Yves Saint Laurent’s Red-Sole Shoes Face Trademark Ruling

Christian Louboutin SA, the designer of expensive red-sole women’s shoes popularized by characters on “Sex and the City,” will know soon whether Yves Saint Laurent America Inc. must stop sales of its red-soled footwear until the resolution of a trademark lawsuit, a judge said.

Christian Louboutin sued Yves Saint Laurent America over claims its red-sole shoes are identical to Louboutin’s trademarked products. U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero said in a hearing in Manhattan federal court today that he will decide on Louboutin’s motion for a preliminary injunction “as soon as possible.”

“This is the lifeblood of this company, the red sole,” Harley Lewin, a lawyer for Louboutin, said in an interview after the hearing. “When people see the red sole on the street they think Louboutin.”

On Barneys’ website, Louboutin red-sole high-heeled shoes are priced from $319 to $4,645 a pair. Lewin said that sales from the red-sole shoes in the U.S. this year are projected at $135 million, a 20 percent increase from last year.

Paris-based fashion shoemaker Louboutin said in the lawsuit filed April 7 that Yves Saint Laurent was selling shoes “with red outsoles that are virtually identical” to its own.

“The use of red-sole shoes by Yves Saint Laurent goes back long before Mr. Louboutin began using them,” David Bernstein, a lawyer for Yves Saint Laurent, told the judge today.

Yves Saint Laurent, the company named for the designer who died in 2008, is a unit of Paris-based PPR, which owns other luxury brands including Gucci.

Red Nail Polish

Louboutin, the designer, got the idea for the red soles when he painted red nail polish on the black soles of a pair of women’s shoes.

Court papers state that Louboutin’s red soles were introduced in 1992 and have been on all of its luxury shoes since then. They have been popularized by actresses like Sarah Jessica Parker in the television show “Sex and the City.”

The judge today questioned Louboutin’s lawyer repeatedly about design elements, including the shade of red on a sole, that would be considered infringements of the company’s trademark.

Yves Saint Laurent’s lawyer, Bernstein, said in court, “We don’t know what we are and what we are not allowed to do. Even Mr. Louboutin does not know.” He said the designer, in testimony given in a deposition, couldn’t immediately tell whether some shoes showed to him infringed his trademark.

Shoe Trademark

Bernstein said Yves Saint Laurent sold 1,631 pairs of red-sole shoes in the U.S. in the 2010-2011 season, compared with 1,227 the year before. “The preliminary injunction should be denied. There is no irreparable injury.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Louboutin a trademark for the red sole in 2008, according to the complaint.

Saint Laurent has been selling red-sole shoes under brand names such as Tribute, Palais and Woodstock at high-end fashion stores that also sell Louboutin footwear, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman, according to the complaint.

The case is Christian Louboutin SA v. Yves Saint Laurent America Inc., 11-2381, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan.)

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