One of the most notable qualities within Hyacinthe Rigaud’s Portrait of Louis XIV (1) is Louis XIV’s exuberant use of fashion. Louis XIV is adorned head to toe in expensive apparel and accessories that highlight his supremacy. His wig and use of makeup symbolize his authority within the French monarchy, as well as his extravagant cape. The ermine fur and the gold and purple embelishments drape around Louis XIV’s legs as he poses for the painting. (2) Riguad purposefully details the muscles of the legs, perhaps a bit too dramatically, drawing the viewer directly to Louis XIV’s famous shoes. The shoes are angled in a manner that reveals not only the heel, but a bright red hue. In order to compensate for his lack of height and old age, Louis XIV’s flaunts his legs and heels. The Sun King valued fashion and, as a result, so did the aristocracy. (3) Red heels in particular were symbols of wealth and power, because of their exclusivity. Only those in royal favor wore these bright colored shoes. If somebody fell out of favor, his shoes would be revoked along with his status. (4) The heels of these shoes were used to provide literal height, as well as height within society.
After Louis XIV’s regency, the red, also known as rouge, heel, maintained its power. In Philip Mansel’s book, Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II, the author describes the impact of the red heel on French society, “Red heels are described as the mark of French nobility and show that they are always ready to crush the enemies of the state at their feet.” (5) Not only did Louis XIV adorn these shoes, but so did his enemies. As a result, Louis XIV enforced a strict dress code among the noble French men, forcing them to wear the same red shoes. Many believe the red served as a warning to symbolize blood on the feet and hands. Others thought that the red symbolized that royalty did not dirty their shoes. (6) The red sole continued to be a fashion icon in the French Court, and even graced the heels of Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette had over five hundred pairs of heels, many of which were rouge. One of her most famous pairs, were worn when she was guillotined in 1793. (7)
Today, the famous “Louis Heel” has been reinvented through designer Christian Louboutin. In his book, Christian Louboutin, the designer describes his first experience in the shoe industry, “I wanted to create something that broke rules and made women feel confident and empowered.” (8) This parallels the goals of designers in the earlier French monarch, who used fashion in order to promote assurance and certainty. Louboutin wanted to create something that made women feel powerful. At the beginning of his career, Louboutin designed shoes for only the most exclusive brands, before creating his own. Brands like Chanel and Yves Saint Laurant carried his products, selling them for extremely high prices.” (9)
Eventually Louboutin opened up his own store in France with the help of royalty when Princess Caroline of Monaco purchased a pair of his famous stilettos. (10) She strived for an elegant yet powerful look she thought only Louboutin could create. Her purchase of the shoes is ultimately what launched Louboutin’s individual career and his success in the industry. What sets apart Louboutin from many of his competitors is the same red sole located on Louis XIV’s shoes. In an interview conducted by Eric Reinhardt, Louboutin explains his decision to incorporate the famous rouge to his shoes after watching his assistant paint her nails a bright red color: “I thought ‘Oh my God! Red soles are so flirtatious,’ and my customers asked me not to stop.” (11) Although Louboutin’s reasoning to include rouge on his shoes is different from 17th century French royalty, it still sends the same message. Only the most rich and famous could afford to wear Louboutin shoes, just as only the wealthiest and most powerful wore the same shoes as Louis XIV.
As the red sole became a trademark of Louboutin shoes, they became more desirable. In fact, Louboutins were so desirable they were labeled the Most Prestigious Shoes in the World for multiple years. (12) Many celebrities wore, and advertised, the shoes and fueled their reputation. For decades, a red sole indicated that the shoe was in fact a Louboutin. According to the North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology,
The sole of each shoe is lacquered in a vivid, glossy red. The red soles offer the pleasure of a secret knowledge to their wearer, and that of serendipity to their beholder. Like Louis XIV’s red heels, they signal a sort of sumptuary code, promising a world of glamour and privilege. They are also a marketing gimmick that renders and otherwise indistinguishable product instantly recognizable.” (13)
It wasn’t until 2011 that the exclusivity of the shoe was challenged by competitors when Louboutin’s former employer, Yves Saint Laurent, produced the same red sole on its stilettos. Louboutin tried to ban the replication of the famous rouge shoe, but Yves Saint Laurent refused. As a result, Louboutin did something unthinkable, he filed to trademark a color. At first, courts rejected single color trademarks as it would hinder competition. However, because of what this color signified, the motion passed. The Supreme Court ruled that the red sole of the shoe has a “potential effect on consumers’ purchasing decisions, ” (14) and could deceive consumers if replicated. Therefore, Louboutin was able to trademark its red soles, only allowing competitors to replicate the soles if the whole shoe is the same color.
Along with celebrity, the extensive media coverage over the Christian Louboutin vs. Yves Saint Laurent court case, gained Christian Louboutin more popularity. Not only did the shoes become more popular, but more exclusive as well. Now that the shoes are trademarked, it is clearer when a woman owns a pair of real Louboutin’s. Wearing red on ones shoes signifies wealth, power, and unattainability. By utilizing the red sole, both Christian Louboutin and Louis XIV symbolize heavy influence over the fashion industry in French society and beyond.
1. Riguad, Hyacinthe. Portrait of Louis XIV. After 1701. Oil on Canvas. 289.6 x 159.1 cm. Getty Center, Museum South Pavilion, Vestibule.
2. Mansel, Philip. Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 2005. Pg. 10
3. Mansel, Philip. Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 2005. Pg. 12
4. Mansel, Philip. Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 2005. Pg. 12
5. Mansel, Philip. Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 2005. Pg. 15
6. Mansel, Philip. Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume from Louis XIV to Elizabeth II. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. 2005. Pg. 15
7. De La Rocheteria, Maxime. Life of Marie Antoinette. University Press, John Wilson and Son, Cambridge U.S.A. 1906. Pg. 356
8. Yarvorsky, Shannon, and Emma Flett. “A Step in the Right Direction for Louboutin.” Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice 11, no.2 (2015). Pg. 10
9. Kadian-Dodove, Bianka. “Fashion Police: Intellectual Property In the Fashion Industry.” Law School Student Scholarship, 2013 pg. 17
10. Kadian-Dodove, Bianka. “Fashion Police: Intellectual Property In the Fashion Industry.” Law School Student Scholarship, 2013 pg. 19
11. Louboutin, Christian. Christian Louboutin. Rizzoli International Publications, New York, New York, 2011. Pg.8
12. Kadian-Dodove, Bianka. “Fashion Police: Intellectual Property In the Fashion Industry.” Law School Student Scholarship, 2013 pg. 20
13. Powers, Kaitlin. “Saving Soles: The Limited Practical Application of Christian Louboutin vs. Yves Saint Laurent America Holding, inc.” North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology, 2013. Pg.334
14. Vidackovic, Vanja. “Christian Louboutin v. Yves Saint Laurent: “ 'Trademark Use' Stomps its Red Heels on 'Likelihood of Confusion' ". Depual Journal of Art, Technology & Intellectual Property Law 23, no. 2 (2013). Pg. 345