the importance of colour in branding – why louboutin is seeing red

Karen Haller 01
Karen Haller

Branding - Louboutin - black shoes with red soles.

Do you recognise these shoes and its maker? The one and only Christian Louboutin.  The red sole has become so synonymous with the Christian Louboutin brand that you only have to see a flash of red to know it is the much coveted Louboutin.

That’s the power of colour in a brand.  No logo, no words, just the right colour placement and instantly your product is internationally recognisable.

Placing such high value on brand recognition, he is suing Yves Saint Laurent for copying the red sole.  “The shiny red colour has no function other than to identify to the public that they are mine,” – Christian Louboutin.

What’s happening here is the language of colour, communicating directly with our feelings and emotions.  For many women, their dream, desire to own a pair.

It may only be a red sole to you, but with YSL copying the red sole the lawsuit stated “…is likely to cause and is causing confusion, mistake and deception among the relevant purchasing public as to the origin of the infringing footwear.”

So how did Louboutin come up with this simple, yet so effective idea?  As the story goes, back when Louboutin founded his first boutique in Paris in 1991, he was at one of his fashion shows and feeling something was missing he saw one of his employee’s bottle of red nail polish.  That gave him the inspiration to paint red nail polish to the sole of one pair.

Since then every pair, no matter what the colour of the shoe is, it always has the signature red soles.

This is a great example of how big brands understand the importance of colour.  As in Louboutin’s case, he decided to sue to protect his brand recognition.  Branding colours can be that strong only the colour is needed for the brand to be identified.

Does your brand use colour in a way that makes it stand out from the crowd, making it instantly recognisable?

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  1. Felicity Lerouge on April 16, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Such a great illustration of the impact of colour can have. My own business cards were influenced on the Louboutin shoe; I was going to go with the signature black and red but when the image came back, because there was nothing to soften it, the impression that the black, red and white gave was that of vampishness and domination – not what I was looking for at all, so we went with another combination of Modigliani’s colours – cerise and deep blue.

    You’re right, the red sole of a Louboutin shoe communicates desire but it is subtle enough, when balanced by the rest of the outfit, to whisper that desire, rather than shout it.

    I guess we have to be careful, not only about the colours we choose but the proportions in which we use them.

    • admin on April 16, 2011 at 11:27 am

      Thanks Felicity,

      Very perceptive in your observations in how the combination of black, red and white makes you feel. We never see colour in isolation, so it is the meaning of the combination of colours and as you rightly say, also the proportions in which they are used.

      Very good point you raise with the red being on the sole. It is just a flash, which can be quite alluring… mysterious. I’m looking to write another article on this from a personal branding perspective which will be raising these points in more detail.

  2. Tanya Rennick on April 16, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I really enjoyed reading this blog post Karen, thank you. I love my Louboutin’s and feel very special when I wear a pair. As well as being the signature colour, red is also a very sexy hue…

    • admin on April 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

      I admire any woman who can walk in Louboutin’s gravity defying heels! Sexy is definitely one of the attributes of the colour red. Great branding identifier don’t you think?

      I’m looking to write another article on this from a personal branding perspective which will be raising these points in more detail.

  3. Tamsin Fox-Davies on April 16, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    This is a really interesting article.

    When one giant brand sues another one over the use of their strategic colours, we have a demonstration of just how signifcant colour is in branding.

    Looking forward to your follow-up article too!


    • admin on April 19, 2011 at 9:27 am

      Hi Tamsin,

      It’s quite a fasinating study on so many branding levels. Will be interesting to see how this plays out x

  4. Fiona Humberstone on April 18, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Great post Karen and v. thought provoking. I’m looking forward to the personal branding post too.

    You asked whether we use colour in a way that helps us stand out. For Valentines day I sent some of our top clients a small gift. We used our house colours and house fonts, but no logo… We were recognised by about 80% of our clients! If it weren’t for the distinctive colour palette and fonts we wouldn’t have been recognised, it’s such an important part of branding.

    • admin on April 19, 2011 at 9:47 am

      Hi Fiona,

      That’s great brand recognition! It great when you receive such positive confirmation from clients.

  5. Keren Lerner on April 19, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    The unique thing about this idea is that the colour is there but doesn’t overpower the shoe – so someone (a girl or a guy) who wants to be a little bit “risque” can be so without going all out and wearing full red shoes. Kind of like having a bright colour or a pattern on the inside of your coat or your bag – you know it’s there (teehee!) and it makes you feel like you have broken the mould just a little bit but you can still “blend in”.

    • admin on April 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm

      You’re absolutely right. And it’s a great demonstration of how a little bit of colour can go a long way…

  6. duda does on May 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Karen, lovely newsletter once again. Thanks!

    Fab article! Oh yes, I agree with C.Louboutin but wonder whether it was the colour RED or the place of the colour that bothered him and makes sense not to be copied. Have YSL had put purple on each sole of the shoe I think it would cause the same distress 😉
    Or at least I would have thought Louboutin came out with a new spring/summer line 😉
    of course it both proves your point – the importance and impact of colours

    I remember being very upset when I saw Jamie Oliver’s series and ads one year after I started duda does… under the name Jamie does..Italy, Jamie does Spain… Of course I am sure Jamie has no idea bout duda does nor his producers (otherwise they would hire me he he) but I felt like they stole it from me 😉

    Have a fab May everyone!
    Duda x

    • admin on May 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm

      Thank you Duda, That’s very kind of you.

      Good question. I think it would be the colour in combination with the placement as that is what makes his brand instantly recognisable. I’m guessing if another brand used another colour on the sole of their shoes they would not be able to sue as it’s not putting a colour on the sole but putting the colour red on the sole.

      In regards to your branding, it’s one for the IP lawyers. I’m guessing here if you didn’t trade mark it then it’s open for use. What your looking to trade mark is the word ‘does…’ and would that even be possible…

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