I heard the brand Chanel first, followed by the 2009 movie, Coco Before Chanel. Coco Chanel has survival instinct coming from her background in poverty.
Coco Chanel’s story is the classic tale of rags-to-designer-tweed, a stylish Dickensian drama. Born in dire poverty to unwed parents on this day, Aug. 19, in 1883, she was shuffled off to an orphanage and raised by Catholic nuns after her mother died.
Smart and unsentimental, she made the most of her hardship, gathering her experiences like fabric for future designs. The 2009 biopic Coco Before Chanel shows the wheels turning even in the orphanage, where, as TIME’s reviewer put it, “she stares at the nuns around her, downloading the crisp whites of their wimples for future use.”
Everything Chanel encountered among the very poor became material for the fashions she’d later design for the very rich. “She invented the genre pauvre, or poor look,” TIME wrote in 1957. “[She] put women into men’s jersey sweaters, created a simple dress based on a sailor tricot. She…
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