How to say 'Louis Vuitton' and other designers' names

By Jo Kim
BBC Pronunciation Unit

media captionBBC News hit the shopping streets to see if people know the right way to say the names of designers.

The hyper-critical gaze of fashionistas around the world focuses on Britain this week for London Fashion Week. But if you're planning to venture an opinion on whether Alexa Chung's liking for long skirts will spark a wider trend, you'd better be able to pronounce the names of the top designers.

It's what separates the dedicated followers of fashion from the casual observers - whether you say Louis Vwee-ton or Louis Vee-ton, or even Lewis Vee-ton.

The international nature of the world of fashion can sometimes complicate researching fashion-related pronunciation for the BBC Pronunciation Unit. Our policy for company names is, where possible, to recommend the pronunciation the company itself prefers.

However, if there is a fashion house with multiple corporate offices around the world (such as Milan, Paris, New York and Tokyo), pronunciations used within the company itself can sometimes differ across languages.

Another point for us to consider is that many companies are named after a particular individual's name, and the pronunciation of the name itself and the company are not necessarily always the same.

With foreign names in general, we consider the opinion of the speakers of the relevant languages and ask them how they pronounce it in the original language and how they might expect it to be anglicised.

For company names, we then consult official sources, such as press offices at the company's headquarters, to enquire about their preferred pronunciation. We also speak to boutiques of the brands in this country to see if there are any established anglicisations that the brands go by in the UK.

A mouthful

(All the pronunciations given below are written in BBC Text spelling; stressed syllables in upper case, -uh as "a" in ago.)

An example of this is the pronunciation of the fashion house Balenciaga. Balenciaga is named after its founder, Basque designer Cristóbal Balenciaga. He was widely know in Spain by the Spanish pronunciation of his name, bal-en-thi-AA-guh (-th as in thin, -aa as in father). The company is now owned by a French company, so a gallicised pronunciation is also a possibility.

image captionRalph Lauren - easy, or is it?

After speaking to the corporate offices in Paris and the boutique in London, we found the company itself prefers the pronunciation bal-en-si-AA-guh (-s as in sit) in English language contexts.

Miu Miu, part of the Prada fashion house empire, is pronounced MYOO-myoo (-my as in music, -oo as in boot). Other Italian designers with names that can be a mouthful include Ermenegildo Zegna, pronounced air-men-uh-JIL-doh ZEN-yuh (-air as in hair, -j as in Jack, -y as in yes), Giambattista Valli, pronounced jam-bat-EE-stuh VAL-i (-j as in Jack, -al as in pal), Francesco Scognamiglio, pronounced fran-CHESS-koh skon-yam-EEL-yoh (-y as in yes) and Gianfranco Ferre, pronounced jan-FRANK-oh ferr-AY (-j as in Jack, -ay as in say).

Designers based in Paris include Christian Lacroix, pronounced kreest-YAA(NG) laa-KRWAA (-aa(ng) as in French blanc, -aa as in father), Lebanese designer Elie Saab, pronounced ELL-i SAAB (-aa as in father) and influential Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, whose name is pronounced YOH-ji yam-uh-MOH-toh (-oh as in no, -j as in Jack, -established anglicisation). The French fashion powerhouse Louis Vuitton is sometimes anglicised as LOO-i VWEE-ton by some native English speakers, but we recommend the company's own preferred pronunciation, LWEE vwee-TO(NG) (-w as in wet, -o(ng) as in French bon).

American designers Anna Sui, pronounced, AN-uh SWEE, Isaac Mizrahi, pronounced IGH-zuhk miz-RAA-hi (-aa as in father), and Ralph Lauren, pronounced RALF LORR-uhn (-orr as in sorry), are familiar faces at London Fashion Week.

And finally, here are the pronunciations of some of our own British designers: Jaeger is pronounced YAY-guhr (-y as in yes, -ay as in say) and Hussein Chalayan is pronounced huuss-AYN chuh-LIGH-uhn (-uu as in book, -ay as in say, -igh as in high).

The BBC Pronunciation Unit writes an occasional 'How to Say' column for the Magazine Monitor. To download the unit's guide to BBC Text Spelling, click here.