When Giannulli Mossimo announced his new role as "visionary" of the Irvine-based clothing company Mossimo Inc., his unorthodox title raised eyebrows in corporate America. Visionary? Wasn't that what they called people like Gandhi or JFK, not a guy who once made neon volley shorts with large Ms stamped on their backsides?
To veterans of the Orange County fashion industry, however, Mossimo's recent moniker pronouncement caused hardly a ripple of interest. That's because those who create cutting-edge clothing and accessories for teens and twentysomethings have grown accustomed to people making up unusual titles.
Many shrug off the customary trappings of the business world, so they're not surprised when someone hands them a business card that reads "Corrupt Executive Officer." That's just one of the tongue-in-cheek titles used by Jim Gray, owner of ABC Board Supply, makers of skate equipment and clothing in Costa Mesa. Among the other creative names Gray has given himself: Completely Exhausted Old Man (his current favorite), Stress Master and Den Mother.
"We don't have run-of-the-mill titles," he said. "It's the nature of our business. We're dealing with skateboard shops and distributors, and we don't have to step outside our industry. So calling yourself den mother instead of president doesn't surprise people." Among the slew of titles used by other ABC employees: Computer Nerd, Sales Guru and Artsy Fartsy Guy.
"It's all for the entertainment value," Gray said. "It gives people more reason to collect your business cards."
At Urban Decay, the Costa Mesa-based cosmetics line best known for nail polishes and lipsticks with names such as Gash, Asphyxia and Acid Rain, it isn't just the makeup that has colorful titles. All employees have given themselves weird names. Creative Director Wende Zomnir's black business card reads "Ms. Decay."
"We have corporate titles from our incorporation documents, but we wanted something more fun and interesting on our business cards," Zomnir said, adding that she chose Ms. Decay because "I do a little bit of everything here."
Vice Chairman David Soward is Urban Decay's self-appointed Token Suit; President Malcolm Kemp is the 911 Operator, and CEO Sandy Lerner goes by the Bottom Line. Sales director Jill Dunk is called Meter Maid.
"She's always collecting money," Zomnir explained.
And everyone calls office manager Tawna Parks "Miss Tawna" in honor of her days as a preschool teacher.
At Irvine-based Too Faced, a cosmetics company in business since February, co-owner Jeremy Johnson is the official Action Man (it says so on his business card), while his partner Jerrod Blandino is the Dreamer.
"Because this whole thing came out of my head--I have a bizarre imagination," Blandino said.
Johnson is the Action Man because he crunches the numbers and handles the business end of Too Faced; Blandino invents lipstick colors.
"We didn't want to be typical suits in a corporate office. I don't even know what a CEO does, but I know what a dreamer does," Blandino said. "We're rebels in the cosmetic industry."
Randy Carlson, owner of a Hawaiian clothing line called Ai-Wa-Na and a tiki furnishings and knickknacks company called the Vintage Advantage, answers to the name Big Kahuna, a title he cheerfully admits he doesn't deserve.
"It's kind of a stretch for a California kid who's never been to Hawaii," Carlson said. His company's not even near the beach. It's in Brea, "a big surf town, except we're totally landlocked," Carlson joked.
"Big Kahuna is kind of a fun tag-line, because when I go to trade shows it helps people remember me," Carlson said. "Everyone looks at me to see if I'm big."
Around the Lake Forest offices of Girlfriend, the juniors division of Gouge clothing company, Stephanie Alfaro has been crowned Queen Bee, a title emblazoned on her hot pink business card. Her husband, Jim Alfaro, owns Gouge, a men's streetwear line, and goes by Head Honcho. As Queen Bee, Alfaro designs the clothing and performs a variety of tasks.
"I'm all over the place. People here have more than one position. We all collaborate. So I was wondering what to put on my business card, and a co-worker suggested Queen Bee. She thought it was funny and appropriate," Alfaro said. "People see it and chuckle."
Higher-ups at upstart fashion companies dislike titles because they conflict with the rebellious, anti-establishment attitude they project to appeal to their young, free-spirited customers. Also, many have no corporate experience. Their companies were created out of their home or garage, not a boardroom.
"Your title does not denote how important you are," Zomnir said. "Your objective is just to get the job done. Your work is your passion. Why slap yourself with a serious-sounding title? Why not have fun with it?"
Some companies have tried abolishing titles entirely. Everyone who works at 2-Fish Shoe Works in Marina del Rey is simply a "worker."
"We came from big companies like Nike and Vans. We started this to get away from silly things like reserved parking spots and titles," said Sean Scott, who co-owns 2-Fish with Dan Markovitz. "We have about 10 workers and they can pick any name they want to. They can be czar. If they're doing their job, people should know what they do."
Still, when a company grows to the size of a Mossimo and has to answer to stockholders, serious-sounding titles can become a necessity. They keep order and help vendors and others outside the company figure out who's who.
"When you get to be a big company, you need to be businesslike," Carlson said. For now, though, as long as he's in charge of a smaller up-and-coming operation, he's still the Big Kahuna.