I started a weekly column with The Brunei Times today.
This is how I imagined it would look like:
RED SOLE DIARIES
"In flip-flops you see everything but zat ees not at all sexy", says French shoe designer Christian Louboutin, in an article I read online in 2006. This was the first time I heard about Christian Louboutin and how the toe (formerly a part of the foot used to find furniture in the dark) is capable of showing cleavage as titillating as a décolleté.
But it was the bon mot about the soles of the Louboutin high heel that intrigued me. Louboutin shoes have bottoms lacquered with a glossy electrifying red. Catching a glimpse of it is akin to a flash of red lace brassiere strap on a lady's shoulder. This is what a pair of Louboutin is all about. From that day I look down for that sliver of red in magazines, hardly noticing the stars whose feet the shoes are attached to, knowing that they are wearing Christian Louboutin.
The French are known for being fiercely protective of their intellectual property. They feel so strongly about it that they even trademark grapes with a system called Appellation. It's no wonder Louboutin reacted the way he did when French fashion brand Yves St Laurent (YSL) made a pair of red suede shoes that had red soles for their Spring 2011 Palais line.
In an incredulous outrage while speed-dialing his lawyers.
A suit was swiftly filed in New York against YSL for the use of red soles, a trademark which the US Patent and Trademark awarded Christian Louboutin in 2008. A second suit was filed against Carmen Steffens, a brazilian fashion brand who recently came out with a shoe with, you guessed it, red soles. Louboutin and his legal team objected to the use of the colour at the bottom of the offending shoes.
He is not the only one who wants to own a colour. In the early 60s, French artist Yves Klein patented the International Klein Blue, a colour he believed to possess the qualities of pure space. You can see a nice picture of it at the Tate Gallery website. T-Mobile has trademarked the colour magenta in the telecommunications industry. Tiffany & Co own the rights to the Tiffany Blue, the colour of their gift boxes. Pantone made and indexed the colour 'Pantone 1837'. Flick through a Pantone color swatch and you won't find 1837. I know because I wanted the same shade of Tiffany Blue for my wedding invites (for interested brides-to-be, Pantone 318C is the nearest colour).
Incidentally, if anyone could easily "own" colour it would be Pantone because almost all the colors used has been indexed and named by them. Useful in my opinion because imagine asking your contractor to paint the walls of your bedroom a particular shade of violet without it.
The Trade Marks Act 1994 defines a trademark as “any sign capable of being represented graphically which is capable of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings”. By this definition I'd have to say Louboutins has the edge over YSLs. Whenever one sees a pair of shoes with red soles, one automatically think Louboutins (or a pair from China).
To put it simply, if Team Louboutin wins, no one but Louboutin can ever make shoes with red soles again.
The argument against this red-sole entitlement is what you can call the theory of colour depletion. If every designer in every industry owned a colour, sooner or later we will run out of it. It is correct that Christian Louboutin should be able to protect his brand identity in the design it is known. A brand he has literally created with a slash of red polish on an uninspiring beige sole. But on the other side of the wheel, artists and designers are trying to create great eye-popping work with a limited color palette. Case in point, YSL's Palais collection also features purple shoes with purple soles, navy with navy soles and green with green soles. You would think that a shoe designer should be able to come up with a monochrome collection in rainbow colours, but oh, not the red. And why should one be able to own something as basic as colour. You might as well be able to trademark air.
In the following months, the case will be a glamorous showdown between the fashion giants, maybe even featuring guest stars the likes of Barbie and Jennifer Lopez. But it may be that the Louboutin brand is so strong that the answer is obvious. You see someone wearing those YSL's and you'll think they're Louboutins anyway.
Illustration by Cuboi Art.
But it is not to be. Instead I have an egg that looks like its wearing a burkini.
For the edited online version click here.