It's a rags-to-riches story that seems too crazy to be true. Coco Chanel ascended from wretched poverty to extreme wealth, and in doing so, she became one of the best-known women of the 20th century. How much do you know about Chanel and her adventures?
Chanel became an icon in the world of women's fashion. She upended many fashion stereotypes and charted a new course for clothing.
"Coco" was just a nickname that stuck. Her given name was Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel.
She was born into a poor family in France and wound up in a convent. It's safe to say that she was never meant for a quiet, religious life.
When Chanel was 12, her mother died and her father wanted nothing to do with raising a bunch of kids alone. She was sent to an orphanage.
Chanel wanted more than a simple religious life at a convent. She headed to the town of Moulins and became a cabaret singer for a short time.
Her time at the convent taught her some self-discipline … and also how to sew. Her sewing skills, of course, came in very handy later in her life.
She was young and cute … but she had a very average voice. Eventually, she realized that she was never going to make it as a singer, so she moved on to other goals.
She became a mistress for a wealthy textile heir named Etienne Balsan. Balsan introduced her to the finer things in life and Chanel became accustomed to hanging out with wealthy, powerful people.
She took up with Arthur Capel, who was a friend of Etienne Balsan. The two men competed for Chanel's affections.
Chanel began making hats for fun, but the hobby blossomed into a real business. She became a licensed milliner, or hat maker, and began hawking her products in 1910.
Chanel was hoping that eventually, Capel would want to marry her. But as it turns out, the mistress lifestyle doesn't work that way. Capel died in a car accident in 1919 and Chanel was never really the same.
An actress named Gabrielle Dorziat wore one of Chanel's hats as part of a play. The exposure helped give Chanel credibility in the fashion world.
Capel helped Chanel by paying for a store where she could sell her fashion products. Located in a ritzy part of town, the shop soon found success.
She reinvested her profits in a building in the middle of Paris. The expansion helped to grow her business by leaps and bounds.
She met the famous composer Igor Stravinsky, who'd left the U.S.S.R. following World War I. Chanel let his family stay in one of her houses, and she began designing costumes for some of his productions.
Coco was no wilting flower. She was a rebel with a quick wit and enduring sense of sarcasm.
She began using a type of jersey fabric, which was used mostly for underwear and eschewed by most fashion designers. Chanel's decision to use jersey helped her stand out in a crowded field.
Many of her designs cast off restrictive influences and materials and emphasized comfort and simple visual appeal. The idea caught on in a hurry.
She became renowned for the famous "little black dress" concept. Her simple but flattering black dresses ignited a revolution that's still active today.
Chanel had a weakness for morphine. She took to injecting the drug and the habit stuck with her for much of her life.
She arrived at an opera house with very short and boyish hair. Ever the trendsetter, the style caught on, meaning long hair was no longer the required look for women.
Coco's Chanel No. 5 became -- and still is -- one of the world's best-selling fragrances. She picked "5" because she figured it was her lucky number.
She wasn't exactly obsessed with nudity or anything … but her dresses revealed women's ankles, which had for many years been hidden under long Victorian clothing.
Even though her rich lovers gave her many real gems, Coco often enjoyed the concept of costume jewelry. When she created jewelry, her designs sometimes used both real and fake gems.
Chanel got bolder with her successes. She named the perfume after herself. It was the first fragrance ever named after its creator.
Her life took a dark turn when she started an affair with a Nazi officer, and she closed her shop. She's even been accused of spying for the Germans.
Not only did she take up with a Nazi officer, Chanel was onboard with the Germans' anti-Jew message. She eventually met and dined with some of the most notorious Nazi leaders, such as Joseph Goebbels.
Allied forces arrested the traitorous Chanel for her dalliances with Nazis. In retrospect, some historians believe that Chanel may actually have been working behind the scenes to undermine the Nazis, but no one is entirely sure of this.
In 1971 Chanel returned to her home at the Hotel Ritz, went to bed and then died of natural causes. She was buried in Switzerland.
At the end of her long and full life, Chanel was ready to go. "You see, this is how you die."