Charlotte's Spectrum

06 Jun

Protect the red sole at all cost

By Charlotte Champion:   Paul Simon got it wrong. She shouldn't have diamonds on the soles of her shoes; she should have red paint on the soles of her shoes. And not just any red, in fact, the colour has to be a distinctive Pantone 18-1663TP. Or in other words: Louboutin Red. The lady described in Paul Simon's song is undoubtedly extremely wealthy (and a little stupid wasting those diamonds) and she also doesn't want to hide that fact. Woman today who wear Christian Louboutin heels are explicitly aware that the paint on the soles of their shoes does more than just attract attention, it too signals wealth and associations of power. Not to mention, of course, a certain sense of confidence and coquetry.


There can be only one

The fact that the red-soled shoes are coveted is not only clear from the many counterfeits that are widely available, but also that Louboutin has actually trademarked its red-soled shoes and filed countless lawsuits against the use of red-soled shoes by other companies. The most recent case being against the Benelux company Van Haren who were ordered by a court in The Hague to stop selling the shoes and award Louboutin a some of 500 euros for each pair of shoes. This case, as well as that won by Louboutin against Yves Saint Laurent last year raises interesting questions about the apparent possibility of a colour as such being trademarked. The red-soled shoes in question have become somewhat of a cultural iconic symbol. But why would the colour red be in need of trademark protection now if the colour always been synonymous to power, status and wealth? And more importantly: can you really own a colour?


Standing on the shoulders of a giant, or rather, stealing his shoes

Loudoutin-2Christian Louboutin first created his red-soled shoes in 1992 when he painted the sole of a shoe with red nail polish. Since then, every single Louboutin shoe carries this now signature red sole. However, neither his choice of colour nor its placement was a novel idea. In fact the use of red has long since been a marker of status and wealth: red dyes were expensive to produce so often only the wealthy could afford to wear them. Red also symbolised power and strength worn by soldiers, monarchs and the papacy. Throughout history thus red had been a privileged colour and one that only a few could wear.

Exactly when the first red-soled shoe came about in history is uncertain. In a portrait of 1675, Charles II of England is depicted wearing red heels. But it seems to have been King Louis XIV of France who made red-heeled shoes popular as a marker of status. The king was so fond of his heels that he decreed that les talons rogue (the rouge heels) could only be worn of those of nobility. (photo: Brocaded silk shoe with red leather heel, 1720-1730, Victoria and Albert Museum)


Louis XIV vs. Louboutin

In this brief examination of the history of the red-soled shoe there are two parallels that can be drawn. Firstly that red-soled shoes are expensive and therefore act as a symbol of status. In the 17th century the red dye was costly, today Louboutin shoes cost anywhere between $400 and $6000. Secondly there seems to be a necessity to restrict the use of the red-soled shoes. For Louis XIV that meant that only the nobility could wear red-heeled shoes, Louboutin on the other hand attempts to restrict the use of red-soled shoes to his company alone. In doing so the shoes are protected for a select people that are both identifiable as such by means of their shoes. Whether for the nobility or the rich and famous, red-soles shoes are thus not for everybody.

LouboutinThere is, however, a crucial difference between the two types of 'trademarked' shoes. When Louis XIV decreed that only the nobility could wear red-heeled shoes is was so as to distinguish between the different classes, which was why it called for protection. The Louboutin shoe is in need of protection because it has become its own symbol of sorts in that red-soled shoes nowadays are synonymous with Louboutin. This means then that though both shoes are still a clear indicator of wealth and associations of power, which the wearer clearly wants to express, red-soled shoes today indicate nothing more than a brand – Louboutin. It is because of this that Louboutin trademarked its red sole and precisely why he doesn't own a colour but a brand. (photo: Hyacinthe Rigaud,  Portrait of King Louis XIV (detail),  1701,  oil on canvas.  Musée du Louvre,  Paris)


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