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c.2013 New York Times News Service

What's in a name? Beats me.

Scientists may not be able to prove conclusively that the universe is expanding, but fashion certainly is. The exponential expansion of the number of fashion labels over the last decade, fashion's equivalent of the Big Bang, has not only swollen the fashion calendar to bursting. It has also made it bad form not just uncompetitive and unoriginal to do something as 20th century as naming your fashion line after yourself.

After all, is there anything less interesting or memorable than someone's name? Why call your line Shane Gabier or Chris Peters when you can call it Creatures of the Wind? Why call it Judson Harmon or Jordan Klein or, even more boringly, Harmon-Klein, when you can call it Odd? (No, they're not Danish.) Why call it Natsuko Kanno when you could call it 4 Corners of a Circle? The list goes on, heading off in a very dark palette: Tome, the Vessel, Viscera, Wildfox, Shades of Grey, Brood.

For those who dream them up, it's a fast way to set themselves apart.

''We didn't want our names on the label," Gabier said of the Chicago-based women's line, which was nominated last year for a Council of Fashion Designers of America award. The name is a lyric from "Wild is the Wind," a song first recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1957, followed over the years by Nina Simone, David Bowie and Cat Power, among others. "We liked the moody atmosphere, and the way that every version of the song brings up different associations. It opens it up a bit more to interpretation."

Or confusion.

Erica Roseman, a fashion publicist, once worked with Kanno on her line. "Everyone who called would it get it wrong," she said. "Even around the office we would. It was '4 Circles in a Square, 4 Corners of a City.' No one ever got it right."

Still, even a name you can almost remember has to be better than one that's completely forgettable. Why call a line by anyone's name, much less an unpronounceable one of indeterminate ethnic origin (Norwegian? Nepalese?), when you can go with something catchy? A handful of designers have been ahead of the curve lines like Tuleh, Dsquared, Rodarte, the Row. Lately, though, even an attractive name like Preen or Gilded Age is old hat. Witness the chthonic-sounding Brood and Viscera. At this point, you might as well go all the way and invite ridicule. Cardboard Box? Dross? Passe?

Or, in the spirit of the latest multiword nomenclature, how about A Lot of Stuff You Don't Need, or, for a mystical-yet-quantum pose, Spooky Action at a Distance. Or longer yet, since songs are such a lyrical antecedent, how about a homage to Pink Floyd: "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict."


The obvious upside of the trend is that it's easier to get the ADD-addled fashion world's attention by making them ask "What?" instead of "Who?"

''If you are building a brand from scratch, you're going to get more reaction from something unexpected and strange," said Tom Julian, a retail branding consultant. "We live in a world where we are deluged with the stories about re-branded lines and repurposed names, and you really have to find your own white space." ("White space" refers to an underserved retail sector or niche.)

The crazy-name game may be newish to fashion, but it's not new elsewhere. It has already hit the world of theater (with troupes like Elevator Repair Co., Nature Theater of Oklahoma, Clubbed Thumb and Beautiful Soup Theater Collective), art (galleries like Haunch of Venison, Klaus von Nichtssagend, Fruit and Flower Deli and Invisible-Exports), music (acts like oOoOO, iamamiwhoami and Death Cab for Cutie) and beauty (perfumes called Boadicea the Victorious and brands called Juliette Has a Gun and Strange Invisible Perfumes).

''We just were looking over show invitations today," said Jean Godfrey June, the beauty and fashion news director at Lucky. "And after a long string of hyperquirky names, one of our editors said, 'Why don't they just call it 'Sweaters'?"

''It goes one way or the other, they charm or they repel," she went on. "The offbeat name is a way to distinguish yourself and sound mysterious and underground-y. The trade-off is, purposely making yourself sound obscure can turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy."