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Seeing red: Judge denies Christian Louboutin's claim to sole exclusivity

Christian Louboutin red soles
Christian Louboutin trademarked its red sole look in 2008 but a  New York judge ruled it's not exclusive. Courtesy photo
A hint of red sole has been the hallmark of a Louboutin shoe. But it showed up in this Yves Saint Laurent design, which precipitated a lawsuit.

Just about the most distinctive feature of a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes — other than the high price — is the bright red sole. (While watching Oprah Behind the Scenes on her OWN network, it was an instant giveway that the talk show host was wearing Louboutins as she put her heels on seconds before entering the stage in each episode.)

The upscale shoemaker feels it's a look worth fighting for.

So when Yves Saint Laurent showed some shoes with painted cherry red soles in its 2011 cruise collection, Louboutin went to court, alleging trademark infringement and seeking to bar YSL from selling the distinctive footwear.

But on Wednesday a New York judge denied Louboutin's request for a preliminary injunction. "Because in the fashion industry color serves ornamental and aesthetic functions vital to robust competition, the court finds that Louboutin is unlikely to be able to prove that its red outsole brand is entitled to trademark protection, even if it has gained enough public recognition in the market to have acquired secondary meaning," Judge Victor Marrero wrote in his ruling.

"I think the court is completely wrong," Louboutin attorney Harley Lewin said. "The court essentially indicated that it does not believe that a single color can be a trademark in the fashion industry. We're disheartened."

So am I. If anyone can paint the soles of their shoes red, what makes Louboutin special?

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