Christian Louboutin: a (red) sole proprietor speaks

Prompted by the AmeriKat's first post yesterday, which reviewed the Red Soles spat between Christian Louboutin and the Gucci Group's Yves St Laurent, the IPKat's friend Mary-Ellen Field (Brand Finance) was inspired to write the following opinion piece which the Kat -- every wary of expensive footwear for the very good reason that he is a quadruped -- is pleased to share with his readers.  It runs like this:
"As the owner of several pairs of much loved and dare I say much admired Christian Louboutin's (I don't expect male readers will understand any of this) I can only think that the Gucci Group must be really desperate to paint their YSL soles red. It seems an incredibly silly thing to do.

Do they really think that women who are prepared to spend over £400 pounds for a pair of CLs will actually change their minds and buy a pair of YSL's because they have red soles? Just because we are prepared to spend a lot of money on shoes does not mean we are stupid (Please try to control yourselves, all you tomcats reading this.  Expensive shoes -- like hair colour and other unmentionables -- are no indication of intelligence or the lack of it)

Listen up YSL, we women buyers of luxury shoes make our choices of the shoes we buy based purely on love: if we love them we buy them. This is very annoying to accountants, lawyers and bankers because love is not measurable. CL is the ultimate status shoe at the moment (in my humble opinion and I could send you a photo of my shoe closet if required to prove this). Wearing our red soled CL works of arts makes us part of a special club, just like owning an Apple product or a Ferrari.

I also quite often love YSL shoes enough to buy them too -- but if you feel the need to try to trick me by adding red soles I won't love you any more. You don't need to pass yourself off as CL, you are beautiful in your own right.

It always amazes me, when I go to so called "luxury events, conferences" etc, that hardly any of the attendees are attired in or carry any luxury products at all. Perhaps the luxury industry pays so badly that they can't afford to buy the products they flog. It is always so disappointing".
This member of the Kat team knows little of female shoe fashion but feels he has a slightly proprietary interest in anything to do with red footwear, since the Red Shoes -- the movie classic of that name -- was co-produced and co-directed by Emeric Pressburger, who had the good fortune to the cousin of this Kat's mother-in-law. Never mind that, Merpel says, what's important here is to find out what other readers think about what, at the very least, seems to have been a curiously risky decision on the part of YSL.
Christian Louboutin: a (red) sole proprietor speaks Christian Louboutin: a (red) sole proprietor speaks Reviewed by Jeremy on Monday, April 11, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. This reader actually had red-soled shoes as a child and they were definitely not CL's- I therefore wonder if historically the red-sole is unique? also if I seem to recall correctly CL himself did not originally colour the soles of his shoes red but was inspired by the nail polish on a model and spontaneously painted the bottoms of a pair of shoes with Chanel Nail Polish- should Chanel not then get some credit at least?

  2. The opinion of my local Lamboutin expert is that a pair of shoes which are all red would not be Lamboutin branded they would just be all red and in HIS eyes thats different

  3. Filemot makes a valid point. However, to my mind there are two other possible explanations for YSL's actions:

    1. Someone in the organisaton is incredibly stupid; or

    2. Any costs incurred by YSL in the exercise are coming out of the marketing budget....

    May I invite the IPKat to promote a competition to nominate a similar issue - IP-related - that would cause as much controversy among tomcats?

  4. Trade mark law aside (how dare I write that on this blog?), this all seems very reminiscent of New Coke to me...

  5. @filemot - so, if my trade mark is a red shoe sole and I apply that trade mark to shoes that just so happen to be the same colour as my trade mark, then my trade mark ceases to operate as a trade mark anymore...? Essentially what you're saying is that Lououtin's trade mark is limited in application only to shoes that aren't the same colour as the red sole. Unless this limitation is part of the trade mark itself, it doesn't seem to make much sense to me...

  6. Does it make a difference what shade of red is at issue here? I don't know what the difference in pantone colour is between CL's and YSL's red soles, but if YSL's red shoe is a different shade of red (both on the sole as well as the body of the shoe), would this give YSL an argument that they were in fact just creating a red shoe, which is completely different in look and feel as well as colour to CL's red-soled shoes?

  7. @confusedShoeQueen
    one of the hazards of colour marks is that they may not work in all situations. Same problem applies to word marks in foreign languages. MATTRASSEN is fine for mattresses in Spain but descriptive in Germany. If you are marketing shoes and need a brand with no limitations then choose something that is distinctve all of the time to the relevant consumer. If you choose something like colour that may also serve other functions you get to live with the limitations.

    As to Anon at 1:58 the shade of red is vital. Lamboutin red is *nice* not your cheap patent stilleto scarlet, no way

  8. I don't think the Pantone is at all determinative in infringement. It is included in TM registrations to fix the colour of the representation as a base point (and avoid fading on actual samples etc). But when it comes to infringement, surely it is consumer perception that matters - if the colour on the alleged infringing shoe is seen as recognisably different (such as pink) by consumers then no confusion is likely, but if they just see it as red and think Louboutin, the exact shade is irrelevant - after all, who carries a Pantone chart when they are out shopping? (please tell me no-one can answer yes to this!). It would become more important if there were a number of similar colour marks co-existing and consumers were already accustomed to differenciating between them on the basis of more precise variations of shade.

  9. ummm. I have actually carried a PANTONE chart while shopping but then again I was buying furniture and paint, draperies etc so wanted to avoid clashing colours-so this event was an exception not a norm :-)

  10. As an aside - in various styles YSL sold purple shoes with purple soles and black shoes with black soles...

  11. It's the type of shoes here that is important and the liklihood of confusion. No one would mistake a pair of sneakers with red soles as CL. But, I've been in meetings where a woman with high heeled pumps is immediately recognized as CL because of the red soles. The red soles have become distinctive and associated with the brand.


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