How a College Dropout Became One of the World’s Top Male Models

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Brad Kroenig, named one of the top male models of all time by Vogue, managed to push his career into the stratosphere by snagging the attention of legendary fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.

Kroenig, at 36, is no spring chicken in the modeling game, but because of his talents and, in part, because he is one of “Karl’s Boys,” he can still be prominently seen, gracing the cover of a Vogue Hombre issue last year and walking the runway recently for Chanel, of which the 81-year-old Lagerfeld is the creative director.

He admitted as much in a profile published by the New York Times, telling writer Irina Aleksander:

“If I never met Karl, there’s no way I’d still be modeling.”

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Male Modeling

According to Kroenig, male modeling is to female modeling what the WNBA is to the NBA. Although his metaphor is accurate, Kroenig manages to make a killer living as one of the most prolific and enduring male models in the business — his secrets: networking and passion.

A few of Kroenig’s many job requirements include high-protein, low-carb meals (“chicken-noodle soup with no noodles”), working out consistently and massaging his head throughout the day to encourage hair growth. He also occasionally has to deal with “Zoolander” taunts from other men and his wife’s friends finding his nudes on Google.

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While female supermodel Gisele Bundchen earns around $47 million a year, male models on Kroenig’s level usually earn around $200,000 to $500,000 a year. Kroenig, however, is different than most male models, and his mentor, Lagerfeld, would agree.

Career Beginnings

Kroenig’s career began when he found himself bored with school and a girl he knew suggested he try modeling. He was eventually taken on by a modeling agency, but an agent there quickly advised him, “Whatever you do, do not quit school.” On the same day he received that advice, Kroenig dropped out of college.

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He began teaching himself about modeling and fashion through magazines, which is where he learned about Lagerfeld, a designer who has worked with labels like Chanel, Valentino and Fendi. Kroenig told the NYT:

“I thought, Wow, this guy is, like, walking around in sunglasses and all these ridiculous outfits. This guy is living big.”

One of Kroenig’s earliest gigs was modeling for an Abercrombie & Fitch campaign in 2002. He graced the store’s shopping bag, which he said “is kind of a big deal” and had a “butt shot” In the retailer’s catalog.

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Lagerfeld’s Muse

In 2003, after a few years of difficult work and extensive practice, Kroenig found himself debuting on the Jil Sander and Dolce & Gabbana runways. It was in this year that he also found himself in front of Karl Lagerfeld for a Vman photoshoot. Kroenig said that out of all the models who were in front of Lagerfeld that day, he was the one Lagerfeld took the most pictures of.

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“He probably took one picture of each of the other guys and, like, 20 of me.”

The photoshoot in Biarritz was a pinnacle point in Kroenig’s career because after the shoot Lagerfeld became so obsessed with Kroenig’s look that he decided to make him his muse. The combination of model and photographer was perfect. Kroenig explained, saying:

“The photographer has to be into the subject he’s shooting. It’s like if you’re a basketball coach, you have to be into LeBron James and think he’s great, or you wouldn’t put him in the game. The models that are uncomfortable just don’t make it. Why not get naked in the shower and have million-dollar jewelry on me?”

And not minding expensive jewelry is, actually, a big part of the job description, especially for members of Lagerfeld’s all-male model entourage. According to the NYT piece, Lagerfeld dresses his “boys” in only the finest: rose gold Rolex watches, Givenchy tank tops, and Chrome Hearts bracelets, for instance.

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Karl’s Boys

For most of the high fashion world, it is important to work with attractive people, but for Lagerfeld, physical beauty in the people he surrounds himself with is a personal requirement for his own happiness. Speaking on why his adopted family consists of models, he said:

“I hate ugly people. Very depressing.”

Perhaps his mindset is not the best way to make friends, but Lagerfeld can afford to be choosey. He drinks his Diet Coke from a wine glass, his aircraft sleeping arrangements are made up of crisp white linen, he loathes selfies, and he dresses with calculated precision. This specificity, while demanding, is something you’d expect from one of the highest paid fashion designers in the world.

Lagerfeld says he has no family other than his siamese cat, Choupette, and his “boys,” which includes newer muse and top male model Baptiste Giabiconi, 25 — of whom Kroenig says he has “zero jealousy” toward.

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When Lagerfeld was asked to comment about what his “boys” mean to him, he said:

“I don’t give labels for it. Labels is something I design for, they’re not what I give to persons. I see them like family. I have no family at all, so it’s good to have, like, sons but without the unpleasant problems sons can create. It’s a choice, it’s not an obligation. There’s a big difference. I have a sister in America who I haven’t seen for 40 years. Her children never even send me a Christmas card.”

Lagerfeld’s favor is so beneficial that even Kroenig’s son, Hudson, is now modeling at 6 years old for Lagerfeld’s clients. Hudson can be seen in Chanel’s most recent cruise campaign modeling next to the beautiful Joan Smalls.

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Growing Older

Although Kroenig may be reaching the latter years of his front cover modeling years at the age of 36, he is still extremely passionate about modeling and will continue to work as long as the work is available. He told the NYT:

Even if my hair falls out, I’ll just shave it. But he always says he remembers me the way I was when he first met me, as this 23-year-old guy who’s good-looking and full of life.

“[…] If it’s over, it’s over. It’s still the best experience of my life. If it stops tomorrow, I’ll be friends with Karl forever.”

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