Christian Louboutin shoes, popularized by countless well-heeled celebrities who can afford them, range from strappy and spiky to crystal-encrusted and furry. But the common denominator is that each pair—many which cost $1,000 or more— features soles shining in fire-engine red.
French footwear designer Louboutin launched his line in 1991 and since, his luxurious high-end heels have been regarded as the fashion-forward version of Cinderella’s glass slipper: precious, delicate, unique. And a part of that distinctive character has to do with the brand’s signature red sole, a dose of bold scarlet that peeks from the bottom of each shoe, be it a sandal, stiletto, platform or wedge.
The problem is that Yves Saint Laurent is now selling red-soled shoes, too, and when Louboutin found out, he filed a trademark claim in April against the Paris-based top-tier fashion house that also acts as his rival. Louboutin believes that Yves Saint Laurent has ripped off his signature crimson trademark by featuring two red-soled shoes, the “Palais Pump” and “Palais Slingback,” in its 2011 resort collection.
In 2008, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Louboutin with a registered trademark for the glossy red-bottomed feature, but the federal judge has chosen to deny Louboutin’s lawsuit. Unlike the specific monogram of Louis Vuitton or the plaid patterns of Burberry, Louboutin is claiming ownership of a color, and despite the specific placement of that color (the bottom of a shoe), the trademark granted to him in 2008 is “too broad,” the judge said.
“Louboutin’s claim would cast a red cloud over the whole industry, cramping what other designers do, while allowing Louboutin to paint with a full palette,” said Judge Victor Marrero of Federal District Court in Manhattan.
Jyotin Hamid, a lawyer for Yves Saint Laurent, is delighted by the ruling. “No designer should ever be allowed to monopolize a color,” David Bernstein, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton who is representing Yves Saint Laurent in the case, told the Wall Street Journal.
Not only can Yves Saint Laurent sell the red-soled shoes in its current line, the fashion house can utilize the feature for future collections. So can any other brand, including low-brow designers that sell shoes for $20 a pair or less.