The Paris based designer, Christian Louboutin sued Yves Saint Laurent last week for using their trademarked red soles on its shoes. The purpose of the red sole in Christian Louboutin’s design is branding – to help distinguish their shoes from those of other designers. The designer claims that Yves Saint Laurent’s use of the red soles is trademark infringement.
Reuters reported that the trademark infringement lawsuit filed in the Manhattan Federal court said ‘Mr. Louboutin is the first designer to develop the idea of having red soles on women’s shoes.’ and the use of red soles on other designer footwear may cause confusion amongst the public. Louboutin wants Yves Saint Laurent to pay $1 million in damages and to stop producing similar designs. The lawsuit said ‘The Red Sole has become synonymous with Christian Louboutin and high fashion,’ and added that the design had been trademarked since 2008.
Less than a week after Christian Louboutin sued Yves Saint Laurent, they have moved to sue another shoe designer, a Brazilian label Carmen Steffens. However, Carmen Steffens insists that it had been using red soles on its shoes since 1996, whilst Christian Louboutin had only registered the trademark in 2008. The brand’s international developer states: ‘We are ready to provide unassailable evidence that we have been using colored soles, especially red, before Mr. Christian Louboutin popularized his.’
The president of the companies US operations Mark Willingham stated ‘Of the 250 styles in Carmen Steffens France’s current collection, only three styles utilise red tones on their soles.’ The label finds it surprising that Christian Louboutin has tried to claim rights over a particular colour.
Although claiming rights over the colour of the sole of a shoe might seem surprising, in the fashion world it is common knowledge that a shoe with a pair of red soles is a Christian Louboutin design or at least a knock-off. According to the lawsuit ‘Mr Louboutin is the first designer to develop the idea of having red soles on women’s shoes. The location of the bright colour on the outsole of a woman’s pump is said to provide an alluring “flash of red” when a woman walks down the street, or on the red carpet of a special event‘
If the red sole really does act as a method of branding in the fashion world, then it might seem understandable that the designer wants to protect and limit the use of a red sole on other shoes as it would be much like protecting any other sort of brand. However, there is still the question over
whether one designer should really be able to prevent the use of a particular colour being used on the soles of a shoe?
Under trade mark law, ultimately the question turns on whether consumers would be confused into believing that a pair of shoes bearing red soles emanate from Louboutin (at $1000 a pair) or from another source.