The controversial ad shows what are reportedly the legs of Flemish senator and Miss Belgium 1991, Anke Van Dermeersch, under a black skirt with its hem lifted and demarcations ranging from "stoning" and "rape" at the micro and mini lengths to "moderate Islam" below the ankles and "Sharia-conforming" at floor length. The image, presumably inspired by the Rosea Lake photo, "Judgments," that went viral earlier this year, is accompanied by a caption reading, "Liberty or Islam?" (Ms. Lake could have a copyright complaint of her own, but that's another discussion.)
While Louboutin has little control over who buys and wears his shoes, a concern that other famous brands have faced in the past, the lawsuit claims that the use of his signature red soles in the ad tarnishes his image and should be enjoined. And there may be more than brand identity at stake. The political campaign appears against a background of tension over the increasingly large and influential Muslim population in Belgium and violent protests last year following the distribution of an American film critical of Islam. Kenneth Cole's tradition of provocative advertising aside, shoe sales and partisan politics don't mix and match.
But what about free speech, especially political speech, you ask? While the nuances of Belgian law are best left to local experts, it is key that this isn't simply a matter of a polarizing politician putting on her favorite pumps, or even an artist appropriating a fashionable trademark, a la Nadia Plesner. Nor is it unwelcome commentary on or parody of a marketing campaign, like the "Hitler Wore Khakis" response to the series of Gap ads depicting everyone from Humphrey Bogart to Pablo Picasso. This is a case of unauthorized use of a trademark in unrelated advertising, albeit for a political party and a point of view rather than a product.
Whether or not the Belgian court issues an injunction against the ad, or indeed is able to stop the spread of the red-soled image, Christian Louboutin's legal decision to put his well-shod foot down makes a public statement of its own.