June 27, 2012
WALTHAM, Mass. — When it comes to the battle of the bling, no one does it better then the Gypsies.
An enigma to most, Gypsies are the latest reality television stars in TLC’s "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding." The show delves into the glitzy and bedazzled side of Gypsy life, mostly in the South. It’s a culture where bigger and “bling-ier” is always better. And when a Gypsy girl is looking to blind her competition, she turns to Waltham, Mass.–based dressmaker Sondra Celli. That’s what 14-year-old Priscilla did when she was looking for her “coming-out” dress.
“Priscilla’s outfit was completely bling,” said Celli. “The boots were 43,000 stones. The outfit was close to that if not more. And the fringe on that was all cup chain that was sterling silver with crystal stone in it.”
In the North, an expert in dazzle
Celli is the highly coveted, turn-to Gypsy designer for everything from wedding dresses to shoes to blinged-out pacifiers.
It all started 33 years ago when Celli was selling her designs to a department store.
“Nobody had cellphones and computers. And some of them are pretty savvy — they got a consultant at the department store to move away from the desk and they went through the Rolodex and found my number,” said Celli.
She started getting inundated with phone calls, all asking for clothes to be shipped to the same address.
“They kept saying they were stores and I thought, ‘How could there be this many stores on one street?’" Celli said. It turned out, "I was actually shipping to a trailer park. And I was floored."
She’s been shipping to them ever since. “I love working for them because I have complete freedom. I am the luckiest girl creatively because they give me freedom to use my brain and go with it and they trust me,” said Celli.
She enters the spangled spotlight
Celli also makes bar mitzvah dresses, but with over 1.6 million viewers of the TLC show each week, it’s her Gypsy dresses that have become the main attraction. Mother-daughter duo Deb and Bridget Freely popped into the shop recently to see the dresses up close.
“The dresses are so magical,” said Bridget Freely. “One of the dresses actually lit up, and it had little lights all over it. And that was amazing.”
Mom Deb Freely said the over-the-top dresses weren’t her style, but she appreciated the work that went into making them. She was more fascinated with the Gypsy culture: "I’m not a huge fan of reality TV shows, but … you get to learn something new about another culture that exists in our own country and we didn’t know about it."
If you drop into Celli’s store, you won’t actually see a lot of Gypsy dresses on display. She mostly makes them to order. But there was a white one on display in June draped in crystals and mink, going for a mere $20,000. You’ll need more than money to pull it off — you’ll need brute force: the dress weighs 79 pounds.
Promote small business: buy bling
Celli said business has exploded since the show debuted in April. Her staff of eight women gluing rhinestones and crystals for 60 hours a week couldn't keep up with demand.
“As of next week, we will be 16 of us,” said Celli. “We’re breaking the walls next week just to put more people in here and cut the showroom space down because we need more space to rhinestone in.”
After all, for the Gypsies, there’s no such thing as too much bling. Celli says it’s very rare that she gets something returned.
“And if I do, it’s because it needed more bling. We bling it up, so bling it on!"