Designer Donald J. Pliner's line of pet accessories take runway style to the dog park
by Maria Coder
Some people are born with silver spoons at their disposal. Footwear designer Donald J Pliner was born with a silver shoehorn. And thanks to him, your pooch can now be a haute dog.
Donald grew up in Chicago and learned the shoe-making business from his father, Leo, owner of Florsheim Family shoe stores. Over the years, he started his own clothing and shoe company, and eventually designed some shoes for Nordstrom. In 1989 he decided to launch his own line of footwear and accessories, respectively known today as Donald J. Pliner. His clients include celebrities like Paula Abdul, Gloria Estafan, and Shaquille O'Neal.
In 2003, he launched Friends of Babydoll Pliner: a collection featuring outerwear, collars, leashes, harnesses, day carriers, and FAA approved airline carriers for dogs up to 20 pounds. The collection is named after his pampered pooch, a white Maltese named Babydoll that's adorably cute and incredibly spoiled. "She's as famous as Paris Hilton," he says.
Babydoll was a gift Donald made to his wife though the pup's fame quickly preceded her own. "My wife, Lisa, wears a shirt that says 'I'm Mrs. Pliner' so that she gets some more recognition but even then she'll go somewhere and they'll say 'Where's Babydoll?'"
Babydoll and her friends get to wear whatever their parents are wearing. "Whatever we're doing for 2-legged animals, we do the same thing for 4-legged animals," says Pliner. This Fall, expect to see gator in colors like olive and tan. Spring will bring a very religious feel. Next Fall, it's all studs and Western inspirations. Babydoll is looking forward to all her new outfits and accessories. Afterall, without her stamp of approval, it's a no go.
"We get a lot of people who are very upset with her. They want her to have larger friends but she's very selective," jokes Donald. Babydoll doesn't have friends that weigh more than 20 pounds. Call it discriminatory but the pooch only hangs with other jet-setters. If you can't fit in the FAA-approved carrier, well... then you need to find another posse.
Can you really blame her? Have you seen the carriers?
They come in three different sizes and are made of textured crepe fabric and Italian leather trim. The carriers use rolled seam finishes, exterior leather piping, satin lining, and a removable shearling pad atop a comfortably cushioned base. They're double zippered, with a mesh top, and a Velcro roll-down end. The carrier also has exterior pockets. Last but not least, each pouch sports Babydoll's signature "bone" charms. This Fall, look for the carrier in antique gator printed leather. The price: anywhere between $400-$700.
Donald also came out with a new (and very colorful) carrier recently when he teamed up with Brazilian artist Romero Britto. The "Salsa Britto," as they've called it, was a big hit at New York's Westminister Dog Show. The wearable art uses Italian reflex fabric, has a hint of stretch, and soft patent leather shoulder straps. The carrier also has a rolled seam finish, exterior leather piping, textured satin lining, and removable shearling fur pad. The mesh top has two zippers and a velcro roll down end. The $550 dog carrier can also be accessorized with a matching coat for $210. You may also add the Britto collar and the Britto patent leather lead for a full ensemble.
While Donald likes to stay close to home and designs his lines in Miami, he spends a lot of time in Los Angeles and Europe. Babydoll loves it there. "She's shopped the streets in Paris and Florence." Most of his line is made in Italy. The entire Friends of Babydoll Pliner collection is inspired by no other than Babydoll herself. And boy, is she fussy!
"When people buy a Friends of Babydoll Pliner they get a wooden hanger in a shape of a bone and a cloth bag with a picture of Babydoll," says Donald. "It's a very competitive world and her line has become extremely successful. Babydoll knows that details are extremely important."
Donald says the pet fashionista frenzy is designer driven. "It's driven by high status. It's all out there and everyone seems to be imitating everyone else. Even Babydoll has a limited edition Gucci bed."
Donald's designs can be found in select stores across the U.S. and abroad. Harrods carries his products. Shops in Australia, Norway, and others will soon carry them too. (Even Pampered Puppy carries some of the Baby Doll line.)
Despite years of hard work and recognition, Donald says Babydoll is truly the belle of the ball. "People really wait to see her. They get upset if she doesn't show up. She's very special and she's very captivating when she gets in front of the camera."
It turns out Babydoll is also stellar behind-the-scenes. Miss Pliner will be featured in a new book called The Complete Petrosexual, out this month. The book is a style handbook written from a pup's tongue-in-cheek point of view.
Right now, Babydoll has some competition on the homefront. Donald and his wife recently welcomed their own baby doll into the world; a baby girl named Starr Emmanuell. "We have a lot of stars in the house," he said.