When you see a pair of “red bottoms,” as the urban world has so affectionately come to label Christian Louboutin shoes, you know who they belong to, and the French shoemaker wants to make sure things stay that way.
On Tuesday, the luxury label battled with with another well-known French fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent, in appeals court in an attempt to overturn a decision made by Federal Judge Victor Marrero last August that denied Louboutin’s request to stop YSL from selling a line of shoes with red tops and bottoms.
“Louboutin’s claim would cast a red cloud over the whole industry, cramping what other designers could do while allowing Louboutin to paint with a full palette,” Judge Marrero wrote in his opinion, suggesting that the trademark the brand was granted in 2008 to use red for the soles of it’s shoes was given in error. He argued that color performs a creative function and doesn’t identify or advertise a commercial source. “Louboutin would thus be able to market a total outfit in red, while other designers would not.”
Attorney Harley Lewin argued strongly against that suggestion before a three-judge panel, noting that red soles are synonymous with his client’s brand.
“Christian Louboutin has created one of the more iconic trademarks of the 21st century. Louboutin turned a pedestrian item into a thing of beauty.”
YSL’s counsel, David Bernstein, of course, wants Judge Marrero’s opinion to be upheld:
“Artists of this type need the full palette of colors available. In order to compete and compete fairly, we need red. We don’t want to find out that we can make green, blue, purple shoes… but we are enjoined from making red.”
In the case of YSL, why would a well established French fashion house cash in on this on Louboutin’s red bottom trademark? You would have to be living in an igloo, in the middle of Antartica, with no communications for western civilization, to know a red bottom equals Louboutin. Since the brand has only trademarked its shade known as “China Red,” YSL should be content using any other variation in the color pallet, right? The judges meanwhile are trying to determine whether Judge Marrero properly interpreted trademark law and whether to send the case back to him for additional findings. This had me to brain-storm, a brain-storm that turned into a formidable monsoon. Why would YSL risk being viewed in the fashion world as “knock-off artist”, when all they would have to do is formulate a type of direct branding,a designer-based “it-factor” for their own product.
My thinking is this, Louboutin has the red-bottom signature for their footwear, what can YSL do that is just as visually powerful, taking this wonderful branding idea to the 1000th power? Why didn’t the YSL designer(s) consider this, instead of risking the brands hard earned image and status. One reason, the quick buck. Large fashion companies, globally, are led by younger and more inexperienced talent, who’s only claim to fame are “viral trends” that make no substantial offerings to the legacy of global fashion. These trends are often so fickle, that they often fizzled out , before this “hot product” reaches full market. Please understand, there are many overtly talented designers in the international market that keep fashion exciting, but there are also many that are “fashion followers”, not trend setters, and quit a few design for some of the most powerful brands in this world. Louboutin now has an issue, the red bottoms that this brand is known for, its core branding mechanism, has been “tainted” by market competition. Keep in mind, the average consumer will still be loyal to the Louboutin brand, as long as the company holds up its “end of the bargain”, continuing to design some of the world’s most beautiful and thought-provoking footwear. But on a corporate level, behind the scenes, in the rarefied boardroom, the lofty brand is loosing its gloss, in danger of losing the companies creative legacy. This can be remedied in several different ways, concerning marketing, direct product marketing, and of course branding. First, Louboutin has to literally “own” that red sole, and the “legacy of beauty” that it has created. This can be done by employing a much stronger branding image , revolving around that red sole, maybe the color red it self. Employing an ad campaign, that explains the history of red, its prestige through the ages, and how its associated to brand,could be one direction. This campaign should be done with the whimsical style and fantasy, that has made these shoes so incredibly famous throughout the world with women’s shoe aficionados. This should be done for one reason, to state to the buying public, that the red bottom “belongs” to Louboutin, and no one else. Keep in mind, what can’t be done in the court of law, can always be cemented in the imaginations of the buying public through visual media. This slick ad campaign should be combined with ads in some of the worlds most prestigious periodicals, ( I would choose David LaChapelle as the artist behind the camera, his zany and unique take of photography is ALWAYS sexy and thought provoking). The “Campiagn of Red”, would not end there, the designer, himself, should do a few in-store visits with fabulous boutiques, press,and a series of detailed interviews of him speaking about the red sole, the company, and its legacy. None of these actions are legally contentious, concerning the above case between YSL and Louboutin, just a designer finding new avenues to express his creativity and vision. Further diversifing the “core branding mechanism”, (the red bottom of the sole), slowly into lighter or darker shades of red, depending on season,design,or price point of key product, would release dependency on that one key color or branding mechanism. This, ofcourse, should be done sparingly, and seasonally, avoiding confusion and or loss brand identity. This will allow further brand identity across the market, and allow for a higher or lower price point concerning these key items that have the unconventional colored soles. This may even allow for some product to become “collectors items”, elevating the brand of the company even further. During this “brand-makeover”, introduce other branded product, such as handbags, backpacks, and belts,all utilizing the core branding mechanism, the red bottom. Louboutin has worked hard to build there brand, and continues to do so with beautiful, imaginative seasonal product. It would be unfortunate if this innovative company lost their prestige and fashion following, because of their inept use of branding/ marketing, and another companies willingness to sacrifice the “golden lamb” of fashion business, ethical creativity, in exchange for a quick buck.
What do you think about this issue? Should Christian Louboutin have sole rights to China Red bottoms or should all designers be allowed to use a red sole if they so choose? Do you think Louboutin should further diversify there product line, and include more marketing?