Boston-based dressmaker Sondra Celli, who will be featured on the new TLC series “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” premiering Sunday, has been designing over-the-top wedding and first communion gowns for the U.S. traveller community for 33 years. Celli and her staff work together to whip up outrageous dress creations –- sometimes in just a handful of hours — each of which needs to be bigger and better than the last to meet the demands of their customers.
HuffPost Weddings spoke to Celli about how she got her start in the bridal business and what it’s like to work with gypsies on creating the focal point of their Big Days. Here is her story.
I was always creative as a child. Because my mom was in the bridal business, I fell into that market, but I really wanted to be a designer more than a retailer. As a little girl, I always re-did everything she ever bought me — I’d take dresses apart and rebuild them. I loved to trim things up, put feathers on them and change them.
When I was 17, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and before that I went to Scholastic International, which is a program that takes young designers as interns to six different countries. So, at 15, I went to Europe — Italy, England France, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark — and I worked as an intern in different design houses. I just fell in love with this business. I think the exposure to Europe and to New York at a young age just opened my eyes.
The gypsies actually found me through a couple department stores that I’d been working with at the time, when I started my own business years ago. Someone gave them my phone number. They called me and they said they wanted clothes. I asked, “Who are you”? They said, “I’m from Bridgette’s Baby Boutique” and “I’m from Anne’s Baby Boutique” and, before the end of the week, I had seven or eight baby boutiques call me, but they were all on the same street. And I wondered how they could all be on the same street? I called around to a few mentors of mine and one of them said, “Honey, you’re selling to gypsies! They lied to you and pretended they were stores.”
I was 22 and green in this business. So basically, I said, “Listen, I can’t be selling to you, I have to run a regular business.” They really wanted what I made, which was pretty flamboyant in those days compared to what was in the market. They decided they would buy from me — I would do custom clothing for them and sell it to them retail. They’ve been my customers for years.
I get a lot of requests for odd things and I really love the challenge. On the English show, the brides wear a lot of white. Here, gypsy brides tend to like color. Color separates you from the last girl, it makes you different. That’s a big deal for them. They don’t want to be like anybody else. Gypsies like to be unique.