Soles Are Red, Violets Are Blue … Louboutin Wins Landmark Brand Case


On 5th September 2012 Christian Louboutin has been granted trademark protection for the use of  red soles, following the appeal. Previously a federal judge ruled that the colours could not be trademark in the fashion industry.

The decision effectively gives fashion brands the chance to monopolise colours – it will be interesting to see whether other designers will follow the trend.

A bit of history of the case. Louboutin sued Yves Saint Laurent in April 2001, straight after YSL announced their new line of women shoes – China Red, with the same shade of red on the sole. Louboutin tried to prevent YSL from selling the shoes, but the New York federal judge ruled against it.

Now the appeal court granted Louboutin exclusive rights to red soles if they contrasted with the rest of the shoe, because it constitutes vital part of their brand. Summary of the court ruling:

“We hold that the District Court’s conclusion that a single color 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 error.

We further hold that the District Court’s holding, that Louboutin’s trademark has developed ‘secondary meaning’ in the public eye, was firmly rooted in the evidence of record and was not clearly erroneous, and that the Red Sole Mark is therefore a valid and enforceable trademark.”

Lee Curtis, trade mark attorneys at Harrison Goddard Foote, who has been following the case, believe the case proves it is possible for a brand to monopolise a colour through consistent use: “I think one can view this as a major victory for Christian Louboutin as it effectively means he can monopolise the red sole of women’s shoes, what he argued all along. When one says to anyone in the street ‘red sole of women’s shoes’ they usually respond Christian Louboutin and thus in law he can now monopolise this colour. Christian Louboutin has achieved this monopoly through consistent and prominent use of the colour over many years and has educated the public to see the colour as his ‘brand’.”

Brands in other sectors often monopolised colours, think of Cadbury purple, for instance, or BP’s green.

Fiona McBride, partner and trade mark attorney at law firm Withers & Rogers commented on potential benefits for fashion brands: “The instant association of colour with a brand is a lucrative opportunity which adds value to the brand. However, achieving this recognition and being able to protect the colour through trade mark registration is not easy.”

The ruling concludes the progression from style innovation, to style trend, to brand itself, and most importantly, when fashion industry is not exempted from monopolising colours, we will definitely see more designers using specific colours as part of their brand.


Branding Pinstripes: Conclusions



The month of April, which Uniqa dedicated to “pinstripes” – brands that find it challenging to differentiate themselves (accountancy firms, lawyers, hedge funds), and we’d like to draw some conclusions.

We have met with a few companies in the pinstripe face, and held seminars on their brand. Here is what we found the most important for the pinstripe brands:

  • Consistency
  • Brand values
  • Thinking Big!
  • Protect your brand
  • Using your personal brand
  • Creating personal connections
  • Turn negative into positive
Differentiating pinstripe brand is not easy, but it is achievable, as we can see from the examples of the bigger counterparts. We also established the best ways to communicate for pinstripe brands:
  • Visually: create infographics, upload videos, shoot a corporate video
  • Personally: set yourself and your teams as experts, use social media channels like Quora and groups on LinkedIn
  • Responsive: set up a structure of immediate response to those reaching out to you through various channels, especially if it is negative

We also talked in more detail about target audiences, the channels that we need to establish to reach them, how to build and maintain your brand universe. If you would like Uniqa to present this seminar at your company, please contact us.

Pinstripe April: Legally Yours

Our Pinstripe April is dedicated to branding in the industry sectors, where it is much harder to stand up and be noticed. Having briefly talked about accounting firms and financial institutions, this time we will discuss one of the branding pitfalls of legal profession. Looking at the multitude of law firm present on the web, you will notice the trend – practically all of them are completely impersonal. This is an interesting phenomenon – considering that consulting a lawyer is akin to confessing to a priest, it involves relationship, trust, confidentiality – hardly any legal firm does anything to establish more personal link to their potential clients. So, what can be done about it?

Firstly, break down the barriers you have already set up between you and your potential client. Remove the contact form from your website – replace it with a phone number and personalised email address, not Introduce your team – with photos, contact details, area of speciality. Also, highlight recent successful cases – in plain English, please, you are talking to your potential client, not your esteemed colleague. Set up a blog, where you can state your opinion on new laws and developments in legal profession – this will act as a conversation starter with your potential clients.

Don’t be afraid of letting your personality shine through your brand, this is one of the main differentiating factors. If you are involved in a charity run, or supporting your local hospital, tell your audience. Think about this as a win-win situation: your support for a charity project shows you in a good light, it highlights the cause, and it also makes others in your industry sector follow your example.

Set yourself up as an expert in your field. Join Quora, for instance, and respond to discussions, use LinkedIn grops, or set up your own. Share knowledge with your audience, for example, the infographics below explains the process of law making in the UK.

Please join us on April 16th, where we will discuss the issues of pinstripe branding in more detail, register here.

How Does A Bill Become Law In The United Kingdom?