it seriously, I work out and take care of myself. I’m 37 and a lot of people think I’m in my 20s,” explains Brad.
Everyone knows that the shelf life of male models is not as long as that of their female counterparts, who tend to have bigger careers than the boys, so Brad is the first to admit that “the kids definitely helped me along with my career. He’s a natural talent and so is Jameson,” says Brad, pointing to Hudson. “Karl says that it’s in the blood, from me.”
Although it’s likely that you’ve seen countless pictures of them with Lagerfeld on the runway or holding court with him at fabulous soirées, it’s hard to imagine what life is like behind closed doors, when they jet around with Lagerfeld, drive everywhere in his Rolls-Royce cars or spend lazy summer days at his villa in Saint-Tropez.
“It’s a nice mixture of all of us together,” says Bollettieri. “We always have a great time. It’s always fun and Hudson and Jameson often play and run and I say to Karl, ‘I’m sorry!’ but he’s very sweet and says, ‘It’s OK; they’re kids. Let them have fun!’”
Brad and Bollettieri also recognise that there’s nothing more valuable than having a figure such as Lagerfeld mentor their children. Hudson, for instance, has taken up drawing, and “Karl encourages him and believes in him and that even furthers his interest in drawing”, says Bollettieri.
“Karl has been an amazing influence for them. Hudson painted a picture for Karl and then he wrote ‘Karl’ in black and we surprised Karl and framed it and sent it to him. And Karl liked it so much that he decided to use it for a shirt in his Karl Lagerfeld Kids line.”
While not every eight-year-old gets to bring a Chanel ad in which he stars alongside Pharrell and Cara Delevingne to show-and-tell in school; order caviar for room service and shop at Colette while in Paris; and star in Tiffany & Co. Christmas ads, if you were to meet Hudson as he goes about his daily life, you’d see that he’s just a hyper little boy with a sharp sense of humour and a taste for the finer things in life. He can sound like an in-the-know grown-up one minute (during our conversation, he professes his love for street-savvy labels such as Off White and A Bathing Ape) and a restless eight-year-old the next, whether he’s begging his parents to get him a pet (the choice seems to be between a Bengal cat or a Russian Blue breed) or teasing his younger brother Jameson, who once fell asleep while sitting front row at a Chanel show in Salzburg, reveals Hudson.
“When we’re on the plane to go back home, Hudson is always asking, ‘When is the next one?’” says Brad, referring to the next fabulous excursion that Lagerfeld will take them on. Hudson won’t have to wait long as next month Chanel will stage its Métiers d’Art show in the heart of Paris, taking over the entire Ritz. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Chanel and its amazing ateliers, as well as Lagerfeld’s posse, but for Brad, Hudson, Jameson and Nicole, it will just be another family reunion and a precious chance to delight in the wonderland that only someone like Lagerfeld can conjure up for the delight of his devoted fans and his own all-American family.
To see a behind-the-scenes video of our photo shoot with Brad and Hudson Kroenig, click here.
PHOTOGRAPHY GIOVANNI SQUATRITI
STYLING GIUSEPPE CECCARELLI
LOCATION THE MARK, NEW YORK