Karl Lagerfeld may be fashion’s most recognisable face, but it’s hard to ignore the square-jawed, slick-haired man who appears by the designer’s side in most paparazzi shots.
Equal parts security detail, personal assistant, friend, and cultural attaché, Sebastien Jondeau has been in the periphery of Lagerfeld’s photo ops for over two decades. This summer, the 43-year-old Frenchman continues to follow in his boss’ footsteps, this time as a designer himself, with a debut capsule collection curated for — what else? — Lagerfeld’s eponymous label.
Jondeau’s first encounter with Lagerfeld in the early ‘90s was a Dickensian meet-cute if there ever was one. Then a 15-year-old from the rough Northern suburbs of Paris, Jondeau was working for a relative’s 18th-century antique furniture moving company while on school break. Lagerfeld was a frequent client. “I did not know he was Karl Lagerfeld, or who Karl Lagerfeld was at this time,” Jondeau — called Seb by his friends — tells Refinery29. Over time, they started talking about books, art, and life, and it became clear to the younger man that Lagerfeld had a lot to teach him. “I wanted to know everything about everything.”
After Jondeau completed his service in the French army, moving furniture for Lagerfeld was one of several side hustles he held during his stint as an amateur boxer. Jondeau told Lagerfeld to call if he was ever looking to hire; “I asked him, if one day he would need me for work, I would be very happy to do it. And he said maybe. Two or three months after, he needed me for work the next week.” Not too long after, in 1998, he became Lagerfeld’s bodyguard, then took on a more administrative role and, to the public’s great delight, even modeled for Karl Lagerfeld campaigns and on Chanel runways. “I don’t do modeling — I do only for Karl,” he makes sure to clarify. Today, Jondeau’s exact post with Lagerfeld is somewhat amorphous, but he spends five to six hours with him a day, and is often the first person the designer sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last person he sees before he goes to sleep (at a notoriously late hour).
The idea of Jondeau designing a collection for Lagerfeld first came up in conversation years ago. “It was just some words, a long time ago.” Eventually, those words came to fruition, and Jondeau — who had become a poster boy for the Karl Lagerfeld brand already — was asked to create a capsule collection.
He’d been watching Lagerfeld put his visions to paper for years. “We’re on a plane and [Karl] can make a drawing of something he saw in his head. He wakes up at night to do drawings. He’s a big inspiration for me.”
For Jondeau, however, it took a few more tries. “I had a good team that helped me to make everything real,” he says of the Karl Lagerfeld designers he worked with, admitting that attempting to sketch his visions “was difficult. They were there and really listened to what I wanted — it was a good experience.” Once he got to hold his finished designs in his hands, "I didn’t expect it. It came like this.” He snaps his fingers. “The collection is the reflection of...it’s me. From where I came, to do this now, is a big bridge.”
His love of sports features prominently in the new men’s collection — Karl Lagerfeld Curated by Sebastien Jondeau — which Jondeau calls a reflection of his own wardrobe essentials for a day on the town with Lagerfeld. That apparently ranges from a cashmere beanie and “luxury sweats” to a three-piece evening suit. “I’m like a chameleon of style,” he says of his quick outfit changes between Lagerfeld’s various appointments.
Where he landed with his capsule collection was “a mix of chic and dressy,” with an ever-present “sports style.” A varsity bomber jacket in the collection bears Jondeau’s initials and the year he was born, 1975, and striped leather goods allude to his intense love of motocross, whose influence is all over the crisp, versatile basics.
“Motocross was my passion since I was five years old, but I made the very difficult choice to stop — for Karl,” he explains. “I had a big crash, like, two years ago, and broke my spine in two places. I promised not to do it, not for me but for him.” Jondeau's devotion to his boss is genuine, even familial.
“Karl is more than friendship for me. More like a father, but most of the time he is my boss, and I have a lot of respect for him,” he says, adding “more than if he was only a boss.” Mentor is more like it. “He’s been very generous,” he adds.
Will he keep designing after this capsule collection? Maybe, Jondeau says. He’s particularly interested in trying his hand at women’s apparel next. But he’s feeling it out, and waiting to see how the world receives his clothes, which are now available for purchase online, and shipping to 100 countries).
“The thing I learned with Karl is that you have to do something different all the time,” he says, adding with a laugh. “I don’t want to stay there if I’m not good.”