Monday, April 20, 2009

Say it right

And finally, a much needed break from the typical coverage of AIG and more struggling corporations. But I would never guess the Wall Street Journal would be the host of such an digression from their usual style. I love it.

When I was a young college student, I popped over to the jewelry counter at Nordstrom to have a necklace fixed. The woman behind the counter asked how she could help and I replied "The clasp on this Givenchy necklace broke, and would love to have it fixed." I, unknowing, committed a major faux pas. Not in asking for service but in my pronunciation. I had pronounced it gi-ven-chee.

Her reply, You mean Zhee ven Sheeeeeee?"
I said, "I am sorry, what?"
Her response, "You mean, you would like your Zhee Ven Sheeeee necklaced fixed?"
Her with a blank stare. Me, with I promise you, was not a poker face.
Yes, precious lamb, I do mean Zheeeeeeeee Ven Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

But, she did me a favor, because pronouncing things correctly, well, its necessary. We should want to be educated if we are mispronouncing words, fashion designers, or otherwise.

And apparently, I was not an isolated incident. And who weighs in to help? The Wall Street Journal. I would never anticipate such a topic would merit their attention but kudos. We can all learn a little something beyond continuing bail outs.

How to Pronounce Fashion Names

Q: I felt pretty out of it when I asked a saleswoman about the handbags of "Bottega Veneta" -- and she promptly corrected my pronunciation -- to VEN-e-ta instead of ven-ETT-a. Can you give us a little glossary on how to say foreign fashion names like Nicolas Ghesquière? And how about Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan -- are their surnames stressed on the first or last syllable?—W.D., New York

Say What?
Click on each link to hear the correct pronunciations of some fashion designers, as recorded by Journal fashion reporter Christina Passariello.
Alber Elbaz for Lanvin
Jean Paul Gaultier
Louis Vuitton
Nicolas Ghesquière
Vacheron Constantin
Yves Saint Laurent

A: I remember when American consumers in the 1970s routinely butchered the names of their imported cars -- blithely unaware of the correct pronunciation of Renault (ruh-NO) and Peugeot (puh-ZHO). We've come a long way since then, saying foreign car names like Hyundai with ease. But these days, there are a host of new designer names tripping us up, as globalization and the democratization of fashion bring brands from all over the world -- once limited to the couture cognoscenti -- to regular folk.

Most of the first French names to appear in the U.S. were a cinch, like Dior and Chanel. But a lot of the names in play today need to be spoken with a real lilt , like Jean Paul Gaultier (zhan paul GO-tee-AY), Alber Elbaz for Lanvin (al-BEAR el-BAHZ for lon-VAN), and Nicolas Ghesquière (NEE-ko-la guess-KYAIR).

Mamma mia! The Italian names can play tricks on you, too -- such as Bulgari (BOOL-ga-ree), Ungaro (OON-ga-ro), Versace (ver-SAH-chay) and Zegna (ZANE-ya). And from Spain comes the tricky Loewe (LO-ee-VAY). (To hear every last nuance of pronunciation, check out the audio tutorial at

Even some American designers can leave you tongue-tied. Last year, Target shoppers were faced with the challenge of pronouncing Proenza Schouler (pro-EN-za SCHOOL-er), when the American duo sold a collection that included $49 bustier tops there.

Don't worry that you'll sound affected. Why not try to get it right? The more syllables, the more delicious it sounds: I just love to say the name of Swiss watch maker Vacheron Constantin (va-sha-RON con-ston-TAN).

But don't force a fashion-y flourish on American designers whose names sound just like they look: It's Ralph Lauren (rhymes with "foreign") and Donna Karan (sounds like "Karen").
Email questions to

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D10

1 comment:

Leah said...

Thanks, I'm a stickler for proper pronunciation, too! What I can't figure out is why Vera Wang pronounces her last name Way-ng, like bang, sang, fang, when the actual pronunciation of that surname is Wahng. Perhaps she just likes to be unique. Or has succumbed to the typical American pronunciation.

In any case, I love your blog!