When Helle Thorning-Schmidt took control of the Social Democratic Party in 2005, some called her "Gucci Helle," mocking her taste for designer clothes and accessories.
Today, few people question her credentials as leader of a party sprung from Denmark's labor movement in 1871.
The 44-year-old mother of two, who is married to former British Labor Leader Neal Kinnock's son, has shed an air of inexperience and now projects confidence and poise. She's fine-tuned her debating skills and handles media with wit and a disarming smile.
But it took a painful defeat to get there.
In her first election as party leader in 2007, a teary-eyed Thorning-Schmidt watched the Social Democrats slump to their worst result in a century, with 25.5 percent of the votes.
"Danes need more time before they hand over responsibility to us," she said.
They needed four more years, fraught by economic turmoil.
Ironically, the Social Democrats dropped another parliamentary seat in the election Thursday, but a strong showing by other parties in her center-left alliance secured a majority.
"The Social Democrats are ready to take their share of the responsibility," the tall blonde told her supporters. "We will do our utmost, our utmost to live up to your confidence."
It remains to be seen whether Thorning-Schmidt will be a better steward of Denmark's lackluster economy than outgoing Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen at a time when Europe's debt crisis creates uncertainty.
Thorning-Schmidt will become the first woman to lead a Danish government, and she's also the first female leader of the Social Democrats. However, she doesn't think those firsts will have much significance in egalitarian Denmark.
"Except maybe for young girls who can start saying 'hmm, this is a post I can aspire to,'" Thorning-Schmidt said in a recent TV interview.
Looking back at her youth, she said she always wanted to be a decision-maker "like a hotel manager or something like that" but never imagined making it to the top of Danish politics.
Thorning-Schmidt got a master's degree in political science from Copenhagen University in 1994. Two years later, she married Stephen Kinnock, whom she met in Belgium.
She lives with their two daughters, Johanna, 14, and Camilla, 11, in a rowhouse in northern Copenhagen, while Kinnock is based in Switzerland as a director of the World Economic Forum.
Their living arrangements were the focus of a brief investigation by Danish tax authorities amid allegations that the couple evaded taxes by underreporting the number of days Kinnock spent in the Nordic country. Thorning-Schmidt admitted making a mistake and was cleared of tax evasion.