Donald Pliner Unveils New Footwear Lines

NEW YORK — Donald J Pliner is branching out.

A year after private-equity firm Castanea Partners took a majority stake in the company, the new team is moving ahead with a segmentation plan that includes launching a diffusion line this fall called DMSX and re-launching Donald J Pliner Signature with higher-end price points.

Behind everything is a new global sourcing strategy that has allowed the firm, which until recently made all its footwear in Italy, to explore production in China and Brazil.

The shoe company is seeking to carve out four distinct parts of its business: Donald J Pliner Signature Collection (men’s and women’s); Donald J Pliner (men’s and women’s); Lisa for Donald J Pliner (women’s); and DMSX (men’s and women’s).

“When Castanea acquired [Donald J Pliner], one of our strategies was to look at how to take the name and service more consumers,” said Noel Hord, who came aboard as president and CEO of the firm as part of the Castanea acquisition in February 2011.

To that end, DMSX (inspired by Prince’s song “Dance Music Sex Romance”), will be unveiled this week at FFANY. Price points start at $110, and the line caters to a younger consumer. Among its target retailers are major department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and e-commerce sites including Piperlime.com, Zappos.com and Shopbop.com.

“There was a void in the marketplace for the 25- to 35-year-old who wanted something more chic and rich in quality,” said DMSX designer Neal Salisbury, who launched Jessica Simpson footwear for Camuto Group in 2008. Salisbury added that the DMSX shoes, primarily in leather, are “uncontrived” and sleek, but with bold detailing such as oversized zippers and a signature purple sole on both the women’s and men’s styles.

The line is produced in China, a new territory for Donald J Pliner, which hired John Saez as VP of sourcing last April, with the goal of expanding production areas.

As for the company’s founder, who became creative director following the acquisition, Donald Pliner is focused on developing the enhanced Signature line. (It retails for between $400 and $600, significantly higher than the average Donald J Pliner price point of $175 to $250.) “I didn’t hold anything back,” Pliner said, referencing luxury materials such as python and precise details including special embroidery.

Pliner said he is on board with Castanea’s direction for the company. “I was fighting the changes at first,” the creative director said, “but there’s a reason I sold the company and a reason we are doing all these things.”

According to Hord, the company’s biggest growth area across the board is men’s, which saw a 50 percent increase in sales over the past year. “We’ve also seen growth with Lisa for Donald J Pliner,” he said. “Our Donald J Pliner women’s business has been relatively flat, but as we look at our spring ’12 orders, we are starting to see that business stabilize.”

John Holden, COO of Benjamin Lovell Shoes, said that after carrying the Donald J Pliner women’s and men’s collections in the past, his store currently stocks just one men’s style from the brand. But now he is considering adding the footwear back to the mix for fall.

“[Donald J Pliner] was an important line for us, and it is still a strong brand name,” Holden said. “I do plan on seeing what they’re doing at [FFANY and FN Platform], and I plan to check out [DMSX].”

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