How Pnina Tornai Made Sexy Wedding Dresses a Thing (Hint: It Wasn't Easy)

For a generation of young millenials and Gen Zers, TLC's Say Yes to the Dress was the ultimate sick-day binge-watch. Through the reality show's 11-year run, wedding gown styles came and went, but there was one constant: just about everyone wanted a Pnina.

Those would be the dresses designed by Pnina Tornai, an Israeli fashion designer known for pieces that are daring in all the right ways. Your typical Pnina gown is bedazzled, embroidered, and has a corset. (Sometimes a feather — or 40 — enters the equation.) They can be see-through and are often strapless. In short, this is not the demure, bateau-necked dress of, say, Meghan Markle.

Though Tornai is now ubiquitous with Kleinfeld Bridal (where SYTTD is filmed) and one of the institution's bestselling designers, it wasn't always easy. As Tornai told POPSUGAR, "When I first came to New York 13 years ago, the people at Kleinfeld's took one look at my designs and said they could never sell anything that sexy in the United States."

Keep reading to see how Tornai's unabashedly feminine designs changed society's idea of what a wedding dress can be.

Her Inspiration

"In nature, the male is the colorful animal," Tornai explained. "He's the one who shows off and is beautiful. I think it's different for humans — often, females are the ones who dress up. I think that a woman should feel free to express herself in how she dresses. We live in a beautiful era where we finally no longer have to submit to what society expects from us, and especially what men expect from us."

The Deeper Significance of Her Designs

According to Tornai, "My calling is to set people free from prejudice. I want women to feel feminine and sexy in their own bodies."

That said, her designs aren't crude. "I don't just create a dress to say, 'I want my brides to be naked,'" she explained. "Many couples stand in front of a religious authority, their parents, or grandparents, and they want to respect those people. I feel that my gowns allow them to show off their bodies while staying comfortable."

How Her Background Influences Her Work

Tornai is the daughter of an Egyptian diplomat father and Moroccan mother, and she grew up in Israel. All of those cultures impact the work she creates to this very day. "I'm obsessed with embroidery, and I think it's partly because Moroccan traditional costume is all hand-beaded," she said. "I think that intricate work runs in my veins. When you add on embroidery or beads, it's like adding salt and pepper to a dish you already love. It always makes it more exciting."

The New "Princess" Bride

In bridal design, the term "princess gown" conjures up images of puffy sleeves and frilly necklines, but Tornai said that is changing. "You can be whoever you want to," she said. "You can be an old-school princess or you can be a princess like Khaleesi in Game of Thrones. The modern princess doesn't compromise, and she goes after what she wants. That is the princess I look up to."