Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Paint it Red Louboutin

by Audrey Tourangeau

Colour is a big deal to the human experience. As far as perception goes, people tend to absorb color before noticing anything else when faced with an object or image (Morton, 2012). Colour attracts a lot of attention, shifts moods and marketers play on that order to build brands. In one study I worked on, we found that red was an especially powerful color- it often makes its viewer feel sexy, passionate and loveable, - ambitious, in control, and powerful.

So what happens when there is a corporate fight over colour? What happens when someone else wants to use the Tiffany blue or the Christian Louboutin red? Every fashionista is aware of the very mediatized lawsuit that occurred a couple of years ago between luxury fashion designers Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent. Louboutin sued Saint Laurent after the latter designed an entirely red shoe, sole included, jeopardizing “the identifier uniqueness” of the Louboutin brand. Louboutin had adopted the red soles in 1992 after he decided (before a fashion show) to paint the bottom of his shoes with red nail polish. This red became a critical identifier of the brand and badge for its wearers.  What happened from the suit? The courts ruled Louboutin could not trademark his famous Pantone 18-1663 TPX Chinese Red colour (appendix 1). Although, the judge mentioned that Louboutin could trademark the very specific context of a red sole. No other designer could have a red sole, unless the entire shoe is red (Jeffrey and Timberlake, 2012). 

I decided to put the Louboutin red to the test.  My question: How well could fashionistas – the self professed gurus of fashion – identify the Louboutin red? As a pretest, I asked my sample of 55 to name high fashion shoe designer. Louboutin was at the top of the list for brand retrieval. Only a handful of respondents didn’t name it. Furthermore, the Louboutin brand was recalled first by 48% of the respondents, compared to the closest follower, Jimmy Choo, which was identified first by 19%. Afterwards, a recognition question that asked the respondents to identify the brand when shown a picture of Christian Louboutin pumps. Not surprisingly 100% of the respondents could identify the brand.

But what I was really after was to see how well these folks could identify the Louboutin red. So, I had the respondents examine the reds of five famous brands that have red as the dominant identifiers in their branding: Louboutin, Cartier, Old Spice, Coca Cola, and Band-Aid. Without knowing the five brands chosen, it turned out that only 12% of the respondents could link Louboutin with its proper red colour.  Most respondents linked the maker of thousand dollar shoes to Coca-Cola’s red.

The question that I would like to put out to the readers today- is should this matter to Louboutin? Let me know what you think!


  1. it shouldnt matter if they are the only ones to use the red sole- the other question is what is a "red" sole? answer that judge!

  2. Like David Bowie sings in China Girl : "Put on your red shoes on/ And Dance the blues.." The fact is, red sole + shoes = Louboutin. Suing Saint Laurent was maybe Louboutin's smartest marketing move as it generated so much comments (and still does...)