By  on January 6, 2006

PARIS - Ask a young woman, "What are you wearing?" these days and you might get some surprising answers: "My Ass," "Acne," "Naughty," "Pussy Deluxe" or even "Little Slut."

Those are among the eyebrow-raising labels coming out of Europe, with most benefiting from their irreverent monikers, but some causing a retail ruckus.

"I would keep the name more neutral if I could start again; it's problematic for serious business," admitted British designer Nicola Helgesen, whose burgeoning ready-to-wear brand, La Petite Salope (Little Slut, in English), featuring feminine corsets and cocktailwear, has been making waves in France.

"When my agent had some invitations printed in Paris, she got a series of panic-stricken calls asking if she knew what the name meant," Helgesen recalled.

Ultimately, the designer decided to censor herself in order to wholesale her line to upscale department store Le Bon Marché. Next spring, the store will stock the collection with the label reading "La Petite S*****."

"I've had to grin and bear it, otherwise [business] is not going to happen in the major stores in Paris," said Helgesen, adding that American clients such as Barneys New York and Nordstrom have never questioned the name. "At least the label still adheres to my humor, as it looks all the more controversial with the added stars."

Michael Hadida, director of marketing for Tranoi, the young designer trade show in Paris, defends the growing number of collections with controversial names, saying it not only reflects designers' freedom of expression, but can bring additional cachet.

"Today, we don't take things at first value," he said. "If a brand is called Criminal and designs prison dungarees, it would be too obvious. But if the product is distinguished, the name's going to bring it a new dimension."

"Cheeky names are great as long as they don't offend anyone," agreed Olivia Richardson, buying manager for women's wear at Liberty in London. But while Richardson looks to the quality of the product over its moniker, she is generally wary of provocative labels.

"My experience is that labels with 'in your face' names usually don't satisfy in terms of quality," said Richardson, adding that if a name were to put her off buying a label personally, it would probably put her off buying it for the store.

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