Marketers of breakthrough brands try to own a color, a shape, a visual, something that’s a signature of the brand. You should, too. After a promising first season, things weren’t going well for French shoe designer Christian Louboutin. Send the kids through a walkable neighbourhood on a treasure hunt this weekend.
More a creative artist than a businessman, Louboutin lost track of manufacturing timetables in 1993, and his second collection of shoes arrived in stores months later. It was a financial disaster. But in the tumult of the crisis, Louboutin kept designing shoes. One shoe was inspired by Andy Warhol’s Flowers and had cloth blossoms on top and a pink stacked heel.
Staring at the prototype, Louboutin felt something was missing. It lacked the punch of his original drawing and Warhol’s art. Lost in creative thought, he saw one of his assistants painting her nails bright red. Louboutin confiscated the red nail polish and painted it on the sole of the shoe prototype. The glossy red soles made the whole shoe design pop.
It was a simple, novel idea. Why do anything with the outsoles of shoes? That’s the part you walk on! Yet the glossy red soles did something extraordinary from a visual identity standpoint. Louboutin took something that had been ignored and considered of little value and made it visually exciting and valuable financially. Louboutin’s red soles project glamour and, no doubt, showy excess. The red soles are also brilliant breakthrough branding because they are immediately recognizable, and also, according to Louboutin, great for romance. “Men are like bulls,” Louboutin says, “they cannot resist the red sole.” With the success of the red sole, it’s been hard for rivals to resist copying his brand signature.
Louboutin is also known for his iconic shoe shapes and wickedly high heels. His signature shoe is the Very Prive, a shoe he named and first sold in 2006. It has a towering high heel with an extreme hidden platform. Before the Very Prive, Louboutin wasn’t as well known as his competitor Manolo Blahnik, but the Very Prive, with its signature heel, sexy shape, and red soles, changed the pecking order in upscale shoe design.