Meet Pnina Tornai, the Bridal Designer With An Edge

Laia Garcia
·Writer

Pnina Tornai on set at her 2015 lookbook photoshoot. Photo: Courtesy of Pnina Tornai

It is late afternoon on a Thursday and Pnina Tornai, the bridal designer best known for her over-the-top dresses which have as big a starring role in TLC’s Say Yes To the Dress as any of the brides-to-be, is running back and forth inside the main dress salon at Kleinfeld. This week, the celebrated store is holding a trunk show of Tornai’s designs and the brides have come here to be fitted by the designer herself. As we chat, her eyes keep darting behind me, paying close attention to a very petite woman trying on dresses, “did we get a picture of her?” she asks an attendant. She doesn’t want to miss a thing.

“I love meeting with my brides because this is how I can learn what the next thing is, what I need to come up with,” says Tornai, “working with celebrities is great fun, but my real celebrities are my brides. It’s true.” Tornai adds, “They are the stars. They are the princesses.”

A look from Pnina Tornai’s 2015 collection. Photo: Courtesy of Pnina Tornai

When you are speaking with Tornai, there is a lot of talk of princesses, of magic, of dreams. She lives a seemingly charmed life, traveling the world, dreaming up dresses and then bringing them to life.  But she didn’t want to be a designer growing up. She thought she’d be an actress. Tornai, who grew up the daughter of a diplomat, traveled all over the world and lived in Africa and Paris before settling in Israel, where she finished high school, and completed her army service. After her second divorce, she found herself back in Israel with “nothing.” “I had no profession, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t even know how to type— nothing,” Tornai says of the dark period before she figured out what the future had in store for her. “I took the dresses that I had and I cut them up and started recreating them,” she recalls. She opened a shop in Tel Aviv, where she sold them. “I said, ‘I have taste, I might as well do fashion.'”

She may have had good taste, but it took an extraordinary circumstance to catapult her fledgling store into success, and it all started with the very first bridal dress she made, a custom order for client who brought in a black evening dress she wanted to be remade in white. “The bride got married in the north of Israel and that day, missiles were fired where she got married, and their picture ended up in the front page,” Tornai recalls, “It was crazy, nobody cared about the missiles, but where was the dress from.” 

A look from Pnina Tornai’s 2015 collection. Photo: Courtesy of Pnina Tornai

And so it was that the young girl from Israel, who had dreams of being an actress, became the purveyor of the most glamorous wedding dresses, with mesh details, exposed corsetry, and low décolletages, the kind that make future brides so happy that dads immediately forget about budgets and moms immediately worry about “modesty.” In fact, at one point, her dresses were deemed too risky, and Kleinfeld turned her away. “In Israel brides are always very sexy, so I came with a collection that was all see through! See-through corsets, short skirts, chiffon,” Tornai recalls of her first meeting with the boutique. “Mara and Dorothy (Kleinfeld’s owner and buyer) said ‘Oh my! What is this? We aren’t selling underwear.’ I cried on the plane the whole way back to Israel.” Not being one to give up, she went back to the drawing board, re-did her collection, and sent the store seven dresses to try, with no commitment. Two weeks later, the store got in touch with her, looking to sign an exclusive contract. The rest, as they say, is history. 

A look from Pnina Tornai’s 2015 collection. Photo: Courtesy of Pnina Tornai

And if there was any question that anything Tornai wants, Tornai gets, she is also currently starring in multiple TV shows in her native Israel. She’s in a reality show, as well as a comedic sitcom, where she plays a French woman named Monique. And it is through her talent for channeling different people, that she is able to make dresses that appeal to such a broad range of women. But the inspiration for her dresses still come to her in dreams. It’s not surprising that Tornai’s favorite movie growing up was Gone With the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara, just like Pnina Tornai, set her own path in life.  It’s just hard to say who has the most glamorous gowns.  

A look from Pnina Tornai’s 2015 collection. Photo: Courtesy of Pnina Tornai


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