If you haven’t gathered by the mere aesthetics of my blog by now, I am a huge fan of Christian Louboutin. I, like millions of other shoe-lovers, am mesmerized by their detail, shape, height, and most notably, their super-feminine, super-sultry red soles.
The brand’s founder “stiletto king”, Christian Louboutin, first began his company in Paris in the early ’90s. According to numerous articles marveling over this hand-made commodity, Christian credits a trip to Africa in the 1970s (where women were forbidden from wearing sharp stilettos in wood floor laden buildings…) for his inspiration to make footwear that “broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered.”(2011 YouTube Documentary) Christian’s meteoric rise in the fashion world catapulted his red soles from the catwalk to red carpets everywhere in what appeared to be an effortless transition. These highly-coveted, high-priced shoes have not only revolutionized the fashion industry, but also modernized the term “sexy” giving women of all shapes and sizes the ability to feel empowered, confident, and classy.
Like most things in life, too much of a good thing never ends well. The Christian Louboutin empire is not exempt from this adage and in fact, has found itself in the midst of a law suit against another iconic brand, Yves Saint Larent (YSL). In an attempt to not bore any non-legal readers, here’s a (fairly) quick overview of their ongoing legal battle.
In January 2011 YSL produced a “Cruise Collection” featuring monochromatic designs. As you may have figured, one of the shoes, which was entirely red, featured the same vibrant color on its sole. In what appeared to be an attempt at avoiding any judicial interference, Christian met with YSL to discuss a potential infringement on his trademarked Red Sole Mark. When YSL refused to recall the shoes, Christian took legal action. According to court documents, the initial complaint alleged “[…] trademark infringement, […] false designation or origin and […] unfair competition and […] trademark dilution, [as well as…] unlawful deceptive acts and practices.” In response, YSL filed counterclaims, which requested cancelation of the Louboutin Red Sole Mark “on the ground that it is not distinctive, ornamental, [or] functional” and unfair competition, among other things.
The general crux of the case appears to hinge on whether the Red Sole Mark trademark was in fact valid, and if it were, whether color can be trademarked in the first place. Various case law was provided in support of the Louboutin’s notion that it was entirely lawful to trademark his, now famous, red soles as precedence has been set that a color which carries with it a “secondary meaning” whereby it “identifies or distinguishes a particular brand” may be protected. Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Prods. Co., 514 U.S. 159, 161, 163, 115 S.Ct. 1300, 131 L.Ed.2d 248 (1995). Essentially, “a color may meet the legal requirements for a trademark if it ‘act[s] as a symbol that distinguishes a firm’s goods and identifies their source, without serving any other significant function” Id. at 166.
The Lanham Act, used primarily in the fashion industry, has been “upheld to permit the registration of the use of color in a trademark, but only in distinct patterns or combinations of shades that manifest a conscious effort to design a uniquely identifiable mark embedded in the goods”Louis Vuitton Malletier, 454 F.3d at 116. Think, Louis Vuitton “LV” and Burberry Brit Check. (You may also be thinking of Tiffany & Co. and their pretty blue boxes, bags, website…well, everything – interestingly enough, Tiffany’s came to Louboutin’s aid and filed their own brief to the court in support…we can’t possibly be without TWO of the greatest, and most notably colors in the industry, can we!?)
Ultimately, certain colors used by those in fashion world, specifically, must be arranged in such a way so that a distinct and recognizable secondary message or connection is made to a particular brand. Being the proponent of Christian Louboutins that I am, I believe they have met this standard as red soles to women world-wide are synonymous with his brilliant work.
The legal process is slow and thus, there still has not been a definitive ruling on this suit. Let’s hope for the sake of Louboutin lovers everywhere that the distinctive red sole remains alive and well.
Well, it is easy to see where my interests are. My two worlds collided in this post, unfortunately to the detriment of brevity. I hope it at least provided a little look behind the catwalks and clothes racks and into the uglier, albeit interesting, side of fashion.
Since there is so much more to the case, check it out at: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5176392495342625969&hl=en&as_sdt=2&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr
For all of you who have had enough reading for one day, watch the humble, Loubi himself in a short 5 minute video!: