'Just Say Yes': The Complete History of Kleinfeld Bridal
| LAST UPDATE 05/21/2023
From its challenges it faced early on to eventually becoming a global television sensation, here's a look at the history of Kleinfeld Bridal, the iconic bridal store. Just say yes and keep scrolling!
Before there was Kleinfeld, Hedda was an ordinary girl. Born in 1924 in Vienna, Hedda lived a simple life. Her parents, Regina and Isadore, ran a fur business, and she had a little sister, Liane.
In 1938, the Kleinfelds, being a Jewish family, faced a sudden upheaval as WWII loomed. Their business was seized, and Hedda's father had to spend four months away. Realizing they needed to escape Europe, the family made plans to start anew elsewhere.
The path out of Europe was treacherous. There were many unknowns, but the family of four was determined to find an escape route. They were able to secure fake visas that would give them safe passage to Shanghai. But, the papers were taking too long to arrive.
They had to act fast. So, the Kleinfelds packed their things and set sail across the Atlantic Ocean toward Havana, Cuba. Hedda's granddaughter, Ilana Schachter, told JTA, "She did not share a lot of experiences from that time period, but she did have happy memories of being a teenager in Havana..."
Rebuilding Their Lives
The Kleinfelds spent some time in Cuba as they waited to secure an American sponsor for visas. By 1940, the family relocated once more to Brooklyn, New York, per The New York Times. The next step was to start rebuilding their lives again. Hedda and Liane attended school.
Isadore started working with fur again out of their apartment, while Hedda's mom found work with a famous milliner, aka a person who makes hats. It may not have been what they had in Vienna, but it was good enough. The family was able to make ends meet and reestablish themselves.
It's All About the Fur
Business was good, and Isadore needed an extra set of hands to help him with things. He hired Jacob Shachter, who went by Jack. As these things go, Jack and Hedda fell in love with each other. They were married in 1941. Shortly after, Isadore bought a storefront for the business and called it I. Kleinfeld & Son.
Her wedding dress was pure silk and custom-made. It cost her $199.99. It is far from the gowns she would one day sell, but it was perfect for Miss Hedda. She told The Times, "During the height of the war, with the fabric shortages and all, I lent it to so many friends getting married that it finally got lost."
Here Comes the Bridal Section
In the late 1960s, Hedda spearheaded adding a bridal section to the family store. At the time, wedding dresses were based on a few traditional themes, and little variation was available. Hedda saw an opportunity in the market. So, she decided to go where no bridal salon had gone before.
She traveled worldwide to find designers and styles to bring back to Brooklyn. It became an instant hit. She completely transformed the bridal industry by introducing wedding dresses from European designers. The bridal business was so good that Hedda took over the entire storefront.
Hedda's bridal business continued to grow. It expanded so much that the family bought five more storefronts on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. They combined them to create one mega superstore. They were not just a bridal boutique. They were an institution.
They stopped selling fur and evening gowns and solely focused on bridal. Per the Kleinfeld Bridal website, there were 12 dressing rooms and 400 styles of dresses for brides. Everyone in the world knew about I. Kleinfeld & Son, and every bride wanted to get her dress from there.
A Family Business
Although the business has gone through several iterations, it was still a family business at its heart. Per a 1987 New York Times review, the store would sell between 500 to 600 bridal gowns a month, which cost an average of $1,000 to $1,500, including a headpiece.
Hedda told the Times reviewer that brides come into the store "from as far as Nigeria and Ohio." The reviewer described how they run the store: "They rule their kingdom with crusaders' zeal." Whatever Hedda and Jack were doing, they were doing it right.
A Day at Kleinfeld
What was a day like at Kleinfeld back in the 1980s? This New York Times reviewer has all the details. Patricia Leigh Brown wrote, "Young women and their retinues, a veritable bridal wave, wait in the lobby, some clutching dog-eared bridal magazines."
"They are in pursuit of their wedding day 'aura.' They await the wisdom of Miss Judith, Miss Iman, Miss Irene, Miss Flo and the other Kleinfeld bridal consultants who, ferreting through the store's 800 or so wedding-dress styles (by appointment only), will help them find the dress." It sounds like a busy day, indeed!
The Biggest Sale
Their biggest sale wasn't a fabulous wedding dress embellished with crystals, lace, and sequins. It was actually the sale of the family business. Hedda and Jack sold the company to a group of venture capitalists and Michel Zelnik in 1990. Would Kleinfeld ever be the same?
For a while, no one was sure. Over the next decade, the iconic bridal institution struggled and changed hands between owners. Gordon Brothers Capital bought it in 1996, and only a few years later, they sold it to Mara Urshel, Ronnie Rothstein, and Wayne Rogers.
With the new owners came a new era at Kleinfeld. The 11,000-square-foot megastore was renovated to include 18 dressing rooms and 13 fitting rooms. They also expanded the dress selection to include even more options and feature more designer exclusives.
While Miss Heda was no longer controlling the reins, it seemed that Kleinfeld was finally finding its footing under the new leadership. However, there was a more significant project in the works - one that would change the course of the bridal store forever.
After decades as a Brooklyn destination, Kleinfeld was moving to a new location on Fifth Avenue. Except, it wasn't down the road on Fifth in Brooklyn. It was across the bridge in Manhattan. While it may only be a train ride away, it seemed like worlds away now.
In the New York Times, Diane Cardwell wrote, "It is like losing the Dodgers all over again: Kleinfeld, the storied Brooklyn wedding gown emporium that has festooned generations of American brides, is moving to -- horrors! - Manhattan." The news was devastating for many Brooklyn residents.
Made in Manhattan
However, the new space was as grand and elegant as a bridal store should be. The 35,000-square-foot building was equipped with 28 dressing rooms and 17 fitting rooms. The Manhattan location would be able to hold 1,500 designer sample dresses and staff 250 employees.
If those numbers weren't already impressive enough, per the Kleinfeld Bridal website, they were now able to service over 17,000 brides annually. That is a whole lot of I Do's. All that is before Kleinfeld was introduced to millions through their television screens.
Roll the Cameras
In 2006, the television network TLC started filming a show set at Kleinfeld Bridal. The show followed brides as they made one of the most significant decisions in their life - what they would wear on their wedding day. It was more than simply trying on dresses.
Brides would be assigned a Kleinfeld consultant who would pick out dresses for them to try on for their closest friends and family. The show would follow all the ups and downs of finding the perfect dress for the big day. The first episode of Say Yes to the Dress aired on October 12, 2007.
The Original Title
It is hard to imagine Say Yes to the Dress being called anything else, but that was almost the case. Originally, the show was called Kleinfeld Unveilved, which also has a bridal spin to it. The inspiration for the title came from Kleinfeld co-owner Ronnie Rothstein when they were shooting the pilot.
According to New York Post, Ronnie Rothstein said, "There was a girl who was struggling over two dresses. I said to [her] mother, 'It's easier to say yes to the guy than to say yes to the dress.' The network called us weeks later and said, 'We have the name...' We thought it was terrible! Then all of a sudden it caught on."
Drama, Drama, Drama
From having four opinionated brothers trying to help a bride choose her dress to trying to impress an extremely picky maid of honor, there is endless drama at Kleinfeld Bridal. There are tons of bridezillas, difficult parents, and family arguments that happen on the show.
In one episode, the bride, Tanya, wants to wear a ballgown on her wedding day, but her family has differing opinions. They argue about what would look best. In another episode, one bride's two daughters prove to be difficult to please. It is hard being a bride!
Some brides are lucky enough that the sky is the limit when it comes to budget for their dresses. Bride Autumn found a $24,000 gown that she fell in love with. Except, this dress was only for the reception. With her reception dress, ceremony dress, an $8,000 veil, and alterations, her bill totals $50,111.62.
Another bride featured on the show bought her wedding dress and bridesmaids' dresses exclusively from designer Pnina Tornai. Naulila Diogo spent over $200,000 on the purchase. According to the show, it is the biggest purchase in Say Yes to the Dress history. Nothing will stop these brides on their wedding days.
Cue the Tears
In addition to the drama and unlimited budgets, many brides come on the show after facing trials and tribulations. One bride, Rebekah, survived the Boston Marathon bombing but was severely injured. She wanted to get married before her leg had to be amputated.
Another bride, Jennifer, endured three kidney transplants after being diagnosed with a rare disease. Bride Shaela lost her sight after being involved in a car accident. Looking for the perfect dress to wear on their magical day means even more to these brides.
You Need What?!
While many brides want a traditional look, some brides have requests that are, let's just say, off the beaten path. One bride in particular needed to find a gown for her underwater wedding. While another wanted to look like a dead bride walking down the aisle.
Bride Mariah had one barking request. Whatever dress she chose, her rescue dog, Coco, needed to get a matching gown with her. Yet another bride came to Kleinfeld in search of a dress that wouldn't burn while performing a fire-breathing routine during her wedding. No request is too outrageous for the consultants at Kleinfeld.
Even celebrities need help finding a wedding dress. Ex's & Oh's singer Elle King came on Say Yes to the Dress to find the perfect gown. Sydel Curry, sister of basketball star Steph Curry, also said yes to the dress at Kleinfeld. Not only do celebrities come on the show to try on, but they also help loved ones go shopping.
Television personality and fitness trainer Jillian Michaels surprised former Biggest Loser contestant Tumi when she was shopping at Kleinfeld. Then, there was the time when comedian Kathy Griffin pretended to be a mannequin to surprise her assistant while she was trying on wedding dresses.
Everyone Wants Pnina Tornai
It seems that every bride who walks into Kleinfeld wants to try on a Pnina Tornai gown. The wedding designer has become as iconic as Kleinfeld itself. Per the Kleinfeld Bridal website, she became an exclusive designer at the bridal superstore in 2004. Since then, her dresses have been sought after by brides all over the world.
She often makes appearances on Say Yes to the Dress, helping to complete brides' biggest dreams for their wedding day. She is known for her couture gowns, corset design, and use of crystals. The Israeli designer has made a name for herself as one of the leading wedding designers in the world.
The Secret Weapon
Over the seasons, Kleinfeld fashion director Randy Fenoli has become a star on the show. Whenever a consultant can't find the perfect gown, Randy comes to save the day. He's like the secret weapon of Kleinfeld. He had his spin-offs, Randy to the Rescue and Randy Knows Best. Now, he also works as a wedding gown designer.
Yet, he almost didn't appear on the show! According to NYPost, he declined to appear until a consultant guilted him into helping a bride. Viewers loved him, and brides began asking for his opinion while at Kleinfeld. It is hard to imagine Say Yes to the Dress without Randy Fenoli.
A Television Sensation
No one knew how big of a hit it would be when the show premiered. Since its debut, it has become a television sensation. The first spin-off was Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta. The show follows the employees and brides shopping at Bridals by Lori in an Atlantan suburb, including owner Lori Allen and image consultant Monte Durham.
The show has also been remade all over the world. Say Yes to the Dress: Australia was the first international production to be made. Since then, the show has been recreated in Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Spain, and more. Everyone around the world wants to say yes to the dress.
Behind the Scenes
What really happens behind the scenes of the hit television show? Not everyone can be a Say Yes to the Dress bride. There is an application that brides must fill out online to nab a spot on the show. The application includes questions like "How did your partner propose to you?" and your wedding dress budget.
Bride Courtney Wright, who appeared on the show, said in an interview with 417, "You can tell that they want to stir up some drama. If someone says something that could potentially cause a disagreement, the director asks you questions about it." Also, sometimes brides can spend up to 5 hours filming their consultations. Wow!
The show has catapulted the already famous bridal store into a new level of fame. It has become a tourist destination for not only brides but fans of the show. In the lobby, a kiosk sells t-shirts, hats, and mugs with the slogan "Just Say Yes." And if a customer isn't being recorded on the show, they better be prepared to wait.
There are so many appointments that brides have to take turns using the mirrors and platforms, per Insider. Also, most of the merchandise is tucked away in the storeroom, so brides aren't allowed to go back there. One bride was extremely disappointed in her Kleinfeld experience...
Many brides who were hoping to find their dress at the iconic store were disappointed by their time shopping there. Parisa Arash described the store as "a madhouse" to the New York Post. She continued, "It's literally a machine that's pushing people through." She ended up buying her wedding dress elsewhere.
Another bride, Christina Martinez, said, "They've gotten too big for their britches. They're relying on their notoriety. They're national now and their service has suffered entirely." It is a far cry from the family-run store in Brooklyn. However, many still come hoping to make it on TV without applying to be on the show.
Celebrating Over 20 Seasons
Say Yes to the Dress hit a monumental milestone in 2022 when it aired its 20th season. So much has happened over the years. Consultants have gotten married, Randy has his own line at Kleinfeld, and the show has become a global phenomenon. Yet, it remains the same magical show where dreams come true.
Randy Fenoli said in the trailer for the historic season, "It's impossible, it truly is, to sum up everything that's happened within these four walls. Just the magic and the dreams." Not only do they have a hit television show, but Kleinfeld also holds a world record.
Setting World Records
Kleinfeld has been known for their vast selection of wedding dresses for decades. This is why brides have made the voyage to the bridal superstore. There are endless options of designers from around the world to choose from. Now they have made a world record.
According to the World Record Academy, Kleinfeld sets the world record for the World's Largest Selection of Wedding Dresses. It is no surprise, either. The huge space and famous stockroom are equipped with all kinds of dresses for the big day. Who can beat that?
Never Saw an Episode
Even though over a million viewers regularly tune in to watch brides try on gowns and pick out their wedding dresses, one person never turned on the TV. Surprisingly, Hedda Kleinfeld Schachter never saw an episode of Say Yes to the Dress. Even though it took place at the store she had started out of her father's fur business.
Her granddaughter, Ilana Schacter, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "She never saw one episode. She had no interest. But she wasn't bothered by it." What she created has brought thousands of brides the best days of their lives. She changed the world.
The world shed a tear when Miss Hedda passed away. She died at the age of 99 years old on March 29, 2023, in Manhattan. The bridal industry mourned one of the greats, the woman who revolutionized how women shop for their wedding gowns. Kleinfeld Bridal will continue to carry her legacy.
Current co-owner of Kleinfeld, Mara Urshel, told WWD, "She really built Kleinfeld not only as an iconic name but she left an incredible mark on the whole industry with her vision." Kleinfeld Bridal posted on their Instagram, "You will be missed. Today and always, we will celebrate your life and legacy our dear Miss Hedda."
More Than a Neighborhood Spot
Kleinfeld Bridal has become so much more than a neighborhood spot. It has become a symbol of love and magic over the years. Women everywhere eagerly await the day when they will become a Kleinfeld bride and make the pilgrimage to Manhattan to try on their dress.
The store's history is filled with ups and downs. From becoming a trailblazer in the bridal industry to changing owners multiple times, Kleinfeld Bridal has been through it all. Now the only question left to ask is, would you say yes to the dress at Kleinfeld Bridal? Be sure to let us know!