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October 2, 2012 11:13 AM

YSL's Red-Sole Flop: How the French House Lost the News Cycle to Louboutin

On what some have called a fortuitous Wednesday afternoon in September, the eve of New York Fashion Week, the Court of Appeals, after more than a year of deliberating, delivered one of the most anticipated verdicts in fashion law history....

On what some have called a fortuitous Wednesday afternoon in September, the eve of New York Fashion Week, the Court of Appeals, after more than a year of deliberating, delivered one of the most anticipated verdicts in fashion law history. The industry had been buzzing for months over the possibility that Christian Louboutin could lose his signature red-sole trademark. Even people who had no interest in fashion -- like my dentist, who asked me about the case before plummeting a sharp, shiny tool toward by mouth -- wanted to know about it. 

"Did Louboutin win?" he asked.

I grunted, unable to fully articulate the nuances of the matter with my mouth ajar. 

Nor was the winner clear to the media. 

Headlines decrying Louboutin's victory had been emblazoned all over the Internet for hours after the verdict was delivered. As the day wore on, though, it became clear the real winner was YSL. 

Louboutin may have been able to keep its red-sole mark, but YSL, the defendant in the case, had been sued for making all-red pumps with matching soles. The Court of Appeals said that was OK. 

As a result, in a grand gesture, the court gave all brands the legal right to make red shoes with red soles. The decision was more than an addendum to Louboutin's trademark; it was a correction. 

Somehow YSL had managed to narrow Louboutin's trademark to apply only to shoes with different colored uppers -- a small victory, and one that didn't grab any headlines that afternoon. 

As the news cycle slowly started to form, David Bernstein, lead counsel for YSL, was on a plane heading to Australia for work. Hours after the verdict came down, the lawyer furiously fielded reporters' questions by cell phone from an airport lounge while on a layover. By the time he landed in Australia, it was just after midnight in New York. 

The lawyer shot off a few harried e-mails, explaining the history of the case and insisting that his client had just pulled out a "stunning victory." That hyperbolic sentiment wasn't apparent to anyone else, however. 

In their final stories, news sites offered in-depth analysis accompanied by more even-handed headlines. While some concluded that Louboutin didn't exactly win, others said the shoemaker dodged a bullet. 

But it was too late; YSL already lost the news cycle and Bernstein knew it. 

The next day, fashion week was in full swing. For most of the stylish people there, the takeaway in the lawsuit remained that Louboutin won the appeal by keeping its trademark. 

Lucky for YSL, the case now goes back to the lower court, where nothing earth-shattering is expected to occur. But the PPR-owned firm will have one last chance to underscore its victory -- provided the news cycle is in its favor this time.
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