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Pnina Tornai never anticipation she’d become one of the world’s best approved conjugal clothes designers. She spent best of her adolescence absent of acceptable an actress. By the time she was in her astern twenties, that dream seemed far-fetched. She was a distinct mom, disturbing to abutment herself and break healthy.
Tornai pulled herself out of that slump by relying on her determined acceptance in a bigger future. Now, her gowns are accustomed about the world, she’s the premiere absolute artist at the acclaimed New York conjugal abundance Kleinfeld, and her assignment is acutely featured in the long-running TLC absoluteness appearance “Say Yes to the Dress.”
Her success in appearance has translated to a career on screen, accomplishing her adolescence dream.
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Transcript edited for clarity.
Pnina Tornai: I was three and a bisected years old. I bethink I absolutely accept the eyes of the moment that I absitively that all I capital to be is the woman in the television. At the time, I anticipation it was a box. I didn’t apperceive what it was really. But I bethink attractive at myself in the mirror and saying, “This is what I appetite to do,” and that’s how I led my accomplished childhood. I never absolutely advised in school. I acclimated to sit in chic and say, “Why do I charge math? I’m not activity to charge algebraic for actuality an actress.”
Richard Feloni: Actuality an actress.
Tornai: Or cartography or history. All I capital to be was an actress, and I did become an extra in Israel. I acted in a few appearance and a few sitcoms, and I am a absoluteness brilliant in Israel.
Feloni: You went to Paris to abstraction acting, right?
Tornai: I went to Paris to abstraction acting. I was accustomed in the bigger academy for acting in Israel and afresh in Paris. But afresh I affiliated my aboriginal bedmate and he fabricated it actual bright that acting will not booty abode in our home. And I was too young.
Feloni: So you accustomed that?
Tornai: I accustomed that. Yes, I accustomed that. And attractive astern today, I absolutely don’t accept that there are mistakes or coincidences. And sometimes you accept to set a your dreams in adjustment to acquisition the alley that you accept to booty which is, I believe, your calling.
Feloni: How did it feel in that moment, though? Aback you were acutely absolution go of a dream?
Tornai: I don’t anticipate I absolutely accepted what I was doing. I was too young. I wasn’t the woman that I am today. I was added submitted to my bedmate and it was a very, actual boxy marriage. It was an calumniating marriage. At the time, I didn’t accept the affluence to absolutely anticipate alert whether I was accomplishing the appropriate affair or not. I became a mother at the age of 23, so aggregate happened in a way area I didn’t anticipate that advancing my dream at the time was the best important thing. And every helpmate that would appear to me with her adventure and acquaint me how she feels, sometimes additionally her hesitations and her hardships, I would consistently put a the dress and accomplish abiding that I was giving her the appropriate admonition alike if it meant to acquaint my helpmate to adjourn a wedding. Because what I went through in activity was an acquaintance that accustomed me to accord it as an archetype to added women.
And you know, if a helpmate would appear in and say to me that she’s activity through a actual boxy time with her fiancé and she’s actuality disrespected or abused, I would consistently acquaint her the truth. I would consistently acquaint her that these things do not get better, they alone get worse, so maybe she should postpone, anticipate about it. And best of these brides that absitively not to get affiliated came aback to my abundance years afterwards with an assurance ring. It consistently fabricated me actual blessed aback they said to me that this time they apperceive they’re marrying the appropriate person.
Feloni: You acknowledgment to Israel. Is that aback you absitively that you were activity to accept some added independence?
Tornai: No. I came aback to Israel and faced the toughest time of my activity because my ex-husband, the ancestor of my son, took abroad my son from me and I begin myself with no achievement or a acumen to continue, to abide living. It was like the aboriginal affair you appetite to do is aloof put an end to everything. I bethink the moment that I said to myself that I accept two choices: one is to accept self-pity and to aloof let go of everything, and the added is to alpha actuality the woman I came to be, and attempt and accomplish aggregate that I appetite to accomplish so that the day my son will acknowledgment to me, I will already accept aggregate I charge in adjustment to accord him a bigger approaching and to appearance him that in activity it’s bigger to action for your dreams, for acceptable who you’re declared to be.
So that’s what I did, and I capital to do article that could advance the affliction and the affliction and about-face it into article good. And article acceptable agency to advice others and to accomplish them happy. I had no appearance education. I never advised fashion. But because I did accept a lot of aftertaste in fashion, I started creating ready-to-wear dresses, pants, suits.
Feloni: How did you apprentice how to do that?
Tornai: From a actual adolescent age, I consistently had a clothier that I acclimated to go to and architecture and sketch. If you would acquaint me at the age of 16 that I would be a appearance artist — and my best acquaintance at the time acclimated to consistently say that to me and I wouldn’t allocution to her for a week.
Feloni: But she would say that to you, that you would be a designer?
Tornai: That I would become a designer.
Feloni: Why would she say that?
Tornai: I consistently had a lot of aftertaste in fashion. I consistently dressed all my friends. I acclimated to booty my mother’s tablecloth and adored linen and cut them into acme for my friends, or skirts, and it wasn’t at all what I capital to become. A artist wasn’t at all my dream.
Feloni: It was about like you didn’t go to academy for it but you had some training alike as a child?
Tornai: My notebooks are all abounding with sketches of dresses, of brawl gowns, of aggregate that has to do with fashion. So I took that, I begin a seamstress, and I started creating, demography out patterns from my own clothes and axis them into article else. I busy this little abundance in Tel Aviv, and I had one mirror in the store. It was appropriate aing to the entrance, to the door. I didn’t accept abundant affairs to appoint a archetypal so I became my own model, which is not ideal because I’m five-foot tall. But I bethink every time I stood in advanced of the mirror blockage the dress and seeing that aggregate was able-bodied made, there would consistently be a chump advancing in and saying, “Where can I get this dress?”
Feloni: You had to be your own mannequin.
Tornai: And they would buy it off my back, and that’s how it started. I became, overnight, Israel’s arch conjugal designer.
Feloni: How did that appear so quickly?
Tornai: That happened … It was funny because I had these admirable black dresses and I had annihilation in white in the store. But women would appear in and say, “You know, I’m accepting married. I would like this dress in white.” Every stylist came to my store. Anybody capital my dresses. I bethink brides arrant because I couldn’t cope with orders. I didn’t accept abundant seamstresses. I would appoint a new clothier every time I had the affairs to do that. And little by little, it aloof happened. I did a lot of appearance shows, television shows, dressed a lot of celebrities, and it aloof happened.
Feloni: I saw one adventure that said that your clothes got on the advanced folio of a agglomeration of Israeli newspapers.
Feloni: What happened there?
Tornai: It was funny because this helpmate who bought a dress got affiliated in the arctic of Israel. At her bells while she was beneath the chuppah, there were missiles aerial over her head. There was a announcer there and they took a account and it was on the advanced folio of the newspaper. So little signs …
Feloni: So anybody saw your dress the aing day because of this picture.
Tornai: Yeah, everybody saw my dress the aing day.
Feloni: Was it awe-inspiring to accept this acknowledgment with article that was contrarily a aphotic angel with missiles and violence?
Tornai: That’s absolutely a accepted arena in Israel, unfortunately. We don’t booty it that bad anymore because it’s what it is.
Feloni: It is what it is.
Tornai: Yes, it’s what it is. Yes, it’s amazing to see article that is appalling and a helpmate and a benedict committing to their adulation at the aforementioned time.
Feloni: Aback you had aggregate activity so able-bodied in Israel, what fabricated you adjudge that you capital to expand, to go to the United States?
Tornai: Israel is actual small, somehow like me, and I anticipate I fabricated a bells dress for about every ancestors in the country. I bethink that I heard about this abundance in New York alleged Kleinfeld, and that it was the best acknowledged abundance in the apple for bridal. That was the aing challenge, that was the aing affair I said to myself to do. I capital to acquisition a way to go and accommodated the owners this store, but it was absolutely impossible. So one day, I had this helpmate who came into the abundance with her mother. This helpmate and her mother came to the abundance and they chose two dresses. The helpmate chose a dress …
Feloni: Sorry, to footfall back. This was at Kleinfeld?
Tornai: No. That was still in my abundance in Tel Aviv. This helpmate comes into the abundance with her mother and they both accept my dresses. The helpmate chooses a bells dress and the mother an black dress. At the end of the arrangement to me they say to me that their ancestor will appear the afterwards day and allowance the deal. So I say OK, and the ancestor came the day afterwards and he said to me, “Listen, your dresses are actual expensive.” And I said, “Yes, I know, but they’re additionally actual beautiful.” And he said, “What can we do? What can we do in adjustment to acquisition a way to barter? You’ll accord me the dresses and I’ll do article for you.” And I said, “What do you do in life?” He said, “I’m an entrepreneur. I can get you about annihilation you want.” And I said, “You know, the alone affair I appetite is to accommodated with the owners of Kleinfeld in New York.” At the time they were still in Brooklyn. The man took a day or two, and came aback to me and said, “OK. I accept a affair for you.”
Feloni: So he was able to accomplish it happen?
Tornai: Absolutely. That’s what happened. The aing affair I knew was that I was on a alike with my dresses on my way to Kleinfeld, and that wasn’t an accessible beginning. That was absolutely not an accessible alpha because I bethink the day area I came to Kleinfeld and showed my dresses, and the client was attractive at my dresses with a actual awe-inspiring face, saying, “We are never activity to advertise these dresses in America. These dresses will never advertise in America. They’re too y; they’re too daring.”
Feloni: What? Too revealing?
Tornai: Too revealing, too y, too advanced of their time. I was saying, “You don’t accept annihilation like this. I anticipate you should try and see if my dresses can advertise in your store.” And she said, “Well, acknowledge you, but no, acknowledge you.”
Feloni: How did that feel?
Tornai: Awful, awful.
Feloni: You catholic all this way to New York.
Tornai: It acquainted awful. I flew aback home and I bethink myself arrant the accomplished way. Twelve hours of arrant is not article I acclaim to anyone. But anyway, I went aback home and I absitively to actualize a accumulating of dresses that would be added acclimatized to the American helpmate but still be different.
Feloni: At one point you were absolutely down, like, “I blew it — it doesn’t work.” What fabricated you think, “You apperceive what? I’m activity to appearance them. I’ll acclimate to it.”
Tornai: I never accord up. I am the affectionate of actuality that if you bandy me out of the door, I’ll appear aback through the window. I can still apprehend my mother say — may she blow in accord — aback I was a adolescent she would consistently say, “What am I activity to do with this child? Annihilation can stop her. If she wants something, alike if God comes bottomward to earth, he will adjournment her by 10 minutes, max.”
So this is how I am. I went aback home, formed on a new collection, and beatific it aback to Kleinfeld with an email saying, “Please betrayal these dresses in your store. If they don’t sell, accelerate them aback to me.” Two weeks later, I get a buzz alarm from the buyer of Kleinfeld saying, “I anticipate we accept a botheration with your dresses.” And I say, “No, not again. Please, I did aggregate I could do.” And she says, “Well, we’re affairs too many, and we’re not abiding you can accomplish as much.”
Feloni: It’s a bigger botheration to have.
Tornai: Yes. And the blow is history.
Feloni: They got to be absolutely acclaimed nationally in the US, too, because of the TLC show, “Say Yes to the Dress.” Aback did that happen?
Tornai: “Say Yes to the Dress” started filming nine years ago, and it afflicted the accomplished game.
Feloni: How continued was that afterwards you had fabricated the partnership?
Tornai: It was about four years, three and a bisected years. So aback “Say Yes to the Dress” started filming, none of us had an abstraction of what it was activity to become. The appearance is aired in over 120 countries in the accomplished world, so that’s amazing. I cannot airing the streets in best of the countries that I visit. It’s crazy. Bodies run afterwards me.
Feloni: Because you got to be on the show.
Tornai: In languages that I sometimes don’t understand. Of course. And it’s additionally a appearance that everybody loves watching. Alike if you’re not accepting married, it’s consistently amazing to see how a helpmate chooses her dress, what she’s activity through abaft the scenes, and how at the end there’s consistently a blessed ending.
Feloni: What was it like actuality a artist in Kleinfeld afore the appearance and afresh afterward?
Tornai: I can acquaint you that today, alike if I accept a moment amid brides, which I usually don’t, because I see about 90 to 120 brides a day on a weekend.
Feloni: A day? How does that happen?
Tornai: I don’t alike know. Don’t ask me. Sometimes the day’s over, and I can’t feel my anxiety and my aperture hurt.
Feloni: Wait, what does that attending like? Are you bouncing about with people?
Tornai: It’s crazy because there are so abounding pedestals on the attic and I’m aloof dancing around, yes, aloof like you say it. So alike if I accept a moment to sit and grab a chaw or blow or booty a breath, I accept addition cat-and-mouse in the antechamber for hours that is aloof cat-and-mouse to booty a picture. So what do you do? Do you sit and blow for a moment, or do you go out there to a fan that deserves all your adulation and all your attention?
Feloni: It’s like Kleinfeld, it became about like a day-tripper attraction.
Tornai: Of course.
Feloni: Because of the show.
Tornai: Absolutely. We accept so abounding bodies advancing in during the day that don’t charge a bells dress at all. They aloof appetite to see the arena and blow the dream.
Courtesy of Pnina Tornai
Feloni: Was there anytime a accident of maybe too abundant absorption or too abundant appeal afterwards the show?
Tornai: It absolutely depends how you attending at it. I don’t anticipate too abundant is too much. I anticipate too abundant is a new opportunity, as a challenge, as the aing akin and the aing footfall to take. So for me, there’s never too much. I accept that if you’re not affective forward, you’re affective backward, and there’s annihilation I abhorrence added than affective backward.
Feloni: Did it alpha that you acclimated to go aback and alternating added frequently, you would absorb a brace of weeks actuality a ages or something?
Tornai: For 13 years, I accept catholic every ages Tel Aviv–New York, 12 hours of flights aback and forth.
Feloni: At what point did activity aback and alternating end up area it’s, like, “All right, this is activity to be a full-time job”?
Tornai: Three and a bisected years ago, I came actuality with my best friend, and the aboriginal time we accustomed to Kleinfeld, the car anchored in advanced of the entrance. I came out of the car and there was this accumulation of women continuing alfresco of Kleinfeld absolutely cat-and-mouse for one of us to arrive, one of the stars of “Say Yes to the Dress.” And I get out of the car and it’s a ritual. You kiss everybody, you hug everybody, you booty pictures and “We adulation you — we adulation you” and it’s amazing.
But I noticed that Michal was arctic in the back, and I say to her, in Hebrew, I say, “Come.” I say “Bo!” in Hebrew, like “Move!” I accept brides cat-and-mouse for me. That’s the best important affair today, is to alpha alive with my brides. And she was, like, I don’t know, moonstruck. We went into the store, and I bethink her captivation my hand, like affairs me aback and saying, “Pnina … ” We allocution in Hebrew amid us, but she said, “Pnina, this is f—ing New York. Do you apprehend — do you apprehend that this is not Israel? This is New York. Did you see what aloof happened?” I said, “Yes. This happens every day.” So she said to me, “Well, if this happens every day, you accept an befalling actuality that you are not grabbing.”
Feloni: Aloof the huge demand?
Tornai: “If you’re already admired to that extent, afresh maybe you should accomplish your dream and accept a appearance of your own.” And we started that, the accomplished journey, three and bisected years ago and abundant things accept been accident aback then.
Feloni: It’s absolutely like new affiliate in your career.
Tornai: It’s a new affiliate in my career. I absitively that in adjustment to accomplish it happen, I had to move to New York because this is area it’s happening. And of course, it’s my admired burghal in the world. As a shopaholic that I am, New York is the best abode to live.
Feloni: As we’re talking about all of this amplification and stuff, I saw an account that you did several years ago area you said that you were beat but happy. Are you still exhausted?
Tornai: I’m consistently beat and I’m consistently happy.
Feloni: Is that article that you absolutely seek out? Because I would brainstorm that at this point, you could apparently appoint bodies to do what you’re doing.
Tornai: I accept an amazing aggregation … Trust me, I appoint every acceptable actuality I see. By the way, would you like to assignment for me? I absolutely do. Whenever I see addition who could be accessible to my business, the aboriginal affair I do is action them a job. But I’m the affectionate of actuality who absolutely loves to do what I’m doing. And because I accept two careers today, it is a lot. It is a lot of hours.
Feloni: What are those two careers as you see it?
Tornai: I accept become a television personality, and I’m aerial aback to Israel for an audience for a aloft role in a movie, so that’s my life. I apprentice my argument on the alike and in amid brides. Actuality beat is not article that I see as abrogating because I abstruse how to advance every additional that I accept in adjustment to accompany aback the energy. I anticipate it’s a decay of time not to do anything. I don’t accept a botheration with overdoing.
Feloni: It sounds like you’re consistently aggravating to aggrandize what you’re already alive on. What is your eyes for area you appetite to booty your business next?
Tornai: I would adulation to accomplish abiding that every helpmate in the apple who wishes to be a Pnina helpmate can airing bottomward her alley in a Pnina dress. And that agency creating a band that would be abundant added affordable, because I started as a couture artist and couture dresses are actual expensive. And now I accept two lines: I accept the couture band and I accept a circulation line, which is alleged “Love by Pnina Tornai.” And I absitively to alarm it “Love” because for so abounding years I’d been accepting letters from brides from all about the apple on my amusing media saying, “My dream is to be a Pnina bride. I could never allow a dress of yours. I adulation you. And alike admitting I can’t buy a dress of you, you’re my role model, you’re my admired designer.” So I absitively to accord aback the adulation to all these dresses and to actualize a band that would be added affordable. But still, as affordable as it may be or as it is, it is not affordable abundant in adjustment to baby every helpmate that wants to be a Pnina bride.
Feloni: So afterwards compromising the brand?
Tornai: Exactly. It would accept to be article that absolutely brings the artefact to as abounding brides as can be. That is what I would adulation to do as a aing step.
Feloni: We talked about the struggles that you had personally, and advantageous those challenges. Aback you attending at your career and growing your business, what would you say the bigger claiming you’ve affected in that sense, professionally, has been?
Tornai: I anticipate the bigger claiming is acquirements how to put my ego aside. I anticipate creators accept a lot of ego because you charge ego in adjustment to be innovative, in adjustment to be creative, in adjustment to become a one-of-a-kind. But afresh you charge to about-face that into article absolute because ego has two aspects. One is positive; it pushes you, it gives you the drive to become successful. And the added aspect is negative; it makes you anticipate that you are aloft anybody and that it’s all about you. I anticipate until the day I die I will consistently do my best to put my ego aside. It’s about my bride; it’s about my customer. It’s actuality beholden to every befalling I accept in life. I don’t booty annihilation for granted.
Feloni: The way that you’ve abstruse to accord with that is aggravating to acquisition that, and admonish yourself of the appreciation?
Tornai: Absolutely. If a helpmate tells me that she wants to change her dress, she doesn’t like my dress, of advance the aboriginal acknowledgment would be why doesn’t she like my dress.
Feloni: The ego comes in.
Tornai: What’s amiss with my dress? I’m one of the bigger designers in the world. But afresh I accomplish abiding that I apprehend her because it is her dress, not my dress. I am actuality to accomplish her dream appear accurate and to accomplish her feel as admirable as I can accomplish her feel on her bells day. So it’s absolutely not about me.
Feloni: How do you alone ascertain success?
Tornai: I alone ascertain success … by what we leave in this apple afterwards we’re gone; how we appulse others, how we access others, how we empower others. Success for me is I achievement and I ambition that my bequest will abide continued afterwards I’m gone.
I absolutely attending aback at my activity and I acknowledge the boxy moments added than I acknowledge the acceptable moments. I absolutely accept that what didn’t annihilate me fabricated me stronger, and brought me to this point in activity area I accept becoming the appropriate to advice others accomplish a change. And it all happened together. It was ancillary by side. It was my claimed activity and my career life. I bethink moments area I heard a helpmate talking about her own story. I was able for her, but I would go in the aback of the abundance and access in tears because it reminded me of my story. It brought aggregate back. But you apperceive what? Nobody promised us a rose garden, and the adorableness in activity is that if you are accurate to yourself and you airing your path, you can actualize absolutely a admirable garden. We all accept the abilities to do that.
Feloni: Acknowledge you actual much, Pnina.
Tornai: Acknowledge you so much, Rich.
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