Christian Louboutin has remained mostly mum about his legal battle with Yves Saint Laurent America Inc. — until now.
The French designer previously declined to comment to Footwear News about ongoing litigation, but he recently made some inflammatory comments to French newspaper Libération about his allegation that YSL’s shoes, including the Tribute and the Tribtoo styles, infringe on his trademark for red soles; and his bid for a preliminary injunction against the Parisian fashion house.
He even revealed that PPR, the luxury conglomerate that owns YSL, has made “many proposals” to acquire his company — which he turned down.
In an article headlined “Pinault doesn’t care about plagiarizing my red sole,” Louboutin was quoted as saying, “I find it most incredible that a group like PPR would take the risk of defending itself as a plagiarist. They claim to fight against counterfeiting and plagiarism of which they are victims and yet behave like this.”
Louboutin also went on to express his disappointment at having to resort to a lawsuit because PPR’s CEO François-Henri Pinault was someone he “knew very well,” while he “had a great admiration for Yves Saint Laurent, with whom I often worked.”
YSL’s counsel, David Bernstein of Debevoise & Plimpton, retorted, “YSL’s use of red outsoles is not plagiarism of anyone else’s design. YSL is one of the most celebrated and original fashion houses in the world, and it has been using red outsoles to give life to its own venerated style traditions since long before Louboutin was even designing shoes.”
Law experts said the interview to the leftist French daily was indicative of the designer’s exasperation about the case.
“Here’s a designer with a successful business casting himself as David to PPR’s Goliath,” noted Fordham Fashion Law professor Susan Scafidi. “It gives us a sense that he feels the pressure of the legal resources that PPR is [willing to bring to the table.]”
Randy Lipsitz, partner in Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel’s intellectual property department, observed that “what comes out of this is Louboutin believing he has rights that will prohibit anyone from having red soles on shoes. But having a trademark [on something] does not give you an absolute monopoly.”
Louboutin, for his part, admitted in the interview he wasn’t seeking to copyright a color per se. “I understand that, but it is a red in a specific context [in the way that] there is Ferrari red [and] Hermès orange,” he said. “Even in the food industry, Cadbury recently won a lawsuit against Nestlé for using purple packaging. All this proves that the colors play a part in a brand’s identity. I’m not saying that red usually belongs to me — I repeat that this is about a precise red, used in a precise location.”
He also said he expects a decision on his appeal for the injunction by this summer.
“It’s going to be moot,” said Lipsitz. “By the time the decision is issued, YSL would have gone on to sell many more shoes.”