Thursday, January 26, 2012

Can You Own a Color?


YSL Trib Too on the left and Louboutin Bambou on the right
Photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

Recently lawyers for Christian Louboutin were in the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to try and reverse a decision that has disallowed the famous shoe maker exclusive rights to the color red on the soles of shoes. Louboutin’s lawyers argue that the “China Red” that is used on the soles of their shoes is a trademark of their brand. The court argues that the use of red, as a color, is critical in fashion and banning other designers from placing this color on the soles of shoes gives Louboutin a monopoly on a single color. This case stems from the use of red on the soles of a shoe designed by the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent.

While I agree that Louboutin has made the sole of a shoe their own personal fashion statement. Many associate the red sole with Louboutin; it is hard to deny that allowing only Louboutin the right to coat a sole with red as unfair. Fashion is creativity and anything that stifles creativity is wrong. In comparison, Louboutin’s lawyers have argued that UPS uses the color brown, Owen’s Corning used pink for its insulation and Tiffany’s has Robin’s Egg Blue for their iconic boxes. But unlike these companies, the use of the color in the fashion world is important. If another company used brown panel truck, you may not immediately think of UPS unless there was also the gold logo on the side. Additionally, insulation has typically been yellow so deviation from the norm makes it stand out. Other companies do not manufacture insulation in rainbow colors.

The Robin’s Blue symbolizing Tiffany’s is used on their awnings and packaging. The color is not given to Tiffany’s for their exclusive use in jewelry manufacturing. If so, they would be the only ones to market gemstones with this shade. While it is a shame that Louboutin is denied this exclusive right, something the fashion house made famous, it is hard to side with their argument that they are the only ones who should use red. I think it would be different if the sole of the shoe was red and there was some type of defining mark or logo.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of this case as it will shape the fashion world forever. I do not see Louboutin winning their argument simply because it would open the door for other fashion houses to exclusive rights to color which would severely impact fashion for the worse. Since this is a creative field, I think Louboutin should get really creative and find a way to mark their shoes so everyone knows it is a Louboutin and no I don’t mean with just a color.

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