A Fashion Designer By Any Other (Gender-Bending) Name…

What can you hope to learn about a fashion designer (or any person really) by their first name? In many cases we think we can assume a gender and sometimes even a nationality based entirely on an individual’s moniker — in some cases we might be right.

Kylie in Vetements sweatshirt
Photo credit: Daily Mail UK

Not so this week when the Wall Street Journal gave Demna Gvasalia, Georgian designer of buzzy brand Vetements and recently named artistic director of Balenciaga, an inadvertent “sex change” from male to female by referring to him as Ms. Gvasalia in an article appearing in last weekend’s Style & Fashion section entitled “Am I Too Old for Streetwear?” I realize that, especially in today’s world, let alone in fashion, gender is sometimes all too fluid, but really?! I am told that it was an editor’s mistake.

Rihanna in Vetements sweatshirt
Photo credit: Daily Mail UK

Perhaps the error was due to the fact that in this country, there are few, if any men’s names that end in the letter “A,” coupled with a surplus of women’s names that do. Simple research on Demna reveals that it was the name of a 12th century Georgian prince and a “hypocorism” or pet name for Demetrius. Also, if in doubt, what happened to a quick fact check, nowadays made even easier by Google? Not to mention that If your job is to edit copy for the style section of a major newspaper, shouldn’t you at least have a passing knowledge on the major players in the “Big Bad World of Fashion”?

Azzedine Alaia

This “debacle” gave me the idea to dig around a bit and see what other prominent fashion designers had been given “the gift that keeps on giving.” How prevalent is it to have been bestowed at birth with a cross gender sounding nomenclature particularly as it translates to America?

Elie Saab
Photo credit: Getty Images Europe

I immediately thought of two Tunisians: Azzedine (Alaia) and Loris (Azzaro); the Elie’s (Saab and Tahari) although Elie is a common male first name in Middle Eastern countries and Israel; the Hispanic trio of Cristobal (Balenciaga), Carmen (Marc Valvo), Rene (Ruiz), and the French Hedi Slimane.

Nicholas and Christopher Kunz of Nicholas K
Photo credit: Getty Images North America

Also worth noting is that Italian masculine names sometimes end in “A” such as Nicola (Trussardi) or (Tesla) so you can’t assume anything there either. Interestingly, I have not found much of a female to male corollary when it comes to designer names, with a few exceptions. For instance, did you know that Nicholas K’s co-designer Nicholas Kunz is female? The other half of the design team is her brother Christopher. Laurence Dacade, the French shoe designer is also female. This is further confounding to me as I actually had the experience as a kid, of being momentarily assigned to a boys bunk at a co-ed French sleepaway camp. I was told by explanation that Laurel is a Gallic boys name. Je ne comprends pas!

Fausto Puglisi, Donatella Versace
Photo credit: WWD

As fashion month has moved on from New York, to London and currently to Milan, I spied an article in The New York Times entitled “Gucci’s 70 Shades of Renaissance” that seemed particularly apropos to my little name game. In just one paragraph of this article which mentioned how many “big guns came out for the first day of Milan Fashion Week,” I noted that every single referenced man assembled, many of whom are designers or fashion executives obviously of Italian heritage, had a first name that ended in the letter “O.” Ciao Milano!

Giorgio Armani, Renzo Rosso, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi,
Alberta Ferretti at Milan Fashion Week Luncheon
Photo: WWD

They included Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Chief Executive of Gucci, Marco Bizzarri, Chief executive of Fendi, Pietro Beccari, Chief executive of Valentino, Stefano Sassi, chairman of Tod’s Group, Diego Della Valle, co-chief executive and executive director of Prada Group Patrizio Bertelli. Notably absent were Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce who were too busy preparing their show. Ms. Donatella Versace, readied her toast given in a room “in the shadow of the Duomo.” Needless to say, Gucci’s head designer Alessandro Michele, also belongs to the squad which I’ve dubbed the “fashion CheeriOs.” Hope they washed everything down with plenty of vino!

Lastly, an article in Vocativ has come to my attention, which states that, according to Social Security Administration data, people are naming their kids after fashion labels from (the obvious) Chanel to (the bizarre) Couture. Names like Armani, Cartier and Dior are popular for both sexes; Boss, Hermes and Cavalli are big for boys while Zara and Fendi are trending for girls. So here’s my question: Is a girl named Nike this generation’s version of a boy named Sue? Or should I say, a boy named Demna…?

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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