Fashion Designers Ask Red Carpet Stars to Stop Mispronouncing Their Names

At Sunday’s Golden Globes, designers will give stars last-minute phonetic reminders; Steve Carell botches ‘Cucinelli’

Chances are, some star will wear a Prabal Gurung gown to the Golden Globes this Sunday. And chances are someone is bound to mispronounce the designer’s name that night.

Mr. Gurung is used to it. The New York-based fashion designer often tells people his first name sounds “like trouble with a P” when introducing himself.

Mr. Gurung’s personal Instagram handle is @troublewithprabal. His last name sounds like GOO-ROONG, by the way.

Many stars attending the Globes will receive last-minute phone calls, texts or handwritten index cards reminding them not only whose dress or tuxedo they’re wearing, but how to pronounce the designer label’s name.

The exercise is an annual ritual but the stakes to get names right on awards-shows red carpets have risen in recent years with the explosion of social media, as many viewers watch and tweet. While in the past a star’s mispronunciation might have been rebroadcast on a news program and then forgotten by most people, these days any flubs can be repeatedly GIF-ed and retweeted.

 A model wears a creation by Vetements fashion house during Paris Fashion Week in July 2016. Photo: ian langsdon/European Pressphoto Agency

A model wears a creation by Vetements fashion house during Paris Fashion Week in July 2016. Photo: ian langsdon/European Pressphoto Agency

What’s more, some of the buzziest names in women’s fashion right now aren’t easy to pronounce: Vetements, Jacquemus, Monse, Sies Marjan.

Men don’t get let off the hook either: a high-end label favored by a number of male celebrities has two nonobvious sounding names: Ermenegildo Zegna. The phonetic spelling is AIR-MEN-EH-JILDO ZENYA, according to a spokeswoman. Another label is Ami, which is pronounced like the French word ami meaning friend, AH-MEE, according to a press representative.

Steve Carell memorably botched Brunello Cucinelli on the red carpet at last year’s Golden Globes, saying: “Brunello Cucillini is all I’m going to say for the rest of the night,” pronouncing the name BRU-NE-LO KU-CHI-LINNI. Several viewers tsk-tsked him about it on Twitter.

A representative for the actor, whose own last name has a high mispronunciation risk level, declined to comment.

At Brunello Cucinelli, a luxury Italian label, a spokeswoman said the company reviews the pronunciation—BRU-NE-LO KU-CHI-NELLY—with stylists who dress celebrities “just to be sure.” She added, in the email, “Steve wore us the previous year at the Oscars and said it flawlessly! However we do understand it can be a mouthful.”

 Actor Steve Carell and his wife, Nancy, arrive at the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2016. Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Actor Steve Carell and his wife, Nancy, arrive at the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 2016. Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

For celebrity stylist Sam Spector, whose clients have included Neil Patrick Harris and Daniel Radcliffe, “it is customary to provide a note card with all the ‘credits’ that the celebrity is wearing.” Then, if a name could be potentially hard to pronounce, he will phonetically spell it out on the card “to make the job easier for my clients.”

Even less-tricky looking names can sometimes get butchered. The Lauren in Ralph Lauren sometimes gets pronounced LA-WREN rather than LAW-REN.

Other names to watch out for include Lanvin, whose correct phonetic spelling is LAHN-VAH, according to a spokesman; Monse, which is MAUN-SAY, a spokeswoman said; Sies Marjan is SEES MAR-JAHN, according to a press representative and Jacquemus is JACKEU-MUSSS, a spokesman said. Cushnie Et Ochs sounds like CUSH-KNEE-ETTE–OX, said a press representative, and Balmain sounds like B’AL MEH.

It falls on celebrity stylists to get the pronunciation right and pass it along to their clients. To ensure she knows the correct way to say a designer label’s name, celebrity stylist Christina Pacelli, whose clients include Laverne Cox, said “I’ll ask my colleagues who either work at the company or the brand or if I’m at the store I will ask.” In December, while shopping in New York at vanguard-fashion department store Dover Street Market, for example, she asked a sales associate how to pronounce Vetements.

A spokeswoman for the label said in an email Vetements is pronounced something like VETMAHN “but you don’t say the n at the end.”

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An outfit from Lanvin, presented in Paris in 2016. Photo: Francois Mori/Associated Press

Then the stylists have to play schoolteacher to their celebrity clients. Celebrity stylist Brad Goreski, whose clients have included Jenna Dewan Tatum and Rashida Jones, said he goes over pronunciations with clients during fittings and on the day he’s dressing them.

Sometimes a client will text him: “What was the pronunciation again?” while in the car en route to the function. He will reply with a phonetic spelling. “The schooling happens all the time,” said Mr. Goreski, who is also a co-host on E!’s  “Fashion Police,” where he is expected to get the names right. Ms. Pacelli will also occasionally text phonetic spellings to clients.

Stylists work hard to make sure they and their clients get the pronunciation right not just so the stars avoid public embarrassment but also to not offend the brands lending them the clothes, jewels, handbags, shoes and so on.

“It’s [the brands’] moment of recognition that night,” said Mr. Goreski. “When they’re waiting for the celebrity to say ‘I’m wearing so and so,’ you want them to say the name correctly.”

Actress Cate Blanchett is known for her impeccable pronunciation of difficult designer names and fashion terms such as haute couture on the red carpet. At last year’s Golden Globes, she wore a pink gown by Givenchy, whose proper pronunciation is JHEE-VON-SHEE, according to a press representative.

Gigi Hadid walks the runway during the Balmain Ready to Wear show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2017 on September 29, 2016 in Paris, France and Actress Cate Blanchett wears Givenchy at the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards. Photos: Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images; John Shearer/Getty Images

Gigi Hadid walks the runway during the Balmain Ready to Wear show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2017 on September 29, 2016 in Paris, France and Actress Cate Blanchett wears Givenchy at the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards. Photos: Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images; John Shearer/Getty Images

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