Castanea Partners Buys Stake in Donald J Pliner

Donald Pliner’s days of wildly swinging financial fortunes and money mishaps are done.

The designer, who launched his eponymous firm in 1989, on Tuesday sold a majority stake in his business to Castanea Partners, a private equity firm based in Newton, Mass. As part of the deal, Castanea Partners will install Noel Hord as president and CEO of Donald J Pliner. The 67-year-old founder will serve as the company’s creative director, focusing on product design and marketing.

The purchase price was not disclosed, but Castanea Partners has reported that it typically invests $15 million to $75 million worth of equity into such deals. 

Castanea Partners is no stranger to the fashion world. The $575 million firm owns a majority stake in BJ LLC, which controls the Betsey Johnson retail stores. In addition, its founders, Brian Knez and Robert Smith, were both formerly vice chairmen of The Neiman Marcus Group.

“Donald has built a wonderful brand,” said Knez. “We spent the last two months determining that the Pliner brand remains strong. We like the shoe business and think he is in the right channels and well placed for continued success. We saw an opportunity to pair him with a strong senior executive. Donald’s creative genius, coupled with a strong merchant and leader like Noel Hord, should enable the brand to continue to grow in a way that will create a lot of value for everybody.”

For years, Pliner has expressed an interest in selling a portion of his company to the “right working partner.” And the designer, who plans to sell his home in Miami and return to his roots in Malibu, Calif., said this deal would put the company back on track to grow.

In the last year, Donald J Pliner has operated without a CEO and stores were closed, and the founder has previously described it as one of his toughest years in business.

But that will now change.

“We will have the people and finances now to do what we have to do to source this properly,” said Pliner. “I’ve been running this by myself. They have the ability to run this as a big business. The players are all there, and the potential is phenomenal.”

With sound financial backing, the company is poised for expansion, executives said. First up, opening a flagship store in New York within the next 12 months. The company also will step up its branding and advertising efforts, as well as turn its e-commerce site into a major business.

Hord, formerly president and COO of Nine West Group and who most recently worked with Li & Fung to launch B. Makowsky footwear, said the Donald J Pliner showroom in New York and the back-office operations in Miami would continue to function in their current form. He said the company also would ramp up its support of the “more contemporary and edgier” footwear created by the designer’s wife, Lisa Pliner.

“I believe the Donald J Pliner name is much bigger than the size it is today,” Hord said. “If we do the right things strategically, the brand will get back to the size it once was, but far beyond that.”

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