Famous Designers That Didn’t Finish School

Are some fashion designers natural entrepreneurs?  Not having gone to school can be a hindrance, but I see it as a blessing.  Here are some fashion designers and entrepreneurs that launched successful careers without finishing school.

Karl Lagerfeld

karl lagerfeld

At the age of 14, Karl Lagerfeld made the bold decision, with the blessing of his parents, to move to Paris. He submitted sketches and fabric samples to design competitions and ended up taking first place in the coat category.

Soon, Lagerfeld had full time work with French designer Pierre Balmain, first as a junior assistant, and later as an apprentice.

COCO Chanel

coco chanel

From an early age, Chanel worked with apparel. She was raised by nuns that taught her how to sew.  By 18 years old, Chanel left school and never pursued a higher education. Around the age of 20, Chanel met the two men that would be instrumental in her first fashion venture.

Cristóbal Balenciaga

cristobal balenciaga

Although Balenciaga did not attend a fashion school, he did receive formal training in tailoring.  When he was a teenager, the Marchioness de Casa Torres, the foremost noblewoman in his town was impressed by the young man.  She became his customer and patron, sending him to Madrid to study his craft.

Laura Ashley

laura ashley

Ashley was a Welsh fashion designer and businesswoman who originally made furnishing materials before expanding the business into clothing design and manufacture.

She and her family evacuated to Wales during WWII. Ashley was 13 when she enrolled in Secretarial School. By 16, she left school to serve in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, during which she met her future husband and business partner.

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Michael Kors

michael kors

Kors started in fashion young. At the age of 5 he was modeling for national campaigns for products. When Kors decided he wanted to pursue fashion design he enrolled in FIT, but soon dropped out after just nine months.  He decided to accept a position at a boutique across from New York’s famous Bergdorf Goodman instead.

Jean Paul Gaultier

jean paul g

Gaultier never received formal training as a designer. Instead, similar to Lagerfeld, he started sending sketches to famous couture stylists to gain recognition and opportunity. French Italian fashion designer Pierre Cardin was impressed by Gaultier’s talent and hired him as an assistant in 1970. Afterwards Gaultier worked with Jacques Esterel and Jean Patou before returning back to Cardin.

Kimora Lee Simmons


Kimora got started in the fashion industry as a model. At the age of 14, she was awarded an exclusive modeling contract with Chanel and went to work under the tutelage of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld.

In 2007, Kimora was promoted from Creative Director of Baby Phat to President and Creative Director of Phat Fashions.  During which she launched her high-end sportswear line, KLS.  After splitting from Phat Fashions Kimora released Kouture by Kimora Brands and relaunched KLS label as a high end line, opening its first boutique in Beverly Hills.

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