A Family Fashion Dynasty

When George Feldenkreis arrived on American soil after fleeing Cuba in the 1960s, he had only $700 in his pocket and a dream. A month later, his pregnant wife and young son Oscar joined him in Miami. The fledgling family had escaped communism and now eyed the everyman opportunity in capitalism.

Now that he lived in a free country where everyone had a shot at success if they worked hard, Feldenkreis set out to achieve the American dream. Although he had many challenges to conquer, perseverance and pluck kept him going. He would never give up.

“Determination and tenacity have always been part of my leadership style,” he says. “Early on, as an immigrant to this country, I was confronted by many challenges, including having to learn a new language, making sure I was able to support my young family, and learning how to do business in a new culture.” In the early days, Feldenkreis, who was later joined by his son Oscar (the pair now serve as Perry Ellis International’s founder/ executive chairman and CEO/ president, respectively), had no idea he would one day lead a top fashion empire in the United States.

The Doral, Florida-based Perry Ellis International—PEI, for short— is publicly traded on the NASDAQ and houses a portfolio of more than 20 well-known fashion brands and licensed labels. Under the PEI umbrella, household names such as Perry Ellis and Original Penguin have propelled the company toward success. Brands specific to the promotional products industry, such as Callaway, Munsingwear and Cubavera, have also garnered strong market share.

As one of the largest fashion corporations in America, Perry Ellis International’s global annual retail sales exceed $3 billion and its workforce includes some 2,500 employees.

Today, Perry Ellis International produces apparel of all kinds for different market segments, from high-end fashion labels such as Laundry by Shelli Segal to men’s golf apparel under the PGA TOUR brand. But in the beginning, the company had a much narrower focus.

From Communism To Capitalism
Born in Havana, Cuba to Russian-Jewish parents, Feldenkreis immigrated to Miami in 1961. By 1967, he and his brother had founded a company called Supreme International that imported school uniforms and guayaberas, a style of traditional Latin men’s shirts.

“I realized early on that I really needed to think outside the box,” he says. “I tapped into my savviness for sourcing internationally the types of products that could become successful in the United States.”

The Feldenkreis family’s success with the Latin market gave them the retail clout to expand rapidly. In 1993, Supreme International went public and acquired Munsingwear, a menswear company that owned the Original Penguin label. In 1999, Supreme acquired the Perry Ellis brand and changed its name to Perry Ellis International.

“I started this company 50 years ago by manufacturing guayaberas and school uniforms,” he says. “With the support of my family, it has now grown into one of the world’s leading apparel companies.”

American-Made Man
Now in his early 80s, Feldenkreis recently stepped down as CEO to spend more time with the charities he supports. “I have always believed that if you make money, you should give back,” he says. “To be able to give and continue giving to society; I think it is important.”

Feldenkreis sits on the board of trustees for the University of Miami, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. He is also a benefactor of numerous medical, educational, social and philanthropic organizations.

His diverse ethnic background has clearly influenced Perry Ellis International’s corporate philosophy, which emphasizes workforce diversity. “Personally, I feel that I’m a ‘bridge person,’ having been on the board of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation since the early ’70s as the first Hispanic member,” says Feldenkreis. “I have many friends from different nationalities and from different religious backgrounds. I am truly very proud to be able to represent a different culture among different ethnic groups.”

While Feldenkreis is proud of his diverse ethnic heritage, he is grateful to be an American living in a free country where he and his business can flourish.

“I feel very American, and I love this country more than most Americans who are born in the United States,” he says. “I am very proud and lucky that I’ve been able to inculcate to my children the same things that my father taught me. This is sincerely the best country in the world. To this great country, I owe everything. I am wholly and completely American.”

Having achieved the American Dream despite great odds, Feldenkreis serves as an inspiration to many. “Take advantage of all the opportunities this great country offers,” he says. “The freedoms to take risks, to be adventurous and entrepreneurial—these freedoms are not available in all countries. Not every country offers these types of liberties to its citizens. It’s all about working hard and being diligent.”

Time To Pass The Torch
In 2014, after more than two decades as CEO of Perry Ellis, Feldenkreis recognized the company was ready for its next fearless leader. It was time to pass the torch to the next generation of the Feldenkreis family dynasty.

Oscar Feldenkreis—who joined the company in 1979 and served in several positions through the years, including COO—was officially named CEO and president of Perry Ellis International in 2016. His father now serves as executive chairman of the board, a role that allows him to step back from the day-to-day operations.

With his decades of experience in the fashion industry, Oscar is now steering the company into the future. Having grown up in the apparel business, you could say fashion runs in his blood. “I have always had a passion for fashion,” Oscar says. “It is a big part of my DNA.”

Now that Perry Ellis International has a new leader at its helm, what’s on the horizon for the company? The younger Feldenkreis has big plans for Perry Ellis International, particularly in the promotional apparel market.

He says that strategic product and geographic expansions will create additional opportunities for PEI to lead the fashion industry in bold, new directions. The company is also focusing on cutting-edge performance features such as stretch options, sun protection and fabrics resistant to water and wind.

“I see opportunities for growth in creating and expanding new product categories such as wind-wear, pants and bottoms, accessories, layered pieces, and women’s wear and accessories,” Oscar says.

Now that the torch is in his hand, he realizes how far the family has truly come. He says he looks forward to creating a legacy that will span generations to come, but he will never forget his family’s humble beginnings and is grateful for all his father taught him.

“My father is not only my business mentor, he is also my best friend,” Oscar says. “He taught me by his example to always continue to learn and to stay humble.”

Brittany Glenn is a Plano, Texas-based writer and former associate editor of PPB.