Handbags at dawn over shoes: Louboutin sees red over YSL soles

Christian Louboutin has sued Yves Saint Laurent over an alleged copy of its distinctive bright red soles. Quelle domage.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
It’s all kicking off in the fashion world: Christian Louboutin, the footwear designer renowned for creating cripplingly high heels bearing distinctive carmine soles (that’s bright red, for the uninitiated) beloved of everyone from the Sex and the City girls to royalty, has sued the US wing of Yves Saint Laurent, accusing it of plagiarism. Apparently, a pair of shoes produced by Yves Saint Laurent also featuring red soles has ‘infringed’ Louboutin’s trademark, which was granted in 2008. Now, the brand is seeking £1m (£610,000) in damages.

The tussle is over a pair of particularly garish red suede platforms in Saint Laurent’s spring 2011 collection, which (according to court documents) bear ‘virtually identical’ red soles to Louboutin’s. And, to add insult to injury, they’ve been selling at US stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman – all of which also sell Louboutin shoes. Louboutin’s accusation is, therefore, that Saint Laurent is ‘misleading the public’, thereby ‘impairing’ its ability to control its reputation.

All this might sound like much ado (a-shoe?) about nothing, but that ignores its importance to the brand. Red soles have formed an iconic, instantly recognisable part of all Louboutin’s shoes since 1992, when the designer himself famously painted a black sole with red nail varnish. So you might argue that this is akin to, say, Coca-Cola preventing someone from copying its bottle design, or Lego protecting the shape of its bricks.

Then again, to those in the know, the Saint Laurent shoes are fairly obviously not Louboutins. And although fashion bloggers are seething, it's not necessarily about the alleged plagiarism itself. As Viviane Blassel, fashion editor at French TV network TF1 pointed out: ‘Saint Laurent himself would have done it more cleverly: he would have managed to make people believe that it was Louboutin who had copied him’. Bien sûr.

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