Sondra Celli: sparkling gowns and crazy love stories

Even after many years spent designing over-the-top fashions and blinged-out accessories for her vast American gypsy clientele, Boston designer Sondra Celli says she never tires of a good challenge — or runs out of dazzling new ideas.

“It is a blast to do work for the show,” Celli says. “It is blast of energy in the midst of all the baby dresses.”

gypsy wedding sondra celliCelli says that her synergy with her gypsy clientele is based on a very simple premise: mutual respect paired with mind-blowing creativity.

“They make me feel like a movie star,” Celli says. “They treat me so well. I was just in Georgia for five days, and they would offer me their cars and pay for my food. And they wont take anything in return. You try to take them out for dinner and it is impossible. They are just the most hospitable people. They treat me like gold. And I treat them with respect.”

Which includes accepting that some of her best work might never be seen on TV.

“They give me a lot of creative freedom, which is really hard to get these days,” Celli explains, “They totally trust me, but I have a lot of them that will not be on the show and I have never pushed them. I tease them and say, ‘You put everything all over Facebook, but you won’t go on TLC?’ They just laugh and say, ‘I know! I love you Sondi, but I can’t do it.’”

I caught up with Celli recently to talk about the third season of My Big Fat American Gypsy Weddingnow airing on TLC, and what other adventures make her eyes sparkle like her unique designs.

Channel Guide Magazine: This season, there seems to be an emerging theme of gypsy and gorger culture blending — gypsy girls who live with their fiancés, Romanichals looking to break into non-traditional fields, gorger-gypsy couples meeting online and so forth. Are you noticing more diversity in the gypsy weddings you work with?

Sondra Celli: I think the internet dating is new to them, because most gypsies are set up. They are matched up or meet at party of people they know or marry their cousins. This season, one got married to someone she had never met. They met on the internet and one of them never even saw each other face-to-face until the altar.And the other ones that met on the internet, I am telling you that is really a trip. It is a whole new thing. They were all excited to tell me they met on the internet, but their families were not too happy because they probably had someone in mind for them and in the end they did what they wanted to do.

CGM: Since you work with them so closely, do you think it’s easier for a gypsy girl to marry a gorger boy or for a gypsy boy to marry a gorger girl — or is it always drama in the making?

SC: I have been working with them for years, and I believe that if you are a gypsy, you are a gypsy. It is in their blood. It is in their soul. They are never going to leave that — but these younger generations are going to break a little of the mold in the fact that they want to merge into the other culture. But when it really comes down to it, in this culture the women do what the men tell them to do. First of all, they don’t have the money; the men have the money, and the money is the power. The women can’t do too much. It is not like they are out there working.

I have a couple of gypsy women married to gorger men, and their men actually pave and paint with their gypsy families, so it is more accepted because the gorgers have learned to live a gypsy life. But it is still so rare. If a girl marries a gypsy, there is no way he would allow her to live her life. There is no way.

Some of these kids are out there testing the waters just like the Amish. I always say to people, “If you understand the Amish, then you understand the gypsies. They put a toe out there and they have to make a decision, because there is no 50/50. Gypsy culture is bred in them and will stay with them. I have one gypsy married to a doctor who stayed away 10 or 11 years and couldn’t take it anymore and came home. She was out in our lifestyle and was comfortable with it — and then she left him. She missed her family.

CGM: Do you think non-gypsies will ever get used to the idea of marrying within family bloodlines — first cousins, second cousins — which is the norm for gypsy couples?

SC: You have to look at it from their point of view: If they marry someone they know and it’s in their family, their children are protected. They are looking at us and saying our kids are going out with men they don’t know, maybe meeting crazy men in bars — so our kids are not protected in their eyes.

My attitude is this: I respect they way they live and think, and I understand why they think it: They are going to protect their children. They also respect me. They know my daughter is modern and they know I am modern and they know we live a completely different life. They know I am a businesswoman and my daughter is a businesswoman and they always ask about her. She is only 25 and in their head it is like, “Aren’t you a grandmother yet?!” No! She is a career girl! {Laughs]

CGM: Tell me about some of the standout fashions we’re seeing this season.

SC: Tara, she has a beautiful dress. She looks like a Victorian doll in that dress. It is all French lace sleeves, with a big, full skirt. She is actually the opening of the trailer — that was a fun story too. She came in here and never saw the dress before. And I did not expect her to be that well endowed. They gave me the measurement but forgot the DD at the end. It was a tight fit but she was happy.

I had a dress that was my absolute favorite. I loved this dress! They called and said they wanted an orange dress and then they called back and said they wanted to have ivory in it ± and then all I could think of was a giant Creamsicle. I was thinking how am I going to do this. I go to bed that night and I wake up with a great idea, and it is my favorite dress in the whole series. It is basically a swirl of color.

And of course they put him in and orange tuxedo. That was the hardest dress to dream up so it becomes my favorite. It was so complicated to form into something that would be pretty and be gypsy. And I was excited because it wasn’t pink. I do a lot of pink. Gypsies love pink.

CGM: I saw a deep blue dress in the promos, too. That’s pretty unusual.

SC: Navy! That was a cool dress. That dress had little mirrors all over it. And she was 6 or 7 months pregnant, so that was tough too. I made it in a two-piece because of the weight of the dress. The groom wanted a navy dress and he had control of this wedding, so she wore what he told her to wear. She wanted an ivory dress and he said, “If you are marring me, you are wearing a gypsy dress.” He came up with midnight blue and I thought that is really pretty — and a bit different. They had a boxing ring at their wedding, too, so we made him a boxing cape.

We have another girl who wants to be a model. That is unheard of too, because you don’t break out of the circle and go work let alone be almost naked before a certain age. She is actually topless in a scene.

my big fat american gypsy wedding trouble

So there were some really cool stories and very interesting things this season. I think the interactions of the families and the dresses were bigger and better than ever. Everything just landed — boom, boom, boom — into place this season.

CGM: I was noodling around on your web site, and you’ve done all sorts of high-profile things in the past year. A Miss America theme gown, the Patriots cheerleader costumes…

SC: We just did the New England Patriots cheerleaders and they are the first NFL cheerleaders to have Swarovski crystal on their uniforms. We then did Miss Maine for the Miss America Pageant.

And we did an up-and-coming country singer for the CMA Awards — her name is Angie Johnson, and she is a military sergeant who was found by Nashville. She was actually singing in Afghanistan on a cell phone and then she was on The Voice. They called us and said Angie only has fatigues and she needs a dress, and we said we can make her a gorgeous dress.

We just finished a wrestler. We did a team of synchronized swimmers, a ballroom dance team, communions, bar mitzvahs. It is so diversified, you can’t get bored.

CGM: What’s the closest you’ve come to being stumped by a request — or haven’t you?

SC: No. No! If we do a Season 4, I have a dress in my head that will beat out all the other seasons. I wish I had thought of it before Season 3 was done and in the bag — I have come up with a dress so amazing that it will beat the 24-carat gold one and the one with the lights on it from the other seasons. I love it! I am going crazy, I can’t sleep. They won’t film Season 4 for at least 6 months, so I will be going out of my mind for 6 months.

CGM: If I recall from our past conversations, you aren’t much of a sleeper to begin with. But do you ever just collapse — especially after a big project — and, like, sleep for 20 hours?

SC [laughing]: I can’t tell you that I sleep, because I don’t. I am here at 6 in the morning and I go home at 7, 8 or 9 at night, six days a week. Sundays, I am either doing errands or I am traveling. I don’t mind — and I will bake you a cheesecake if you come here! I bake cheesecake at 1 or 2 in the morning all the time. If people come here and tell me they are coming they always get a Sondra Celli cheesecake.

CGM: What, besides the Season 4 dress, is on your bucket list?

SC: I would love TLC to hook us up with someone on another one of their shows — like maybe Say Yes to the Dress blinged to the max. Or Honey Boo Boo. You know, crisscross the shows. I could do someone’s motorcycle or I would love to do some ones car. I could encrust a whole car. I can just see it with a whole pattern. I just love it. We have blinged toilet paper before — gypsy asked us to put her initials on the front piece, so when she had her open house, people would see it. So I said if you want to flush money down the toilet I will take it.

New episodes of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding air Thursday nights at 9/8CT on TLC.


Image credit: DCL
Sondra Celli image courtesy of Sondra Celli

About Lori Acken 1133 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.