On Wednesday, Jun. 1, Pnina Tornai debuted her new collection, “Love” at the famous bridal store, Kleinfelds on 20th Street. Pnina spoke with Sophie Slotnick and Hayley Morris from Downtown about her design process, the inspiration for her new line, and her future pursuits.
Pnina Tornai: When I was a child, my mother would be angry at me constantly because I would take her tablecloth and other beautiful fabrics that she had and I would cut them and create my own dresses. She would always be so angry, she would say “where is my tablecloth, where is this special French lace tablecloth!” She would of course obviously find it in my closet. So I have always loved designing. Always.
Over the course of your career have you had to alter your designs to cater to the millennial generation?
PT: Of course. You know being a designer to me is to be connected to time and what’s going on in the world. When I first came to the United States ten years ago I came with dresses that I brought with me from Israel. Because the Israeli bride, I would say, she dares more, these dresses were ahead of their time. They were very sexy, see through corsets, they looked more like lingerie, and Kleinfelds said, “no, we don’t want these dresses, thank you very much but we’re never going to sell these dresses.”
I insisted, and I changed the landscape of wedding dresses in the United States and the world, because the United States sets the tone for the rest of the world. So I have to say, of course I do. I work with my brides every day, I’m here every month on a trunk show, two weeks a month I work with brides on the floor just in order to understand what their looking for. And the bride is a millennial. You can see we’re going towards lighter fabrics, destination weddings, open backs.
PT: Well it depends, if it’s a couture dress, it can take anywhere from nine months to a year. If it’s a Love dress, because we pre-manufacture them by sizes and they’re not couture made, they would take around five months to manufacture.
When you’re designing, do you have a specific bride in mind that you could see wearing each dress?
PT: Every dress has a bride. And I have to say I am very lucky because I never studied fashion in my life, I never wanted to become a fashion designer. It was something I never thought I wanted to be. I wanted to be an actress, I was accepted into the best schools in Paris and Israel, but I believe that designing is my calling. I do act in my country, I appear in a sitcom and I am a reality star. But when I design a dress, the dress has the image in it; it has a specific bride that would wear it. And they’re all very different. I receive images, my inspiration really comes to me it’s true. I dream of my dresses. I suddenly have a dress in mind and I come to work in the morning and I say to my girls, “Oh my god, I dreamt this dress,” and they say “Oh no, not again, we already have 25 dresses and we need 20 for the show. What are you doing? Stop dreaming!”
I know you love all of your dresses so much, but do you have a favorite that you’ve made recently?
PT: It’s such a tough question. I am already working on my 2017 couture collection. So I will tell you what it is with me. Whatever is done, it’s like a past piece of me. I’m always in the next thing, the next dress. I think a creator never stops. A creative person’s energy never stops flowing. So if you ask what is my favorite dress, I will tell you it is the dress I haven’t made yet.
How do you customize your designs to what the client wants, while keeping your signature style?
PT: When I work with a customer and a customer asks for changes on a dress, I’m always very receptive of what her dream is, and how she sees herself. But I am also very responsible because I’m being paid to give my sincere opinion. It happens sometimes that I see things differently than the bride herself. I am a professional designer. I know what’s right for her to wear, so I will say it, gently. In my career, I’ve had cases where we don’t agree. But at least I was honest and sincere. I can’t do something just because I’m going to be paid a lot of money.
What is the inspiration for your Love line?
PT: I have to tell you the truth, it’s all the brides I have seen my whole life and all the love I have been receiving. It’s all my travels…It’s all the couture collections I’ve put together in one very well-programed line. I would say I really programmed the line, I made sure that everything I can do is in the Love line.
Speaking of the couture versus the new line, what is the general price range for this line?
PT: This line starts at $2,500 and goes up to $5,000 and the couture line starts at $7,000, so that’s the difference between both.
PT: I mean brides just can’t believe it. I’ve been receiving so many reactions and messages from brides saying, “Pnina, we love you, that’s what we needed!” I’m so proud that I could come up with the line because it’s not obvious. Being a couture designer is a very specific niche, it’s very different to work like that. I mean, couture is all handmade and we work on mannequins, and the Love line is a more pattern-oriented line. It was very difficult for me to learn, it was like a whole new profession.
Did you like that challenge?
PT: I did. I love challenges. I participated back home in Israel in the celebrity version of Big Brother, which is like the highest-rated show in Israel. Everyone wants to be on it, it’s different than in the United States. And I was a finalist. I participated in Master Chef, the celebrity version, and I came out second. So I love challenges. If you challenge me, you can be sure I’ll kill myself, but I’ll get there.
Have your dresses been worn by any notable women recently?
PT: Oh my god, I’m not so good at celebrities…But we just dressed an actress on the TV show Empire, and so many other people that are very well known. But I’m not the kind of designer to take a PR firm just so they can put my dresses on celebrities. I am sincerely, very satisfied with dressing my brides. They’re my celebrities. I mean those celebrities are gorgeous, beautiful, whatever they wear they will look amazing. I really fell in love with Kim Zolciak from the Housewives Of Atlanta; she’s such an amazing person and I did two dresses for her. A dress and jumpsuit. So yes, I dress notable woman, but I will not go after that because it’s celebrity dressing. I don’t believe in that.
You talked a little bit about acting and your competitive edge on Master Chef. Is there anything besides designing that you really love to do?
PT: I would love to act and do more of that. When I get a role and when I know my text, I become my character. That’s what’s amazing; I said it once to my director back home, because the character I played was a French woman, with a very heavy French accent, and she was completely crazy. But when I became her, I had no trouble, no problems, no anxiety from anything. I took a break from being Pnina, and there is nothing better than that. It’s like a whole new life and I love it.