A judge in New York today ruled that Louboutin cannot trademark their red soles. Louboutin claimed in court papers that he invented the idea of red soles 20 years ago and, in recent years, the company have robustly defended their trademark, shutting down smaller brands’ right to use red soles. As well as Yves Saint Laurent they filed a tradmark infringement suit against Brazilian brand Carmen Steffen and Spanish high street chain Zara. Back in 2005, around the time Louboutin went stratospheric, the UK chain New Look went through a period of selling shoes with red soles for a fraction of the price of a pair of Louboutins.
In most cases, all it would take was a ‘cease and desist’ letter from the shoe maker and a smaller brand would back down, especially one without the resources to fight it out in court. However, when they they tried this trick on YSL the couture fashion house, established in 1962, chose to fight back, defending the lawsuit and counter-suing to have Louboutin’s trade mark struch off.
It is unsurprising that Judge Marrero initially found for YSL, given the apparent collective disapproval of Louboutin’s heavy-handed tactics. There were even rumours that the shoe brand was going to go after Dior after a private investigator informed him that they were intending to release shoes with red soles. Meanwhile Giancarlo Giammeti, longtime business partner of Valentino, the fashion house famous for red gowns (their fragrance is also called Red), pointed out that Valentino were matching the soles of their shoes to their red dresses as far back as 1969.It’s a tough call. Ultimately, Louboutin’s desire to trademark red soles is understandable: whenever I see red soles on a red carpet or in a paparazzi picture I automatically assume they’re Louboutins, so it’s a great calling card. And if you have a trademark, it is necessary to defend it vigorously or risk losing it (ever wondered why if you ask for Coca Cola in a restaurant they point out that they only serve Pepsi? Because Coca Cola are so defensive of their trademark they apparently write to restaurants to ensure that no other beverage is referred to as ‘cola’).
Whilst, for the time being at least, YSL can continue to sell their red-soled shoes in peace, all is not lost for Monsieur Louboutin. Firstly, he has only lost round one, with Judge Marrero requesting that all parties return next week after he has considered the verdict more fully. Secondly, the judge pointed out that one of the problems with his trademark application was that it was unclear which precise colour red Louboutin was trying to protect. The solution? He could always trademark the exact colour red he is using. Not such a wacky idea considering that Cadbury’s trademarked a shade of purple.