Monday, June 4, 2012

Frag Name of the Day: Elaborating on How to Pronounce French Perfume Names

I don't know how many of you have been familiarised with French names in perfumes and perfume houses. Probably most, since you're reading here, but there has been a big demand for a guide into the right pronunciantion, especially among the English language native speakers who are often at a loss in front of the vowels and accents and all the bells & whistles that other European languages possess; for better or worse.
In the past I had found one useful link for proper pronunciation of designers etc. names, linked here. Still, not everything was there and the completed phrase of a fragrance name might create its own intricate liaisons etc. which would alter the individualised pronunciation of each word. Those of you who know French as foreign language, as I do, understand perfectly well what I mean.

One French-born, UK-dwelling professional translator going by the name of Bela on fragrance boards has decided to provide just what was asked for: an actual pronunciation reference with audible files instead of just phonetics for most French names, updating regularly and taking demands from readers too. Her site is called Frag Name of the Day and you can find the link here.
Now, you can't have any excuses on mispronouncing, since correct pronunciation is but a click of the mouse away! So you can save yourself the embarassement of the protagonist in Paul Verhoeven's movie Show Girls when she pronounces Versace as "Ver-sayce". (Wait, that's Italian! Well, we can't have it all, I guess). Regardless...kudos for massive work done.

phonetics: not exactly accurate...

Further on: What does Bela think on fragrance names as someone who occupies herself with them as much, the French attitude towards perfumes vs. the British attitude, the rising Arabian-style perfumery with the names to correspond (will they eclipse the French?) and other assorted perfume questions? Here's a short interview she granted Perfume Shrine for your pleasure. Enjoy!

1. The website Frag Name of the Day began as the reply to the demand of MUAers and perfume lovers on boards questioning the correct pronunciation of French names. Is it very annoying having companies naming their fragrances in French though they don't have any business doing so or they're mixing up French and English (such as Miller Harris)? What would you say to them if you could?

I don’t mind foreign companies giving French names to their perfumes – as long as they are grammatically correct and follow all the rules about genders and adjective agreements, etc. This is not a new phenomenon. French companies do it too. They believe it gives their products a certain cachet. An interesting experiment would be to market the same juice under two different names and see which sells better. As for names that combine words from two languages, I find them moronic. English and French are both incredibly rich languages, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with beautiful/witty/evocative names in either language without resorting to a mishmash/jumble/gallimaufry/hotchpotch. LOL! That’s what I would say to those unimaginative companies.

2. Do you think that simply put "a French name sells" when it comes to perfumes? (i.e. goes with the territory) Or could it backfire? How if so? 

I expect a French name sells otherwise companies wouldn’t carry on doing it, would they?  To a lot of people, France is synonymous with style so anything that sounds French is bound to be refined and automatically infused with elegance. Giving a product a French name in the hope that consumers will be influenced by it is lazy, but if that marketing strategy was going to backfire it would have done so a long time ago. The appetite for French names doesn’t seem to have been sated yet.

3. Do you believe as I do that the French have oversold their ability to corner the market on producing worthwhile perfumes? 

They’ve been at it for a very long time; do you really think they’re losing their grip? Even if they don’t actually corner the market any longer, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still a very important player. I’m afraid I lack the specialist knowledge required to answer this question effectively.

4. Do you ever correct Sales Associates when they mispronounce a fragrance name? 

You would expect me to, wouldn’t you? LOL! I never do. I pronounce names correctly and, if it’s met with an uncomprehending look, I repeat them with an English accent. The only time I correct SAs is when they try to make me believe some BS about the products they’re selling.

5. As a professional translator between the two languages (French & English) why do you think that the British often "mangle" the French language and the French often "mangle" the English language? Is it intentional? Is it historical reasons behind it? 

I don’t think the Brits mangle the French language or the French the English language intentionally. Why would they do that? Surely the primary purpose of learning a language is to be able to communicate and mispronouncing things creates obstacles to this communication. The British mouth is not made for the French language, and vice versa: English requires a relaxed tongue and loose jaws; French is a ‘stiff’ language. Anglophones have problems with French genders; French grammar is very difficult, etc. etc. They’re just so different. It could also have something to do with the way they are taught (I was very lucky: my first English teacher was a Brit. I learned to pronounce basic sounds accurately from the start. I never went ‘ze ze ze’.) That said, I’m not sure I agree with you about those two nationalities being the worst offenders. I’ve heard French being very badly spoken by a lot of people, and here in London I hear English being massacred daily by almost every foreigner I come across.

By the way, since one can only translate accurately and with flair into one’s mother tongue, I never take on work that involves translating into English. Also, translating into a foreign language is not the done thing – from an ethical point of view.

6. As a French-born living permanently in the UK, which nation has a "better" scent profile in your opinion? And what constitutes a "better" scent profile anyway? Is it education, personality, a familiarity with the sensuous world, what? [ed.note: I had presented my own views on this on this article called "Why the French (and other Europeans) grown up to love scents while Americans don't"]

You must know I’m going to say France. It’s to do with lifestyle. The French know how to enjoy life: good food, good wine, and other earthly pleasures. It probably has something to do with being Catholic too. Britain is still a Puritan country in many ways. The weather has a part to play too, I expect. British perfumes are so wishy-washy and thin.

7. Is the Arabic trend the latest thing because Europe has ceased to sound exotic to Americans (and maybe the British too)? And will we need an Arabic Frag Name of the Day soon? :-)

Has Europe ceased to sound exotic to Americans? I don’t think so. Yurp is still the destination of choice for most Americans, and thanks to the Eurostar it’s on Britain’s doorstep these days. Arabic names have always sounded exotic, haven’t they? Could it be that they’re more noticeable these days because wealthy Arabs are currently being courted by some companies? I really don’t know. By rights, we should be seeing more Chinese names soon too. An Arabic Frag Name of the Day would definitely be quite useful. Anyone want to emulate me? All you need is a computer, a microphone, a copy of Audacity and a blog where you can post sound files… oh, and plenty of time.

8. Which is you favorite perfume right now and why? 
TubĂ©reuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens has been my signature scent for the past six years. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever smelled; I can never get enough of the kerosene top note and the mellow dry down. I’ve tried to be unfaithful; I’ve had very short liaisons with other fragrances in those six years, but I always come back to it. I doubt I will ever find anything to replace it.

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