Mom Muse | Lisa Barbernell-Pliner
Designer, philanthropist, reality TV star – Lisa Barbernell-Pliner leads a fascinating life. However, no matter what she takes on or achieves, her family always comes first. She and husband Donald J Pliner (yes, the much-loved shoe designer!) have a beautiful 10-year-old daughter, Starr, who is the light of her life. Plus, let’s not forget this dog lover’s other “kid,” MoonLite. Another family member, Lisa’s beloved Maltese named BabyDoll, sadly passed away last year. As a matter of fact, she’s penning a book about BabyDoll as we speak. Yes, Lisa is an author too. Is there anything this supermom can’t do?!
Lisa’s path to motherhood was not a simple one. She and Donald longed to be parents, so in 2005, they traveled to Kazakhstan, where they were able to realize their dream. It was there that they met a beautiful baby girl who they later named Starr Emmanuelle Pliner. While they watched their cherished daughter grow and flourish in their care, the Pliners never forgot about the orphans they left behind. During their multiple visits to Starr’s orphanage, the couple noticed the children rarely smiled and had no free playtime. Knowing they could make a difference, the Pliners formed the Peace for the Children Foundation in 2007, which is committed to bringing peace to children who need it most. The foundation provides charitable grants in support of non-profit organizations sharing Lisa’s belief that, “If a child could have one day to play like anyone else, children can learn to communicate and play together, no matter their religion or race, it can bring peace.” Lisa told us, “When I see a child smiling and being happy playing with other kids, just seeing that joy tells me that my job was done.” Beautiful.
By day, Lisa is the creative director for her husband’s namesake line of footwear, Donald J Pliner. It’s important to know that while she married into a shoe empire, Lisa herself is a highly-trained designer with an impressive resume in the fashion world. She was born in Miami, Florida to Judith and Larry Barbernell, and her mother, a fashion designer herself, encouraged Lisa’s desire to pursue an education in the arts. Lisa studied at the University of Texas, and then transferred to St. Edwards University to study Fine Arts and Theater, before relocating to Paris, where she studied at the prestigious Parsons School of Design. Continuing her education, Lisa moved to Siena, Italy to study Landscape Arts, before returning to the U.S. to pursue a degree in Visual Communication and Graphic Design at the Art Institute of Houston, Texas. Wow, we are impressed. Upon completing her education, Lisa worked as a model, appearing in countless fashion magazines.
Then, in 1988, Lisa joined Versace and worked alongside the fashion master Gianni Versace himself! While at Versace, another life-changing moment occurred when she met Donald and aligned herself as his muse and creative director. Over the past decade in her role, Lisa has helped design and produce top-selling collections, including a line in honor of their dog BabyDoll and the luxe Donald & Lisa Signature Collection. With the goal of being cutting-edge yet still comfortable, Donald & Lisa Signature footwear is crafted in Italy from hair calf, lizard, suede and Nappa leather. For a unique touch, Lisa decided to make the soles of the shoes emerald green, like the color of her eyes.
Lisa working with her team.
Lisa and Starr looking for just the right shoe.
Lisa making a personal appearance to unveil a bridal shoe. Photo Credit: Sarah Crichlow
In addition to the “in progress” book about BabyDoll, Lisa has also authored other books on shoes and just completed her first script based on the true story about her journey for the quest of a child, “STARR.” This is not her first foray into the entertainment world, as Lisa played herself during Season 2 of Bravo’s hit reality TV show “Real Housewives of Miami.”
After living in Florida for two decades, in 2012 Lisa and her family, including BabyDoll and MoonLite, moved from their home in Star Island, Florida to Bel Air Crest, California where they are now soaking up the West Coast sunshine.
MSL: What do you like best about being a designer? The biggest challenge?
I love that I can express my creativity and the passion I have through my work. The biggest challenge is keeping up with all the other amazing and talented designers out there today.
MSL: What has been the most important moment of your career so far?
When customers show they love my designs by wearing my shoes.
MSL: What’s the one item in your closet you can’t live without, that makes you feel both chic and comfortable?
My blue jeans with a great pair of Donald J Pliner or Lisa Pliner shoes.
MSL: Your favorite shoes for right now? This spring?
For the holidays I was able to have both sand and snow. So for the sand, we have a shoe coming out for Spring 2015. The style is called ‘ABIBIT’ – watch for it in stores! Living in LA, the city has its own unique style and I tend to wear the ‘FLANNA’ boot a lot.
FLANNA Boots, Donald & Lisa Signature
MSL: Being in the spotlight, it must be a challenge to wear something different all the time. How do you stretch your wardrobe to keep it fresh?
Fashion ‘rules’ do not really say what to do or not do anymore, so I mix pieces that are new with vintage. Vintage never goes out of style.
MSL: Do you have any tips on how you streamline your morning routine?
My morning routine changes week to week, either I am at home or on a plane. But if I’m not traveling, I do a Pilates class twice a week and a strength weight training class twice a week with a trainer.
MSL: Developing a unique style comes at an early age for some children. Do you let your daughter choose what she’s going to wear? How do you talk about getting dressed with her?
I always remember this story my mom told me about herself when she was a little girl. My mom used to dress in her own unique way, putting things together and not matching. Her mom always thought this was wrong and told her, “You can’t put stripes with polka dots!” (MSL: She was SO ahead of her time! Mixed prints are really big right now.) My mom ended up becoming a fashion designer. So when it comes to my daughter, I let her be creative and put things together on her own. Sometimes there are those moments when I say, “Starr, that’s really not going, let’s change something.” Overall, she’s got good taste, which comes from her mom and dad. (ha ha)
MSL: Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to hear.
As Donald would say, I’m silent but deadly. I may look shy or quiet on the outside, but when I have to strike, watch out here she comes!
MSL: What’s your best style advice for other moms out there?
I have to say being 50 today is a whole different club. There are those days I wish I were 30 or 40 and would love to wear certain styles again. But our bodies and minds grow and we all change. So I would say — stay confident! Know when there is a time to wear something that is appropriate or not for whom you are, no matter how old you are. Just have taste in doing it.