Meet the Man Who Dresses Houston’s C-Suite Executives

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

Murry Penner of Houston's M. Penner.

Murry Penner of Houston’s M. Penner.

Looking for a recession-proof business? Talk to Murry Penner.
The tony, Uptown Park, second-generation clothier, M. Penner, dresses Houston’s C-suite executives in custom-tailored Italian suits that can cost up to $10,000 each.
“We take care of this level of guy the way he’s used to being taken care of,” said Penner, who went to work for his dad, Morris “Sonny” Penner, 30 years ago.
Back then, the store was at the corner of San Felipe and Post Oak. In 1984 it moved to Kirby “before anyone heard of Upper Kirby.” In 2006 it moved to its current location, where it’ll celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.
While Penner does sell items off the rack, by far the largest — and steadiest — segment is his bespoke suits, which average about $4,000 each and come exclusively from three suit makers in Italy and one in Canada. Penner’s shirts come from Italy, as well as an upscale shirt maker in New Jersey.
While the off-the-rack business slowed down in 2009 amid the financial crisis, the bespoke business “doesn’t suffer” in recessions, Penner said. And now, “it’s growing like crazy.”
He has one customer who comes in every few years and gets fitted for 12 suits at a time, but historically most of his customers bought just one or two suits. That’s changed as the Houston economy has taken off again.
“Now, it’s four or five suits at a time,” said Penner, who not only makes everything to measure, but to character, as well. “We take all the usual measurements, but we also factor in things like your posture. So if one shoulder is lower than the other, we tailor for that.”
Bruno La Montaga, a master cobbler from Kiton's in Italy.

Bruno La Montaga, a master cobbler from Kiton’s in Italy.

Penner recently treated some of his best customers to dinner at Tony’s in Greenway Plaza. Afterword, they all got fitted for $3,500 custom-made shoes by Bruno La Montaga, a master cobbler from Kiton in Italy, one of Penner’s exclusive suppliers.
“He started out with a simple tracing of the customer’s foot on a legal pad,” Penner said. “But by the time he was done, that sheet was full of notes about arch, stance, heel position.”
Montaga even had a palette of dyes he mixed to make custom colors.
“He would mix a little red with the brown, apply it to a leather swatch and get exactly the color the customer wanted,” Penner said.
While he refers to one American fashion trend as “the casual Friday debacle,” Penner has started making inroads with the customers that every business wants to woo: Millennials.
Z Zegna is a special project of the famed clothing and fabric maker, Ermenegildo Zegna, that is geared toward millenials. The suits are made in Mexico and cost about $1,200. Penner does well with those, but is also seeing younger execs — mostly lawyers and bankers — migrate to his more-expensive lines, as well.
“They’re very interested in looking good,” Penner said of Millennials. “The guys that work in finance and law are immersed in big deals. They understand that you want to dress for aspiration — where you wanna go, not where you are.”

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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