Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know about the planet’s most massive fashion influencer, Coco Chanel. But did you know of her rags-to-riches upbringing? Early on, Chanel was super poor, detached, and dejected…and eventually became the most famous designer in the world.

Chanel’s less-than-glamorous upbringing

Born Gabrielle Chanel, the soon-to-be-famous designer knew poverty from the first moment of her life. In France, her extremely poor parents struggled to care for Chanel. Once her mother passed, she was dumped at an orphanage by her father to be raised by nuns. As rough as it was, the experience wasn’t for nothing.

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The Catholic nuns taught Chanel her first essential fashion skill: sewing. As Chanel grew up, she carried the talent with her, becoming skilled at fashioning spectacularly simple outfits from other articles of clothing, fabric, and more. Chanel quickly realized that fashion was her passion! Still, starting from the bottom rung of the economic ladder wouldn’t make her rise to fame an easy one.

Man, was she super self-resourceful

As Chanel grew up, earning her nickname “Coco” as a stage name from a brief singing career, she began to reinvent her image. She started to uncover ways to get her foot in the door for the fashion industry. She soon settled on what was most practical for a woman at the time: dating men in power and ascending the social ladder on their shoulders. Not too bad, huh?

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Still, she remained down to earth with her designs. Her first noticed item of clothing was something that she wore out on a chilly day that others eyeballed on the street. When asked where she bought it, she shared that she had fashioned it from a men’s jersey. This spirit never changed; over time, her designs remained catered towards making a “poor” style chic and luxurious.

Who knew you could make the “poor look” chic?

During her time of designing, Chanel was most known for her rather simple, understated articles of high fashion. Utilizing dull designs that she had been exposed to in her childhood, Chanel seemingly flipped the fashion world on its head by mirroring clothing she had experienced during her time in poverty. And boy, did she turn a fortune from making the “poor look” cool!

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Using simple fabrics, reproducing cookie-cutter designs, and staying true to her roots, Chanel constructed a multi-million dollar brand. She eventually expanded her empire to perfumes, accessories, hats, scarves, and other luxury objects, but she never forgot the less-than-luxurious environment she came from. “My fortune was built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold,” she admitted.