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Ask A Wedding Expert: Find the Perfect Dress with Pnina Tornai

The Say Yes to the Dress star and gown designer shares her secrets

If you’ve ever watched TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, you’re familiar with Pnina Tornai. Brides filing in from around the world for their appointments at Kleinfeld’s—where the reality show takes place—consistently ask for the designer’s famously sexy, glamorous gowns. Say Yes to the Dress host Randy Fenoli remarks in one episode, “Pnina’s dresses are truly a bride’s fantasy. They’re just over-the-top gorgeous. They’re beyond your wildest imagination.” Who better to go to, then, for advice on finding the perfect dress than Pnina herself. We stopped by Pnina’s namesake boutique at Kleinfeld’s to create a video with the designer and get her top tips for saying yes to your own dress.

How did you get started designing wedding dresses?

It was one of the most difficult times in my life. I really needed to find something that I could do to earn my living. I never studied fashion in my life. I never went to fashion school. But one night, I had this amazing dream where I was laying on a lawn. It was a huge, endless lawn, and I saw these amazing dresses falling from the sky towards me. I could see every, little detail on these dresses—from the fabric, to the beadwork, to the crinolines, and the colors. It was so real that today when I look back at that dream, I know it wasn’t a dream. It was a vision that came to guide me towards my calling. And here I am, more than twenty five years after, working on my calling, loving it so much.

Where do you find your inspiration when you’re designing?

For me, life is my inspiration—everything that happens around me. I am very aware of everything happening around me; I see every little detail. Nature is a huge source of inspiration. For example, when I’m near the ocean, I get this feeling where my heart opens, and I can see these visions of dresses. I still dream my dresses, even today. When I dream of a dress, I know for sure it’s going to be a bestseller because it’s more of a vision than an inspiration. So I get inspired from everything—from flowers, from butterflies, from colors I see in nature, and from brides all around the world that I work with. I travel constantly, and I meet so many beautiful and amazing brides from different cultures. Every bride that asks for a special dress to be made for her, every time I customize a dress for a bride, there it is, a dress is born. That’s my best source of inspiration.

Pnina Tornai

What is the process like when a bride wants to customize a dress with you?

When a bride wants to customize a dress, sometimes it is as simple as adding a strap or changing the type of lace on an existing style, and sometimes it is completely from scratch! First we talk about the bride’s dream for her big day, her venue, the type of wedding she is having, and any likes or dislikes she has when it comes to fashion. Once the bride and her consultant walk through my boutique and pick a few gowns, the fun really begins. When the bride finds a gown or a silhouette that speaks to her, we start to talk about what she loves about the dress and what she wishes she could change. I am always honest with the bride, and I guide her towards the fabrics and colors that suit her best. When we are working on a gown from scratch, I sketch the gown so that the bride can see her dream visualized. Of course, the most exciting part is seeing the finished gown come to life! Some of them are so beautiful and have caused such a reaction on social media, that I end up making the gown a sample for the boutique and giving it the bride’s name!

Is there anything that we don’t see on Say Yes To The Dress that happens during the dress search?

I have to say that some of those reality shows that we see on television are scripted, and that is not at all the case with Say Yes to the Dress. The show really captures real situations: emotional situations, behind-the-scenes situations. By the way! The fifteenth season just aired and there’s an episode where you can see me behind-the-scenes at my runway show. And that is as real as it can be because I lost my mind from the stress! (Laughs.)

A dress from Tornai’s couture collection

What would surprise a bride the most about finding the dress?

I think sometimes brides have a fixed idea of dress or the silhouette that they want to wear. Some brides are not confident in their shape, and they think they should only wear an a-line or a ballgown, but when they put one of those fitted mermaid dresses on, and it fits them perfectly, they look in the mirror and they can’t even believe that it’s them. I think brides should stay open minded. They should give themselves the chance to try something they never envisioned. That might be your dress!

Who should you bring with you when you’re searching?

Well, I think you should bring the people you love most. The people that you know love you most and that care for your best before their own. You should bring an entourage that makes you feel like the center of attention because it is your day. You need these people to support you and tell you the truth. Also, don’t bring an entourage that is too big. The more people, the more opinions. You really want to stay focused on finding the perfect dress for yourself.

How did you choose your own wedding dress?

The most difficult design I ever created was my wedding dress for my wedding to my third (and final!) husband, David. I wore a ball gown with no bling! I know it’s quite surprising, since I am the Queen of Bling, but I saved the bling for the after party, where I wore on of my signature corset tops and a crystal-embellished pair of jeans.