Maggie Smith's character in Downton Abbey was regularly wincing at other people's pronunciations

While working at a glossy bar during her student days, a fellow Telegraph editor recalls serving a customer a bottle of Moët. She pronounced the champagne with a hard ‘t’ and he corrected her, explaining that it was a French brand so the emphasis should be on the ‘e’, with a silent 't'. Convinced he was wrong, she didn’t reply – and both left the interaction feeling somewhat superior to the other.

We’ll never know who was right unless we get video footage of the conversation. That’s because - according to one brand insider, anyway - it's ‘Moway et Chandon’ if you're saying the whole brand, but ‘Moët like poet’ if you're on first-name terms, due to the founder's distant Dutch origins. Although a New Zealand winemaker who spent four years working for Dom Perignon - which is in the same stable as Moët - disagrees, saying it isn’t so much like poet as 'Mwet', and that this stands whether you say the full name or just part of it. Confusing, right? And fitting, really, given there is nothing like pronunciation to make you blush – either for yourself or someone else.

The British upper classes have naturally used it as a tool for years, raising their eyebrows at anyone who says names like St John or Ralph exactly as they are written. Certain surnames and country houses seem almost designed to trip up unsuspecting speakers: how would you know that Cholmondeley was pronounced ‘Chumley’ for example, or Belvoir Castle, ‘Beever’ if nobody had ever told you? Get it wrong, though, and you immediately mark yourself out as ‘not quite our class, dear’ – which brings to mind Maggie Smith's character in Downton Abbey, who regularly winced at other people's pronunciations.

Brand names are just as difficult. It’s no good showing off your new Bulgari handbag if you’re putting the emphasis on the second syllable rather than the first, or slipping on a pair of Loewe gloves if you can’t slip your tongue around the word itself (low-ay-vay, in case you were wondering).

Common mistakes to make you wince include Moschino (pronounced moss-key-no not moss-che-no), Hermès (air-mes not her-mees), Hublot (oo-blow not who-blow) and Givenchy (zhee-von-she not zhee-ven-chi). The majority of brands I contacted for this article say that while they do ensure staff or anyone connected with the company pronounces the name the way nature intended, they accept customers in certain markets might get it wrong at first – and that there is no policy to correct them.

In the UK, most of us know how to say Hermès, but I have heard people mistakenly say Gieves & Hawkes as ‘Jeeves’ instead of ‘gee-ves’ – perhaps after reading too much PG Wodehouse. Or pronouncing the Belgian designer's name Dries Van Noten as it is written, when it is actually ‘drees’.

Even amongst those of us with jobs in the fashion and luxury industry, arguments arise – the idea for this very article came up because the Telegraph luxury team couldn’t agree on how to pronounce Omega. If you side with the brand president and 007 in Casino Royale, it’s oh-me-ga apparently; if you prefer to go with brand ambassador George Clooney then it’s oh-may-ga.

For native English speakers who have command of Romance languages, the temptation is to put on your best French or Italian accent and pronounce it the way the locals would – but often that’s a red herring. When you’re saying Louis Vuitton in English, the emphasis is on the first syllable of Vuitton not the second – even though that’s not really the case in French. Ralph Lauren, being an American brand, should always be pronounced LAUren, not LauREN – but it is a mistake that has endured for decades.

Sometimes it’s easier not to say the brand name at all. To spare the embarrassment of saying Jaeger-LeCoultre (Jejer Le Coot), many people say JLC. A terrible pig’s ear is often made of Ermenegildo Zegna (Er-many-jill-dow Zenya) – and as a result, most of us simply say Zegna. I bought some dresses from the Danish label Baum und Pferdgarten the other day and dreaded being asked about them as I’ve always struggled to say the brand name properly.

If you’re keen to end the tyranny of mispronunciation and show off your new Glashutte Original (glahs-HU-teh) watch without feeling self-conscious, here is a definitive list on how to speak the language of luxury fluently...

Fashion brands

Baum und Pferdgarten: baum-unt-fert-gart-en
Balmain: Bal-mah
Brunello Cucinelli: bru-nello-cutch-inelli
Bulgari: BULLgari not BulGARi
Dries Van Noten: drees not dries van-no-ten
Ermenegildo Zegna: Er-many-jill-dow-Zenya – but people are forgiven for just saying Zenya
Erdem: ErDEM
Gieves & Hawkes: gee-ves, not jeeves, and hawkes
Givenchy: zhee-von-she
Giuseppe Zanotti: gis-eppi-zan-otti
Hermes: air-mes
Jacquemus: zhak-a-mousse
Louis Vuitton: Louis VUItton, not VeeTON
Loewe: Lowayvay
Louboutin: lou-boo-tah
Miuccia Prada: Meoo-cha Prada
Moschino: moss-key-no
Ralph Lauren: Ralph LAUren
Schiaparelli: skiap-a-relli
Salvatore Ferragamo: sal-vat-or-re-fer-ag-amo
Vetements: vet-mauns
Vilebrequin: vil-bre-quan
Versace: ver-sach-eh

Watch brands

Audemars Piguet: oh-de-mar pee-gay
A Lange & Sohne: ah lang-uh und zon-uh
Breguet: Breg-ay
Glashuette Original: glass-hoo-tuh o-rig-In-al
Girard-Perregaux: zh-rard pe-reg-oh
Hublot: Uh-blow
MeisterSinger: My-ster zing-er
Omega: (If you side with the brand president and 007 in Casino Royale) Oh-me-ga
 (If you prefer to go with brand ambassador George Clooney) Oh-may-ga
IWC Schaffhausen: IWC (International Watch Company) Shaf-hau-zn
Parmigiani Fleurier: Palm-i-zhar-knee  Fleur-ee-ay
Longines: Lon-zheen
Jaeger-LeCoultre: Jejer Le Coot (though some people call it JLC to get around that)
Richard Mille: Ri-shard Meal
Roger Dubuis: Ro-zhay Doo-bwee
TAG Heuer: TAG (Technique Avant Garde) Hoy-er
Sinn: Zin
Vacheron Constantin: Vash-er-ron Con-stan-tan
Ulysse Nardin: Oo-lis Nar-dan

Other luxury brands

Diptyque: Dip-TEEK
Cire Trudon: seer-tru-don
Veuve Clicquot: vurv-cli-ko

This story originally appeared in The Telegraph and is reproduced with permission.

© Melissa Twigg / Telegraph Media Group Limited 2021