Yves Saint Laurent is being sued for trademark infringement for selling shoes that have red outer soles, a style French shoe designer Christian Louboutin insists is his creation.
Louboutin filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Manhattan. He is seeking a court injunction against the sale of the supposed copycat shoes in the U.S. and damages of at least $1 million.
"Mr. Louboutin is the first designer to develop the idea of having red soles on women's shoes," the lawsuit states. Yves Saint Laurent America spokeswoman Bridget Helene said the company will not be commenting.
The suit alleges that YSL copied Louboutin's trademarked red outer sole, which Louboutin registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1997. But it's unclear whether the trademark covers all red-soled shoes. The offending YSL red suede pumps in its spring 2011 collection does not have a glazed look like those of the Louboutin brand. It also carries shoes that have purple, navy and green soles.
Louboutin says it also objects the YSL America selling red-sole shoes under the brand names Tribute, Palais and Woodstock. He stopped short of calling them cheap knockoffs, but noted those shoes are significantly cheaper.
"Defendants' use of a red sole on their infringing footwear threatens to mislead the public, and has impaired plaintiffs' ability to control their reputation," Louboutin said in the complaint.
That's how important the red sole is to Louboutin. For 19 years, the Parisian shoe designer has been lacquering the bottom of his stilettos with what he calls "an alluring flash of red." Even non-fashionistas can spot a Louboutin because of its tell-tale glossy red outer sole.
A pair of Louboutin shoes can add six inches of height to a woman, forcing her to stand with her chest out, and giving the appearance that she has longer legs. They can fetch as much as $4,500, with the cheapest pair costing about $600.
They're a favorite on the red carpet, and have been spotted on the feet of Hollywood celebrities. Beyoncé wears them as well as Madonna, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Lopez, who recorded a single called "Louboutins," in which she informs her man she's going to slip on her Louboutins before she dumps him: "Watch these red bottoms and the back of my jeans. Watch me go. Bye, baby."
The average person might not know the designer if it weren't for its signature red outsoles, which lend a hint of sexiness when they're visible. So when Yves Saint Laurent began rolling out its own versions of red-soled pumps in January, Louboutin's lawyers contacted YSL and asked them to cease selling the shoes.
YSL refused and Louboutin decided he needed to take his case to court.
Louboutin came up with the idea of red-glazed bottom soles in 1991 while admiring the sparkle of red enameled nails on a woman. He began painting the bottom of a shoe with red nail polish to see how it would look. Louboutin was immediately taken. He decided then he would lacquer his soles in blood red.
"The shiny red color of the soles has no function other than to identify to the public that they are mine," Louboutin told The New Yorker. "I selected the color because it is engaging, flirtatious, memorable and the color of passion."