TORONTO — Israel-based fashion designer Pnina Tornai’s exclusive wedding designs were showcased at United Jewish Appeal’s Young Leaders and Young Women’s Leadership cocktail evening on Feb. 20.
Tornai, who stars in the successful New York-based reality TV show Say Yes to the Dress, began her career 25 years ago in a small Tel Aviv shop where she designed dresses, working with only one additional seamstress. Today, she owns a high-end design studio in New York City, attracting brides from all over the globe – including the Arab world, Asia, Europe and Canada.
Visiting Canada for the first time for the event, held at the Shangri-La Hotel, Tornai thanked the Jewish community of Toronto. “I believe that Israel would not exist if we didn’t have the Jews and the Diaspora, especially those who live in America and Canada, who support and donate so much to Israel.”
Tornai has never studied design, but she began designing clothes instinctively at a very young age.
“My parents realized my gift and talent when I was four years old,” she told the 60 women at the event. “I used to draw and sketch dresses – especially ball gowns – on the walls of our house.”
It was really a mistake, she said. “I wanted to be an actress. God decides for us what we should do, and I personally very quickly understood you don’t argue with Him. The profession literally chose me – I didn’t choose the profession.
“It started with a dream,” she continued. “I was lying on the lawn and I saw these dresses falling from the sky – amazing bridal dresses. I was looking at them, and I could see every detail on those dresses. I woke up in the morning and I understood it was a calling. That morning, I went to the store, and I said to my one salesperson: ‘We are closing the store.’ I painted the store in white and gold. I found a seamstress who said she knew how to sew wedding dresses, and that’s how it started.”
Tornai said another sign from God came when she sold her first dress.
“My first bride came and bought a dress for her wedding. The following day, her wedding was featured in the front page of all the newspapers. She got married in the north [of Israel] and had rockets flying over her head at the chupah. The newspapers wrote about the couple that got married under fire. That’s how my dress ended up in all the newspapers.”
Tornai’s global success came in 2005 when she was offered an opportunity to sell her dresses at the New York wedding gown giant, Kleinfeld Bridal Salon.
Calling Israel home, she travels each month back and forth from Tel Aviv to New York City.
“I think my dresses are so successful because of the spirit and soul I put in. They also have a certain style. I was the first one to start with the corset in the U.S. Most brides feel the most beautiful they could feel on the day of their wedding. That I made their dream come true is the greatest compliment to me.”
Tornai’s designs also include eveningwear. Her handmade dresses are designed using the principles of haute couture. Materials are imported from all parts of the world, with designs ranging from classic to sophisticated that include trimmings with Swarovski stones, lace and other fabrics. Tornai also designs modest dresses for Orthodox brides.
Hudson’s Bay is set to launch a 20,000-square-foot Kleinfeld Bridal Salon at its flagship downtown Toronto store on May 1.
“You’re not going to have to go to New York to buy your dresses, because we are going to have Pnina Tornai exclusively in Canada and we are very proud of that. Everything but the groom – that is what I want to deliver to the Canadian bride,” said Evelyn Reynolds, senior vice-president of bridal licensing and business development at Hudson’s Bay.
Tornai is extending her brand. She’s working on a bathing suit and lingerie line in Israel, as well as on developing a perfume.