French designer stomps Belgium far-right in red-soled stiletto lawsuit

A Belgian court ruled this week that by using Christian Louboutin's trademark red-soled shoes in its political ad, the Vlaams Belang party tarnished the designer's image.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Sotheby's employees work behind Christian Louboutin boots at Sotheby's auction house in London October 11, 2013. In Belgium, a far-right party used a pair of Louboutin's trademark red-soled shoes in one of their provocative, anti-Islam campaigns. The famed designer, opened a case that rested on questions of whether legally purchased goods can be used as they want, even for a political purpose.

Any time Michelle Obama appears in a new dress, it sells out within days. But not all designers appreciate the free advertising they get when the political classes don their products.

In Belgium, a far-right party used the famed stilettos of a French shoe designer in one of their provocative, anti-Islam campaigns. And so the designer, Christian Louboutin, opened a case that rested on questions of whether legally purchased goods can be used as they want, even for a political purpose. A court this week sided with Mr. Louboutin, who claimed the campaign tarnished his image, according to the BBC.

The party, Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, used a photo of the leg of Anke Van dermeersch, a former Miss Belgium who is now a senator of the party. She wears the iconic red-soled stiletto designed by Louboutin. And up the side of her leg is a list of words that starts on the bottom with “Sharia compatible” at the foot to “stoning” at the upper thigh.

The group was ordered to take down the posters within 24 hours by a court in Antwerp this week. Ms. Van dermeersch, who reportedly showed up in court wearing Louboutin's shoes, called the ruling the equivalent of mandating a political dress code. She said, according to New York Magazine:

Are politicians still allowed to dress the way they want? It seems that not only Islam is intolerant … A legal judgment on a dress code for politicians would be a surreal precedent. Apart from the absurd argument concerning reputational damage, there is no legal basis for such a dress code.

Vlaams Belang quickly published a new advertisement on Twitter, with the same message and nearly identical stilettos – this time, however, with yellow soles.

One fashion website notes that Louboutin's motive to protect his red soles in imagery, as he has done before, is "undoubtedly a move to protect business in the Middle East – with luxury sales in the region projected at $7.69 billion, it’s the 10th biggest luxury market in the world and growing, according to Arabian Business."

But such provocations against Islam expand beyond the market, becoming potentially socially explosive. Remember the brutal murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam, after his controversial movie "Submission," which included an image of the words of the Quran written across the naked body of a Muslim woman.

The move comes as anti-immigrant parties on the fringes have gained increasing footholds across Europe. On Monday, French newspapers were dominated by the victory of the anti-immigrant National Front (FN) candidate in southern France. Last year the FN won 18 percent of votes in first-round presidential elections in France. Marine Le Pen, who heads the FN, said over the weekend the most recent local results show "a real desire for change by the French."

Ms. Le Pen and Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands are in talks to form an alliance ahead of European elections next May, though Vlaams Belang, which has been on the front-lines against the “Islamization” of Belgium, has reportedly rejected such an alliance, as have other far-right groups. (Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the election date.)

Louboutin is apparently not the only person miffed by the Belgian campaign. The Canadian artist whose works inspired the image that the court has ordered removed has started a Facebook campaign to rally "artists who have been ripped off everywhere." 

According to the New Statesman, which ran a piece titled, "What happens when a piece of feminist artwork is turned into anti-Islamic propaganda?", the campaign was inspired by Rosea Lake, who as a feminist protest, had shown a bare leg with words ranging from “matronly” at the ankle to “whore” at the upper thigh.

[Rosea] Lake, who intended her original work to promote tolerance and discussion, says that she does not have the means to pursue legal action against Vlaams Belang or Anke Van dermeersch. 

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