Louboutin: King of the Red

Can color be a trademark? Specifically the bright lacquered red Christian Louboutin calls “China Red” that has been on their shoes for more than 20 years. Tiffany’s has its robin egg blue and United Postal Service has the color brown, so who’s to say Louboutin can’t trademark red? Christian Louboutin has sued Yves Saint Laurent for trademark branding of the color red. The red on the under sole of all of their shoes that is. In April 2011, Louboutin filed an injunction against YSL for selling red-soled shoes, which Louboutin had already trademarked in 2008. The injunction request was denied and the judge said that the red sole trademark was invalid, stating that no designer should have a monopoly on the color red. Louboutin appealed the decision in October 2011. In December 2011, YSL filed an appellate brief in response stating that no one would confuse a YSL shoe for a Louboutin, regardless of the red soles. On January 24th, 2012 both sides argued to a panel of three Appeals Court judges in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Branding is such a core concept in this case. The law has nothing to protect fashion design but it does realize the rights that come in branding and the meaning of branding to a company. Companies pay top dollar to insert their products in the perfect place and portray a certain quality with their band. Louboutin’s red sole signifies luxury, worth and beauty. It would be a crime to see other shoe companies be able to use it as well. Just as Tiffany’s would be upset if Cartier used their little blue boxes or Splenda started using Sweet’N Low’s light pink.
Tiffany’s has even filed an amicus curiae to support Louboutin’s argument that a color can be trademarked, meaning its use is prohibited. Louboutin has gathered a lot of support among celebrities and his counsel alike. At the January 24th hearing, Diane Von Furstenburg was there proudly wearing a pair of red soled Louboutins as was select members of counsel and women of the public attendance. Louboutin has been quoted to say, “This is a legal matter to YSL, to me it is very personal, it is an intrinsic part of my life and my company, which bears my name, and which I have built over the past 20 years and still independently own; this is why I had to be at court in person.” It’s obvious that this red sole is an integral part of Louboutin’s identity. It is recognized by any shoe lover around the world; if you had asked me about the red sole, Louboutin would have been my first answer. The U.S. District Court of Southern New York has even conceded that Louboutin pops to mind when Hollywood starlets cross red carpets and you can see lacquered red outsoles on high-heeled, black shoes.
It’s obvious that the red sole has always been part of Louboutin’s branding, it’s identifying mark, it’s signature. But trademarking a color can prove difficult because no other designer would be able to use that in full anymore. The color serves many aesthetic functions important to competition and if Louboutin trademarks the color, it would hinder use of it by other companies. In terms of branding and ethics, what YSL did was wrong. Each brand has its own style and individuality which makes it successful, they shouldn’t have treaded on other company’s ideas because it would only ruin their own reputation, while leaving Louboutin recognized even more so as the only shoes with red soles. It is more important to be credible with your consumers than it is to forgo designs and profits for one fiscal year. What do you think? If Louboutin loses the case and its trademark, will people still pay such high prices for the red soled shoes when everyone else will be able to use it? Did the red sole make you think about Louboutin at first thought? Most importantly, do you think Louboutin deserves the rights to the red soles they’ve used for the last twenty years?



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