Christian Louboutin has won legal support for his exclusive right to use red lacquered soles—as long as the rest of the shoe isn’t red.
A US federal appeals court upheld Louboutin’s trademark of ‘China Red’ soles, contested after the luxury shoe designer sued Yves Saint Laurent over its introduction of a line of monochrome shoes, including an all-red style, in 2011.
Initially, a New York judge disputed the basis of Louboutin’s trademark and declined to grant an injunction against the sale of YSL’s shoes. The appeals process, particularly emotional for the designer, whose signature flourish was at risk, found that Louboutin has the right to protect the use of red soles, provided they contrast the rest of the shoe.
‘The District Court's conclusion that a single colour can never serve as a trademark in the fashion industry was based on an incorrect understanding of the doctrine of aesthetic functionality and was therefore in error,’ an appeals judge wrote.
The red outsole is ‘therefore a distinctive symbol that qualifies for trademark protection,’ the court added.
Unusually, both Louboutin and YSL portray the decision as a victory. YSL gets to continue retailing its mono-colour shoes, while Louboutin has been assured that mass retailers will not be permitted to copy its widely recognised soles.
‘We are extremely pleased and gratified that the Appellate Court found our key arguments to be correct: first that color can and does serve as a trademark in the fashion industry, and that Christian Louboutin’s world famous Red Sole trademark is valid, protectable and enforceable,' Louboutin said in a statement welcoming the decision.
‘As we have said throughout these proceedings and we reiterate now, especially in the light of this decision, we will continue to take all steps available to protect our trademark.’