She sews seas shells! On tonight’s all-new My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, Gypsy Sisters star Nettie Stanley’s son Whitey marries his longtime love Lottie — and, of course, the family turned to everyone’s favorite gypsy-couture all-star, Sondra Celli, to design the dress.
“The wedding was down by water, so we did seashells,” says Celli, calling from her suburban Boston business on yet another snowy winter day. “The dress is absolutely gorgeous. She had a theme to her wedding, so it worked for me to go into ice blues and seashells. Seashells! It’s a beautiful dress. It’s odd because it has the shells on it, but it came out pretty. People who are watching the show want to see a big dress, they want to see a beautiful dress, so it’s a combination of both. And it’s a nice love story. Mellie is one of the bridesmaids.”
Another Gypsy Sisters favorite is tapped to be a bridesmaid, too, but it wouldn’t be Gypsy Wedding — or the Stanleys — without some major drama.
Having worked with gypsies and travellers for much of her career, Celli is a seasoned veteran of gypsy customs, culture and quirks, but she says there will always be a new story to tell. “We could do the show for ten years and never cover everything,” she muses. “There is so much involved in gypsy life that we just keep using each episode as a way to bring out one more thing. And though it’s kind of a ‘chick show’ — a lot of people tell me they just fast-forward to the dress — there’s a lot of men I’ve met that are really intrigued by the whole culture part of it, too. So it’s almost a Say Yes to the Dress kind of thing as far as women go, because they like seeing bridal dresses, but the cultural part appeals to everybody.”
Asked if gypsy designs go through the same sort of “everything old is new again” trends so common to the fashion world, Celli says that, for gypsy girls, one thing remains constant:”The dresses are really a way for women to show other women that they’re competitive and they have a better man and they can afford more and they can do whatever they want — that’s where the dress part comes in really. It’s all about the status. But the most common trend that I find design-wise, which is actually in our culture also, is that almost every one of these girls wants a corset back. They want a lace-up back. Teens, proms, wedding — so many people want a corset back. It’s just an ‘in’ thing. That’s the one thing that is mainstream for our culture and theirs.”
Celli says that the Gypsy Wedding audience’s reaction to last week’s super-sized dress — and unusual mode of transport — was especially gratifying for several reasons.
“Tatiana was Greek, which was very unusual for us, because we’ve never had a Greek gypsy before. So it was fun for us because it was a little bit different — because her wedding ceremony was a little bit different because of the crowns and things like that,” Celli recalls. “So she wanted the giant, giant, giant-sized dress. I wasn’t sure we would get that one out the door, but somehow we did!”
If you’re wondering if Celli herself ever tries on her massive confections to see how her blinged-out brides feel on their big day, the answer is a resounding yes. “When we are making them, one of us steps into the frame and floats around in it to make sure it’s level. One of us puts on the petticoat,” she says. “If the phones are ringing off the wall, one of the seamstresses will do it, or I’ll do it,” she says. “We just need to know it’s all evenly distributed — even though we know we did it right”
Celli says that as long as there are gypsy love stories, she’ll think up bold new dress designs to embellish them. “The stories feed the dress,” she explains. “We have a honeybee dress that hit me as off-white with golden colors and topazes — so if somebody says, ‘Oh I really want to have honey at the wedding!’ my head goes to Colorado topaz stones and things like that, so you end up with the look that feeds into that story. Everything is entertaining to me. Everything.”
Celli had plenty of opportunities to prove it this season, including the return of gypsy siblings Brittany and Kalynn, sisters of Season 3’s fickle bride Tara. Now planning a double wedding of their own, the ladies’ fiery personalities were on full display.
“Jealous, jealous, jealous,” Celli chuckles. “Whoever had the biggest dress won. We actually measured them. One was a reddish color and one was an aqua blue — that’s what they chose — and the challenge with that, when you have sisters, is that they both want to be completely different, but they both want to be equal. So you don’t want to make one bride prettier than the other bride — you want to make them both beautiful. So it was hard for us. I made them a similar skirt but I made the bodices completely different. But the same amount of stones. Gypsies count crystal in their head. Crystal is the thing. But they were both ecstatic. They were both screaming excitement.”
Also in the offing for Season 4: “There’s a red dress that is awesome. It’s a mermaid, which is unusual, but we put the ruffles all on diagonally, so it was really unique. And then there was girl with a silver wedding dress which we haven’t done before. It had all red accents. Lovely dress. And a nice girl with a really nice story. This year we did 19 pieces. At the ending we have a party — a ball — so in that one, I had four. And then of course the producers called me up and wanted five. And they wanted me to catch a plane at 3 o’clock. We stayed up until midnight and we got it out. But that’s not so cute when you’re fifty-something years old. I’m tired! [laughs]”
So while Celli thrives on her ever-changing workload and prides herself on her can-do nature, she says the show’s popularity can be a double-edged sword.
“The funny thing is, people email us every day and are like ‘Hi, my party is Friday and I was wondering if I could get a gown?’” Celli chuckles. “The truth is, we do turn stuff in 48 hours — we do it every day — but we prefer not to. So people email you and say, ‘Well, I guess you do it on the show, but you can’t do it for me?’ Well, it’s impossible! I’m turning gypsy dresses in 48 hours — I can’t turn yours too. Somebody give me break here! But I love it. I love what I do. It’s exhausting, but when the actual product is done, it’s so rewarding. When the girl is happy, it’s so rewarding. And they all look so beautiful in them. It makes it all worth it.”
So while Celli and her staff are now gearing up for the Easter season — a major source of Irish Traveller business — she has her sights set on some of Hollywood’s tiniest fashionistas.
“You know who I would really love to dress?” she exclaims. “Some of these Hollywood kids! I look at the women and they have these amazing dresses on the red carpet and their kids just don’t have beautiful clothes. Especially when they take them out to a big event. I know these kids would twirl around and sing and dance if I could just get my hands on some of them. I would love to crystalize those kids. I would love it. Give me Kim Kardashian’s kid with Kanye. I could dress that kid and they would just fall over and die. The most gorgeous clothes! I used to do custom shoes for my daughter, custom dresses for my daughter. Blue Ivy would be awesome. I saw Jennifer Lopez with her little girl one day with matching dresses that somebody else did. That dress was nothing compared to what I could do.
“I could blow them out of the water,” Celli chuckles. “No sweat!”
See more of Celli’s handiwork on all-new episodes My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, premiering Thursday nights at 9/8CT on TLC.