The signature red soles of Louboutin
(Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles Times)

What's in a color?

Everywhere you turn in New York, folks are buzzing about the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to reverse a lower court judge who had ruled against luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin.


The French designer, known for his high-priced shoes with iconic red soles, has been involved in a bitter battle over trademarking his practice of applying glossy vivid red coloring to the soles of women's shoes, which he has done since 1992.

Image consultant and blogger Alice Ntam, who lives in Washington D.C. but is in New York for Fashion Week, says she's conflicted.

"That is what he's known for," said Ntam, who operates the blog "But he's copied other people's shoe designs and that's not fair. This is coming from someone who owns a couple pairs of his shoes."

According to USA Today, the appeals court said Louboutin was entitled to protect its brand against competitor Yves Saint Laurent. "The court, though, instructed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to limit registration of the trademark to situations in which the red-lacquered sole contrasts in color with the adjoining upper part of the shoe," according to the article.

This is the latest in a battle between the two iconic brands. In 2008, the trademark office granted protection to Louboutin. A U.S. District judge went too far in August 2011, when he ruled that a single color can never serve as a trademark in the fashion industry, the appeals court said. According to the article, the court said Louboutin's bright red sole had acquired limited secondary meaning as a distinctive symbol that identifies the Louboutin brand.

"Even though most fashion savvy consumers identify certain colors with certain brands -- Tiffany's blue, Hermes orange, and red soled Louboutin heels -- in the most technical, legal sense, you have to be careful not to say that just because we subconsciously associate those colors with particular brands, that those brands therefore have a default, blanket protection under current trademark laws -- per the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) -- to exclusively use those colors, to the exclusion of everyone else in the industry," said Hilary Phelps, a Washington, D.C.-based fashion commentator who owns Genuine Joy, a lifestyles blog.

Ntam thinks that Louboutin made a smart business move by bringing the case to court. But she also thinks that originality in fashion is a tough sell.

"Do you think anything original comes out of fashion?" she said. "Ot's all been done before. I've seen it before. With that said, I'll be wearing his shoes this week."

Here's the USA Today article.