Friday, August 12, 2011

The Battle Over The Color Red: Christian Louboutin v. Yves Saint Laurent

Happy Friday Everyone!! Since we're always so politically driven and serious here at The Urban Politico, I figured we could lighten the mood and have a little fun today.

As as junior "bag and shoe mista," I found this story particularly interesting. Let me preface this by saying, I haven't graduated to Christian Louboutin's (the plan is to move up on my 30th Birthday) but I salute this designer and have the utmost respect for the "Red Bottom." I can spot a pair of "Red Bottom's" a mile away. If shoes were an automobile Christian Louboutin's are a 3-7-Series BMW (a nod to The Janitor). There is the classic pair, which most females make their debut in, then you gradually move into seasonal additions and when you've really hit it big, you move into boots or seasonal exclusives. In my humble opinion Christian Louboutin caters to the woman at every stage of professional growth of her life. I look at shoes as an investment. I am not a retail addict, so once every two to three years, I pick up a pair of pumps (usually a classic black patent leather, currently Ann Taylor) and I will literally wear them until the heel falls off or my cobbler, tells me he can no longer fix them.

My understanding from the Christian Louboutin worshipers that I know, is that this shoe is such a high quality shoe you only need to maintain and repair normal wear and tear, and they will last you for life. That's what I call a shoe investment! Christian Louboutin has not only made a quality product, but a signature product that has an iconic status. A major part of the brand is the signature scarlet sole (Red Bottom), which people across the globe have come to recognize as the symbol of the brand. Nike has the "Swoosh," McDonald's has the "Golden Arch," Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Apple, the list goes on. With all of these brands, clearly defined by a logo or symbol, I was pretty shocked to hear that a US Federal Judge threw out a Trademark Infringement suite filed by Christian Louboutin, which fought to prevent other designers from copying the scarlet sole. Yves Saint Laurent recently decided to begin using a similar scarlet sole on a line of their shoes, when Christian Louboutin got word they decided to take the necessary steps to protect their brand and image.

In federal court, US District Judge Victor Marrero ruled that Louboutin -- even if widely recognized for its trailblazing use of red under the shoe -- could not stop competitors like YSL from doing the same thing.

"Because in the fashion industry color serves ornamental and aesthetic functions vital to robust competition, the court finds that Louboutin is unlikely to be able to prove that its red outsole brand is entitled to trademark protection," said Marrero, who revealed himself as an ardent admirer of the sexy slip-ons.

The million-dollar suit for "trademark infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin" was filed in April in New York claiming that a series of YSL shoes would mislead consumers familiar with Louboutin's scarlet soles.

An attorney for Louboutin told AFP he was "profoundly disappointed."

"Even though the judge agreed that Louboutin's red sole mark was famous and well known, he appears to have concluded 'sua sponte' that in the fashion industry one ought not be able to use a single color as a trademark," Harley Lewin added.

"We are currently evaluating all alternatives."

Why in the world would Yves Saint Laurent look to copy Christian Louboutin's scarlet sole? YSL is so iconic in its own right and shouldn't need to follow the lead of other designers. YSL knows better and will loose credibility if they continue this fight and move forward with the use of the scarlet sole.

Should Christian Louboutin be granted exclusive rights to the color red, via their scarlet sole?
Should branding in fashion be treated differently than branding in other industries?
If Yves Saint Laurent is successful in using the scarlet sole will it take away or add to their branding and image?

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