Portrait of a Designer: Pnina Tornai

Portrait of a Designer: Pnina Tornai

Pnina Tornai really became famous when she, or I should say, her dresses became the star of the hit series ‘Say Yes to the Dress’. So many brides came into Kleinfeld asking for a dress by the designer. As a bridal consultant at the time I was fascinated. Who was this designer that all of these brides were asking for? I’ll tell you, it was not only in the show that brides were fascinated with Pnina gowns, brides were now asking us, a store in the Netherlands, if we had dresses like hers. Nope we didn’t, and finding the brides something similar was next to impossible. You see, there is nothing quite like a Pnina Tornai gown.

Pnina Tornai is an Israeli designer. Even though she spends half her time in the United States, her home base is in Israel. After high school she pursued an acting career and moved to Paris where she joined an acting school. She got married and had a child, but things didn’t work out, so after ten years in Paris she moved back to Israel. In order to make a living for herself and her young son she opened a small dress shop in Tel Aviv with only one seamstress to help her. A fun fact is that Pnina has never taken a sewing lesson in her life, but thank god that didn’t stop her! In 1992 a bride ordered a custom gown from her store for her wedding day. On the day of the wedding was missile launched from Lebanon and fell near the site of the wedding. The next morning a picture of the bride was featured on the front page of the paper and brides started contacting Pnina for a copy of that dress. This very literary launched her career.

In 2000 Pnina Tornai married David Levinshtein. He persuade her to bring her dresses to Kleinfeld in New York. Even though her designs were initially rejected she made some changes and went back to show them again. This time Pnina became one of Kleinfeld’s wedding dress designers. It was so successful that after only two years she got her own in-store boutique. Well, as you all know the rest is history.

Every bride knows what a Pnina dress is, mostly because of its many appearances on television. But the reason her dresses are popular is more than just television, they are truly unique. What struck me the most about Pnina is her ability to really grasp what brides want and need and puts these into her designs. Not just for one type of bride, but for many different brides. When you design dresses for many different women, it is hard not to lose sight of your signature style. Somehow a Pnina Tornai dress always caries her signature. Even the collection that she did especially for the Indian bride still very clearly carries the Pnina look and feel. I love that about her.

So, what is a ‘Pnina bride’? In an interview with Huffington Post she describes her brides as: She’s a princess even when she’s not wearing a ball gown. Being a bride might be the one and only opportunity in our lives to truly act and feel like a princess without having to apologize for it. This is what is so great about being a bride in the first place. Being a ‘Pnina bride’ is being unapologetic about wanting the best for your special day.

The signature of a Pnina gown is definitely the corset back and the sophisticated hand embroidered Swarovski crystals. In an interview with Kleinfeld she says the following about her corset backs. First of all I believe that the only way to really transform a woman’s body is with the laced up corset. It doesn’t mean it needs to be tight or uncomfortable. My corsets are based on a firm structure that puts everything in place, usually with a light fabric over it. In some designs the fabric is so light that the corset is actually transparent. I think a light fabric around a firm structured corset is more comfortable. It feels lighter and since every gown is custom-made, the firm structure is fit perfectly to the bride’s size. This perfectly describes the understanding that Pnina has for the female shape. Her dresses are not only flawlessly tailored to the bride’s body, but every detail of the dress is handmade. The Swarovski crystals are embroidered separately one at the time. This makes a Pnina dress a once in a lifetime couture creation and it is exactly why brides want to wear a Pnina gown. It is exclusive, luxurious and glamorous. The perfect ingredients for a perfect princess wedding.

To see the collection visit her website


Posted on

February 13, 2016

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