The young couple lived above their business, raising two children there. After selling the business, Hedda and Jack moved from their Brooklyn site to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The now giant bridal emporium had left home and had launched itself anew. But time never stands still. Hedda Kleinfeld and her husband Jacob Schachter retired in 1992.
The business was not doing well after 1992; management was constantly changing.
Earlier in her retail career, Mara Urshel had been general merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Ave. With more than 30 years of experience developing and marketing luxury merchandise, she purchased the Kleinfeld Bridal store with two others in 1992. Ronnie Rothstein graduated from Wharton School at Pennsylvania University in 1964 and received his law degree from the University of Miami in 1968. In July 1999 he purchased the Kleinfeld Bridal store with Mara Urshel and Wayne Rogers.
Photo credit: Kleinfeld Blog
In late 2005, Kleinfeld moved to a bigger, more accessible space. Its new location was at West 20th St and Sixth Ave in Manhattan’s fashionable Chelsea neighbourhood, largely because most of the shop’s customers worked in Manhattan. The new location was to be “a grander, more theatrical environment”, about twice as much as the Bay Ridge site.
The designer names that Kleinfeld helped to make famous included Michelle Roth, Tara Keeley, Alita Graham, Jim Hjelm, Maggie Sottero, Romona Keveza, Pnina Tornai, Lazaro, Alvina Valenta, Augusta Jones and Mark Zunino.
So who was Pnina Tornai? Born in Israel, Pnina Assis Tornai (1962-) wanted to be a professional actress. After high school, she did her required time in Israel army and then attended an acting school in Paris.
Pnina had had a passion for acting all of her life, but when she came back from 10 years in Paris with her son, she needed a reliable income. Eventually she had to change careers, so she opened up a little Tel Aviv dress shop. Pnina hadn't taken sewing classes before this, so she had to hire another seamstress to help – all hand sewn around a sewing machine in the basement. They were cutting the fabric at night, sewing the dresses in the day.
One day a young woman from the north of Israel commissioned Tornai to make her a wedding dress in the same pattern as a black evening gown she had seen in the shop. On the wedding day, missiles fell near the nuptials, and the next morning the newlyweds' picture was on the front of all the Israeli newspapers. Suddenly, women started flooding Tornai with orders for that dress. She re-created her Tel Aviv shop as a dreamy bridal salon.
Pnina’s father was an Israeli diplomat from Alexandria; her mother was from Tangiers. Perhaps influenced by her North African ancestry, she originally started by making evening gowns, formal wear for Islamic women and finally wedding dresses. Her first wedding dresses had become a large hit, thus beginning her career as a wedding dress designer in Europe and the USA.
Pnina first presented a few of her dresses to Kleinfeld in NY in 2005, but they were not hugely popular. So she came back a few years later with dresses similar to those Kleinfeld’s already had and was accepted as one of their designers. Though she now has professional dressmakers doing the cutting, sewing, hand beading and finishing, all the dresses are still designed by Tornai herself.
Illusion bell sleeve lace trumpet wedding dress
with a sweetheart neckline, 2015
Strapless Fit and Flare Wedding Dress
with Natural Waist in Chantilly Lace.
This sheath gown features a v-neck neckline
with a natural waist in lace.
Tornai spends half of every month in New York, staging trunk shows and meeting with customers at Kleinfeld. And she still has her other bridal shops in Tel Aviv, London and 5 shops in Athens. Her designs are custom-made, sexy creations, each fitted with a signature corset. Brides-to-be from all over the world flock to Kleinfeld in search of an exclusive Tornai gown. Wealthy Arab citizens who don’t want to visit Israel are delighted to invite Tornai to Dubai and Kuwait instead. Now there is talk of exclusive deals being down with bridal salons in Mexico, Canada and Kuwait.
Though she has a separate line of designs specifically for religious Jewish and Muslim women wanting a modest look, Tornai is better known for extravagant gowns that leave little to the imagination from the waist up. My mother and mother in law would have had a collective heart attack, had I tried to wear a transparent, boned corset back in 1970!! But Tornai’s line varies from classic cuts to sophisticated hand-embroidered gowns, usually enhanced with genuine Swarovski crystals and gemstones; no-one worries about the plunging backs and transparent corsets.
Fashion comes and fashion goes, but Kleinfeld and Tornai still adore their VERY swanky swarovski crystals. You may remember that Daniel Swartz (1862–1956) developed and patented precision-cut crystal jewels in Jablonez Czechoslovakia. Swartz founded the Swarovski Company in 1892. I know how Tornai became the top designer for Kleinfelds in New York in 2005. But how did Tornai, Kleinfield and Swarovski get together in magical collaboration?