Currently the highest money earning male model in the world and the obvious muse of CHANEL’S Karl Lagerfeld, Baptiste Giabconi took some time from his hectic life of fashion shows, photo shoots and work-outs to speak with The London Evening Standard’s Annabel Rivkin (lucky gal!).
‘If you want to party without sex, drugs or rock’n’roll, I am your man.’ (says Giabiconi) I think he’s lying, this funny, feline boy who jingles with jewellery and moves in slo-mo. Rumour has it that at those high-powered fashion dinners he is a positive Little Lord Fauntleroy, fastidious in his faultlessness, until Herr Lagerfeld (who is, after all, 56 years his senior) heads for bed, at which point Baptiste rages and frotts and grinds just as a hot-blooded 21-year-old with every teenage French girl’s (and many boy’s) heart in his back pocket should do.
Although he is a little absurd, a little style-over-everything, it shames me to admit that he is monumentally sexy. No wonder men, women, children and chiens fling themselves at him as he jogs up and down the Seine near his Left Bank apartment. ‘When I am on stage I must not tire easily so the running helps a lot.’ He is a proper pin-up in France, having appeared in countless Chanel campaigns since Lagerfeld discovered him in 2008, as well as many of the maestro’s catwalk shows and photo shoots, the latter done mainly in the buff.
He saunters into The River Café early on a bright February morning, fresh from Claridge’s and gleaming with the miracle of youth, hair wax, silver chains, rings, belts and a vast watch by Richard Mille for whom he is an ambassador. ‘I was given my first watch, a Rolex Submariner, as a present,’ he says, ‘which was excellent as I had wanted one since I was 16. Now I have about 20 watches.’ Would it be mean-spirited to point out that, even so, he is 20 minutes late? But I forgive him.
He was born and brought up in the southern seaside town of Marseilles where, after his parents split up when he was 12, his mother struggled to raise him and his two older sisters(now a sales assistant and a nurse), holding down a job at the mayor’s office. ‘The first thing I bought with my first big paycheck was a piece of jewellery for my mother,’ he says. ‘She was so nervous for me when I left home to go to Paris, but now she thinks everything that has happened in the past two years is amazing. In a way, my family feel it more than I do.’
He left school at 14 to embark on a hotel training apprenticeship and, diploma completed at 17, he started work assembling parts in a helicopter factory to save up enough for his own pizza-delivery business. ‘I thought that if I got hands-on experience then one day I could be manager of my own restaurant.’ He was not, he insists, an attractive adolescent. ‘I was skinny and spotty and awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin,’ he says through those perfect, fruity lips. ‘So I started to bulk up, to develop muscle and to gain some confidence. I stuck to a rigid schedule.’ Briefly, the dancing welder from Flashdance flickers across the mind.
A random older woman spotted him in the gym and suggested he get some test shots done. ‘I was pretty sceptical and taken back but at the same time flattered, so I thought I’d see what happened,’ he says. Aged 18, his portfolio assembled, he headed for Paris where, after a few months of editorial work, Lagerfeld caught sight of Baptiste in a magazine and he was duly summoned. ‘Honestly, I was quite relaxed,’ he says of his initial audience. ‘I had always associated Karl with this larger-than-life brand and thought that, as he mostly focused on womenswear and female models, I didn’t need to be too nervous. I just saw it as an amazing experience and I would get some great photos for my book. Of course I was aware of his personality but I just wanted to learn as much as I could.’
Lagerfeld has worked solidly with Baptiste since 2008 – there have been films, books, lucrative campaigns, parties. ‘He is like a boy version of Gisele,’ says the Kaiser. ‘I find most male models so irritating, so when I find one I like, I stick with him.’ There’s been endless speculation – understandable when you see the erotic nature of much of their collab-oration, which tends to celebrate the insane perfection of Baptiste’s naked form – about the nature of this friendship. There have even been reports that they plan to marry this summer. ‘People will always talk about me and Karl but it doesn’t bother me. What’s wrong with being a homosexual anyway?’
Fashion has clearly been absorbed into Baptiste’s DNA. He loves Chanel – bien sûr – and Galliano and Lanvin, he slinks around the place flexing his muscles, double-checking his angles and rattling his accessories but, he says, it has always been all about the music for him. He grew up worshipping George Michael and Depeche Mode and is poised to release ‘Showtime’, the first single from an as-yet- unnamed album. ‘It is very much in the vein of electro-pop rock,’ he says. ‘I’m over being nervous about being judged and about what people think. So far I think I’ve passed with flying colours and I just need to continue to work hard. The public want to hear music from my universe and I just want to invest all my energy and focus into my music.’
‘Showtime’ is online and can be downloaded from iTunes (and seen at the bottom of this strory). I can forgive him for being late. I feel I could forgive him almost anything. I do not know if I can forgive him for this music video. Motorbikes, Zoolander pouts, a desert… He and his manager Sid, who sits sipping a cappuccino Frenchly as we talk, have, however, just had a meeting with Max Martin who, they say, will work with them on Baptiste’s second album. ‘Fashion is one thing but I have been given this platform to realise the level of my career,’ he says, ‘and that is music.’
When he can take time off from Karl and album promotion and jogging – ‘it is important to be toned but not to the point where people can see muscle definition under your clothes’ – he likes to dash back to Marseilles to spend time with his mother and sisters. So he remains vaguely homespun even if he spends most of his time being oiled, dressed, photographed, recorded and adored. I wonder if he has had the chance to grow up at all. He does have that beautiful person’s air of expecting the world to listen eagerly to all he has to say but he is neither spoilt nor bored, nor tricky. And considering that everyone seems to want to lick him all over, and regularly tells him so, he must be blessed with a rather dear temperament. I see Karl’s point: lovely to look at, easy to work with and remarkably un-irritating as male models go. And, in case you were still wondering – and come on, you were – he’s straight. (Well, as straight as a Depeche Mode loving male model from Paris can be at the young age of 21!)