It probably would have been simpler just to leave his alleged $300 million estate to Choupette, his blue-cream tortie Birman cat. And immediately upon Karl Lagerfeld’s death from prostate cancer on February 19, 2019, that was his fortune’s rumored fate. But the eccentric designer also had a circle of humans he wanted to do right by. This is where things get complicated.

The Absent Accountant

In December, Lagerfeld’s bodyguard/driver/shopping-bag carrier/right-hand man Sébastien Jondeau gave an interview to Paris Match explaining that Lagerfeld’s estate was a disaster, legally speaking. He wasn’t wrong. The French tax police had already been sniffing around the Chanel and Fendi designer’s income, suspecting him of having funneled his design fees, and payments from photo clients such as DIM and Printemps, through the U.S., Ireland, and the British Virgin Islands. (In 2016, it was alleged that the estimated evasion may have topped $22 million.) And his will was executed in Monaco, a country whose entire raison d’être is to serve as a French tax haven.

Complicating matters greatly, Lagerfeld’s longtime business manager, 87-year-old Lucien Frydlender, has all but disappeared, according to Voici magazine. (Frydlender’s wife told reporters he was in Paris, merely “being reclusive like people of his age.”) He is purported to be the only one with any real knowledge of the state of Lagerfeld’s goodies. There’s the 18ème-siècle, nine-bedroom apartment on the Left Bank in Paris, homes in Vermont and Biarritz, and a $28 million apartment in Monaco. And then there are the extras—beds previously used by Marie Antoinette, a library he estimated had 300,000 volumes, a Rolls-Royce Phantom convertible, a Lamborghini, a Segway.

Sébastien Jondeau, trailing Lagerfeld, with Brad Kroenig, left, and Kroenig’s sons.

Among those said to inherit considerable portions of the designer’s fortune: his faithful public-relations assistant Caroline Lebar; the model Brad Kroenig and his towheaded 12-year-old son, Hudson, Lagerfeld’s godson, whose toddles down the runway in Chanel tweed fans will never forget; Françoise Caçote, “governess” of the beloved Choupette; Jondeau, whom Lagerfeld had employed since he was a rough-and-tumble teen from the wrong side of the tracks; and the No. 1 beneficiary, the model Baptiste Giabiconi.

No. 1 according to Giabiconi, at least.

Karl’s Cuddle Buddy

Giabiconi, now 30, is best known as Lagerfeld’s late in life … walker? Boyfriend? Muse? If his new tell-all, Karl et Moi, speaks the truth, then spiritual son is more like it—despite the bulk of his in-front-of-the camera collaboration with Lagerfeld happening in the nude. (Seeking someone who resembled himself in his youth, Lagerfeld booked Giabiconi when he was just 19.) Those who remember Giabiconi’s 2011 appearance on the French Dancing with the Stars, or his brief career as an erstwhile pop star in 2012, or his many ads and editorials, often shot by Lagerfeld, are not surprised the himbo was the first one to get a book deal. (Nor by what appears to be a blinding new set of veneers for the press tour.) Since Giabiconi’s paparazzi debut by Lagerfeld’s side, in St. Tropez in 2008, he has not earned a reputation for subtlety.

Not that Lagerfeld, a notorious provocateur, had much time for that. The closest thing fashion ever had to Andy Warhol, the designer ate up the pictures of the two of them making the scene, him dressed in impeccably tailored white-on-white, and Giabiconi in a pair of cut-to-there jeans shorts, tan, muscular, throbbing, his sculpted brows a reminder of his native Marseille, the closest thing France will ever have to the Jersey Shore. There is a tradition of the St. Tropez debut that goes back to Brigitte Bardot and passes through a topless Jerry Hall; Lagerfeld spoke that language fluently. The sorties in short shorts happened a few more times that summer. “You’re bigger than Madonna,” Lagerfeld declared, to Giabiconi’s immense satisfaction.

Now that we have Giabiconi to narrate us through such moments, we can see that Choupette is not the only one with claws. Giabiconi is practically gleeful that Jondeau, who now serves as an ambassador of Karl Lagerfeld’s men’s brand and led workout videos under the KL umbrella during confinement, was seen only in the farthest corner of those St. Tropez pictures that made Giabiconi’s name. Though it was Jondeau’s hand Lagerfeld died holding, Giabiconi says he was the only one in their circle to use the informal “tu” form with the designer, and the only one to ever cuddle with him, which he did a lot. It was he, Giabiconi says, who turned Lagerfeld on to the iPhone, transforming the never-online, fax-only aesthete into an avid texter. He was the one who played the tacky, France profonde pop singer Patrick Sébastien to the designer on sets, jubilant to get him to switch even temporarily away from Mahler.

“You’re bigger than Madonna,” Lagerfeld declared, to Giabiconi’s immense satisfaction.

Giabiconi denies any sexual contact with the designer, stressing repeatedly that theirs was true love, but of a father-son kind—so much so that Lagerfeld looked into adopting him, until the paperwork proved too much of a hassle. (Though Karl et Moi’s photo insert includes a rainbow array of luggage tags the designer gave him, monogrammed “BLG.”) “I don’t like sleeping with people I really love,” Lagerfeld once told Vice magazine.

Lagerfeld and Giabiconi turning heads in St. Tropez.

Instead he adopted Giabiconi’s cat, whom he originally agreed to watch for a week after Giabiconi reassured him that Choupette didn’t “have parasites.” As the week went on, the grudging text messages turned into admiration. Soon it was out of the question that Giabiconi would get the cat back. It was a significant fight in a relationship that, according to Giabiconi, had very few of them.

A Painful Separation

Whether Lagerfeld felt Giabiconi slipping away and simply needed another experiment in Pygmalion-style branding, Giabiconi doesn’t say, though he does note that Lagerfeld had problems with attachment since losing the love of his life, Jacques de Bascher, to AIDS in 1989. And Giabiconi had started to feel strangled by the hermetically sealed Lagerfeld world where he still sometimes felt like an arriviste. Meanwhile, Choupette became a spokesmodel for Opel cars and signed a capsule cosmetics collection with Shu Uemura. Last year, Choupette shirts emblazoned with RIP Daddy were released. Even after Lagerfeld shuffled off this mortal coil, the cat remains a branding juggernaut in her own right, so chapeau to all concerned.

Despite moments of moving tenderness, drenched in grief, the book’s self-justification weighs heavy. As if anticipating the accusations of others in Lagerfeld’s circle whom Giabiconi complains dumped him after he left the nest to pursue a less fashionable career outside of Lagerfeld’s orbit, he takes pains to explain how close he remained with Lagerfeld after moving to London. He rails against Jondeau for not telling him when Lagerfeld had mere hours left to live.

“I don’t like sleeping with people I really love.”

Jondeau is characteristically more discreet, telling Paris Match, “We know he left things, or maybe not, it’s all vague.... A lot of legal problems were badly handled when he was alive. I’m taking care of them now. It cost me in time, money and sentimentally … ” One can only imagine how Giabiconi’s promotional onslaught, derailed as confinement took effect, went down.

No matter how much Giabiconi ends up getting, or how much higher than the others’ his pile ends up being, Lagerfeld’s estate may take years to settle in the courts, even if Frydlender pops back up tomorrow. We can only hope it works itself out while Choupette is still alive. And that she has better advisers.

Alexandra Marshall is a Writer at Large for Air Mail based in Paris