Lingua Franca

The language of design

These days fashion designers are a mixed bunch. They're a hybrid of different cultures, nationalities and fluent in more than just their mother tongue. Many were born in one country, raised in another, hopped across borders to study and ended up in a fashion capital elsewhere. We asked 13 of these designers to tell us about their love of languages, how their continents and cultures collide and how they wield the power that their languages hold.

(what's your favourite word in your language and why?)

"Polpettina" (little meat ball). It sounds soft and rhythmic and it describes something pulpy, small and delicious. It's a nice way to tell someone they are sweet but dim. Also, when properly cooked with tomato sauce they are scrumptious.
-Kinder Aggugini, designer (raised speaking Italian and English).
"Seele" in German and "Duza" in Croatian; both have the meaning of soul in English. I love the meaning of the word. The German version has a beautiful sound and looks pretty. The Croatian word is the perfect transformation from meaning into words. When you pronounce it you feel it.
-Damir Doma, designer (raised speaking Croatian and German)
"Frog". In Georgian it sounds quite funny and difficult to pronounce for foreigners (it's bakhakhi, or something like that).
-David Koma, designer (raised speaking Georgian)
"Efectivamente" is a Spanish term I use all the time. It means "precisely/exactly/of course". I like the way it sounds and makes me feel a little bit Spanish when I use it.
-Bionda Castana (Natalia), shoe designer (raised speaking Spanish, Italian and English)
I like the word "stars" because it suggests something beyond our knowledge (I mean the astronomical term).
-Tze Goh, designer (raised speaking English, Mandarin and Hokkien)
In Yoruba my favourite word is "ife", which means love.
-Duro Olowu, designer (raised speaking Yoruba and English)
θάλασσα [thalassocracy]. It is such a grand word, it makes me think of serenity and eternity.
-Marios Schwab, designer (raised speaking Greek and German)
"Nail" means tomorrow. In fashion tomorrow is very important.
-Eudon Choi, designer (raised speaking Korean)


(what do you dream in?)

Both Korean and English - depends who I am with in my dream. I can often wake up speaking Korean, though, which freaks my partner out!
-Eudon Choi, designer (raised speaking Korean)
Sexy dreams are usually in English, nightmares mostly in Italian. Not sure why.
-Maria Francesca Pepe, designer (raised speaking Italian)
English and vivid colours.
-Beatrix Ong, designer (raised speaking english and cantonese)


(when your mother scolds you what do you answer in?)

Most definitely German - there is no better language to scold in than German.
-Annette Felder, designer (raised speaking German and with a "twin" language only the sisters could understand)
I wouldn't answer back.
-Thakoon, designer (raised speaking thai and english)
Answer back to my mother, are you kidding? However, if pressed, she'd expect me to reply in Italian.
-Kinder Aggugini, designer (raised speaking Italian and English)
Bad Italian.
-Maria Francesca Pepe, designer (raised speaking Italian)


(Has speaking two languages ever led to any embarrassing moments?)

Yes, once me and my friend were sitting in a cafe discussing the badly done plastic surgery of a woman next to us and we thought no one around us would be able to hear and understand as we were speaking Georgian. Unfortunately, we later realised that not only she could speak Georgian, but also she wasn't a woman at all.
-David Koma, designer (raised speaking Georgian)
Try saying my "My name is Duro" in Spain. It has different connotations!
-Duro Olowu, designer (raised speaking Yoruba and English)
The occasional tendency to make up your own words.
-Marios Schwab, designer (raised speaking Greek and German)
I tend to speak mostly English, but it's that I understand everything that tends to embarrass other people!
-Beatrix Ong, designer (raised speaking English and Cantonese)
I think and create in Turkish. So I sometimes feel embarrassed when I am speaking in English since I am more prone to making mistakes.
-Hakaan, designer (raised speaking Turkish)
I like the word "stars" because it suggests something beyond our knowledge (I mean the astronomical term).
-Tze Goh, designer (raised speaking English, Mandarin and Hokkien)
Sometimes translating straight just doesn't work. In Germany, a Village Bicycle (which is the name of the Notting Hill store, where Felder Felder is stocked) is, well, a bicycle in a village!
-Annette Felder, designer (raised speaking German and with a "twin" language only the sisters could understand)

Duro Olowu was born in Lagos, Nigeria, to a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother, and was raised in Nigeria and England. He grew up speaking both English and Yoruba. Olowu scooped the new designer of the year award during the 2005 British Fashion Week in London, only one year after launching his label.

Kinder Aggugini was born in the late 1960s in Italy. He learnt Italian at primary school in Milan, English at secondary school in London and Japanese through working in Tokyo. Kinder has worked with Vivienne Westwood, Calvin Klein, Versace when Gianni died and in 2008 he launched his own label.

Damir Doma was born in Croatia but grew up in southern Germany. At home Croatian was the language of choice. He studied fashion in Munich and Berlin and, in 2007, made his debut at Paris Fashion Week, stamping his mark on contemporary menswear. He later launched womenswear in 2010.

Annette, one half of identical twin sisters who form FELDER FELDER, was born in Germany. She and her sibling, Daniela, left home in 2002, traveling through Europe, India and America, working as models. They settled in London and while still studying at Central Saint Martins they launched their label in 2006/2007.

Marios Schwab was raised speaking both Greek and German. He studied at the prestigious Esmod fashion school in Berlin. In 2003 he moved to London, where he completed an MA in Womenswear Fashion at Central Saint Martins. In 2005 he launched his own label, showing for two seasons with Fashion East, before making his debut at London Fashion Week in spring/summer 2007.

Born in Foggia, Italy, Maria Francesca Pepe speaks both Italian and English. She spent four years completing her BA in Fashion Design in Milan and London's Central Saint Martins and, in 2003, won the Japanese Tannan Fashion Award.

Thakoon Panichgul was born in Thailand and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. After graduating from Boston University, Panichgul moved to New York to pursue a career in fashion. He made his Fashion Week debut in September 2004.

Shoe designer Natalia Barbieri is one half of Bionda Castana. She was born in London to parents who immigrated to the UK in the 70s from Spain and Italy. Barbieri created the label with long-standing friend Jennifer Portman in 2007.

Born in Korea, Eudon Choi initially trained as a menswear designer in Seoul. After four years, he moved to London to attend the Royal College of Art's MA in Womenswear. In 2006 his graduate collection was picked up by Dover Street Market and he became senior designer for Twenty8Twelve before setting up his own label in 2009.

Shoe designer Beatrix Ong was born in London and studied at Central Saint Martins and Cordwainers College. Beatrix established her fashion credentials as Jimmy Choo's creative director of couture aged 22 and launched her eponymous line in 2002.

David Koma's mother tongue is Georgian but he later learnt Russian when he moved to Saint-Petersburg. He arrived in London in 2003 when he learnt English and studied both his BA and MA at Central Saint Martins. His 2009 graduate collection won the Harrods Design Award and launched him into womenswear.

Hakaan Yildirim hails from Turkey. Recently he won the Young Fashion Designer prize at Istanbul's Textile and Apparel Exporter Associations while still at university.

Tze Goh was born and raised in Singapore. He went on to study in Paris and New York at Parsons The New School for Design and at London's Central Saint Martins. Goh's first full womenswear collection was presented at the CSM MA show in February 2010.

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