Red Hot: Fashion Designers Wage War Over Shoes

red Louboutins
If you see a woman wearing these shoes, three things can be deduced.  One, she spent a pretty penny on them.  Two, those are Christian Louboutin shoes.  Three, the surrounding women are a tad jealous. 

Since Christian Louboutin first decided to give his shoes an “edge” by painting the sole of his shoes with red nail polish in 1992, this fiery addition to his shoe collection unarguably has become his signature look.  In fact, in 2008 the USPTO granted Christian Louboutin a trademark registration for the red-colored sole, giving Louboutin exclusivity to this distinctive element of the shoe.  Below is a summary of the granted trade-mark registration.

Trademark Reg. No. & DateGoodsDescription
 red sole medium
January 1, 2008
Women’s high fashion designer footwearThe color red is claimed as a feature of the mark.  The mark consists of a lacquered red sole on footwear.  The dotted lines are not part of the mark but are intended to only show placement of the mark.

(Similar trade-mark applications have also been filed with the Canadian Trade-marks Office and with the OHIM but are still pending). 

In Yves Saint Laurent’s 2011 spring collection, the famed fashion house included a collection of shoes that had varying colored shoes: purple shoes with purple soles, green shoes with green soles, navy shoes with navy soles and, finally, red shoes with red soles.  It is this last color combination that has Louboutin seeing red.  (I couldn’t resist this pun – my apologies!)  Yves Saint Laurent’s shoes are available at high-end department stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman.  These fashion retail stores are “meccas” for luxury brands.

In the luxury brand world, imitation is not the highest form of flattery.  Louboutin promptly launched a suit against Yves Saint Laurent in New York claiming trademark infringement.  Louboutin is seeking an injunction and $1 million in damages.  It will be interesting to see whether this fire will be stamped out.

Yves Saint Laurent is pushing back, however, claiming that Louboutin's red sole is not distinctive of Louboutin and, therefore, the trade-mark registration is without merit.