How Poverty Shaped Coco Chanel

Yes indeed, poverty shaped Coco Chanel, the woman and the designer.
She always said: “Some people think luxury is the contrary of being poor. No, it is the contrary of vulgarity.”

Her daily life was a reflection of luxury. Coco Chanel repelled vulgarity. She advocated and lived a new lifestyle for women, a lifestyle that neither Yves Saint Laurent, nor Christian Dior were able or wanted to set as a trend.

The woman as per Coco Chanel is free to be, free to act, and her cloths reflected this liberty. Coco Chanel opened a new horizon for women of her time.


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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