Designer Donald J. Pliner Sued By Former Label For Breach Of Contract

Donald and Lisa Pliner at FN
Donald and Lisa Pliner.
Jim Decker.

DJP Holdings LLC, parent company of Donald J Pliner men’s and women’s footwear lines, is taking its founder and former designer Donald J. Pliner and his wife, Lisa Pliner, to court.

Just days after the veteran shoe designer launched two new collections — his first since stepping down from his eponymous brand in 2015 — Donald J. Pliner has found himself on the receiving end of allegations of breach of contract, trademark infringement, false advertising, deceptive trade practices and unfair competition.

In papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware on Aug. 1, DJP Holdings claims that, in addition to offering “highly similar” products, the Pliners’ newly launched footwear business as well as the collections, From the Mountains of Italy and From the Beaches of Spain, “unfairly compete” with its products and puts the designer and his wife in breach of contract.

In 2011, Donald J. Pliner sold a majority stake in his namesake brand to private equity firm Castanea Partners, which backs DJP Holdings. DJP claims that as a part of the sale, “and in exchange for a considerable payment” all of the trademarks and other intellectual property associated with the Donald J Pliner brand were transferred to the firm.

“Donald and Lisa entered into agreements clearly and expressly prohibiting them from using their names and personality rights, as well as the marks and other branding associated with the business, to promote any footwear business in the future,” the company claims in court documents.

While he had stayed on as creative director immediately after the sale, the designer said creative differences led to his departure in 2015. In a phone conversation with Footwear News on Friday, Donald Pliner called DJP’s 43-page complaint “ludicrous” and said he believed he was only required to sit out from designing shoes for one year due to a non-compete clause.

“My non-compete expired on June 3 [of 2016],” Pliner said. “I 100 percent understood that I could no longer [use my name and likeness] and all of my ads [reflect that].”

In its suit, DJP also accuses Donald and Lisa Pliner of recruiting former company employees and “at least one of whom appears to have stolen [DJP’s trade secrets],” including confidential customer lists, according to the filing.

Donald J. Pliner also refuted that claim: “[The former DJP employee] was let go and came to me — I did not recruit him,” Pliner told FN.

In court documents, DJP also noted the similarity between the designer’s latest collections, From the Mountains of Italy and From the Beaches of Spain, and its trademarks, Made in the Mountains of Italy and Donald J Pliner Made on the Beaches of Spain.

The designer said despite the lawsuit, he has no plans of discontinuing his footwear business but he would consider working with his former company again if the label made an appropriate offer.

“I am hopeful that Donald J Pliner and the designer Donald J. Pliner can find a way to co-exist and be one again,” he said.