Designer Donald Pliner Is Making A Comeback

Donald Pliner Shoes
A sketch from Pliner's latest collections.
Courtesy of brand.

A storied designer is making his way back into the shoe industry at a lightning-fast pace.

Donald J. Pliner, who stepped down from his namesake company in 2015 — four years after selling it to Castanea Partners — is ready to unveil two new lines: From the Mountains of Italy and From the Beaches of Spain.

“When I resigned, I had a noncompete [clause] for one year,” Pliner told Footwear News about his exit from his eponymous brand. “I knew [that if I wanted to] go back into business, with the competition that’s out there, I couldn’t just do yesterday’s news.”

The new lines will be available for preview in August at his newly constructed showroom on New York’s Upper East Side, just in time for FFANY and at FN Platform in Las Vegas.
Completing the process in just 25 days, the collections — which are for men and women — will feature sneakers, smoking slippers, drivers, footbed sandals, wedges and espadrilles, with price points ranging from $250 to $475.

Donald Pliner Shoes Donald Pliner. Thomas Iannaccone.

“This is our biggest opportunity,” he said, noting the pressure around the launch. “When I present this line, there’s not a second chance.”

Pliner is targeting several retailers including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and HSN, as well as multiple independents.

Meg Offutt, owner of Kemp’s Shoe Salon in Florida, said she is excited to preview the spring ’17 line. “Over the years, he always took the time to do personal appearances with us,” she said. “He is an extremely talented designer with a very good heart, and a person I will always consider a friend.”

Compared to his eponymous brand, which is now helmed by recently appointed CEO Javan Bunch, his new styles place an added emphasis on comfort, color and materials.

The shoes are produced in Italy and Spain, with the exception of his beading and embroidery details, which are handmade in India. Nappa and vachetta leathers, haircalf, white ostrich, black and pearled patents, and washed suedes are among the materials used for the collections. Comfort features include rocker bottoms, extra cushioned insoles and elastics.

“I had to change everything, [but] it’s always going to look like me,” said Pliner. “I had to come back so people know who I really am. Everything is new. [And] the materials and colors are going to separate them from what’s in the market.”

While his former company is still in business with rights to his name, the designer is optimistic that consumers and retailers will respond positively to his latest effort.

“I realized that [the name] doesn’t matter because I know who I am now,” he said. “[These collections are] the true Donald Pliner. This is my next chapter.”