Local dress designer discusses career
BRIDE IN BLUE: Celli (right) poses with a bride dressed in one of her colorful wedding gowns.
We, as Brandeis students, may think of Waltham as the boring suburb of Boston where we are all forced to reside for four years. There are Pini’s Pizzeria and Baan Thai to keep us satisfied, but to most students, Waltham probably isn’t the University’s most enticing feature. But hidden on 144 Moody Street, there is a studio that looks like it has been transplanted out of Hollywood. The studio is where Sondra Celli, dress designer and star on TLC reality shows My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, Gypsy Sisters and Bling It On, creates her masterpieces.
On My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding (premiered in 2010) and Gypsy Sisters (premiered in 2013), Celli is featured as the dress designer for the American gypsies highlighted on the show. Families on the show make the trip to her studio to try on and pick up everything from wedding dresses to birthday outfits to attire for communions. In Bling It On, which premiered in 2012 for a one-season run, the camera goes behind the scenes and shows glimpses of Celli and her team creating pieces for non-gypsy customers.
Celli’s glamorous career came somewhat by accident. She started off her fashion career designing men’s clothing—which she majored in at the Fashion Institute of Technology. But she ended up independently making and selling high-end children’s clothing to department stores. Celli, in an interview with the Justice, said that the gypsies, who “love anything high end,” pulled her number out of a Rolodex at a store. “I was only twenty-something years old, so I did not know that I was selling to gypsies. So when they called to order things … they told me they were stores.” Celli says, at the time, she didn’t know gypsies even existed. But she was confused—the orders seemed to be coming from the same street in Illinois. “I was a kid, I didn’t know. I was very green,” says Celli.
Celli moved from New York to Boston when her daughter was young in order to be close to her family, she said. And her mother has her own claim to fame in Waltham. “My mother owns the biggest bridal store in Waltham—she’s pretty much a legend here,” Celli said. Her mother, Yolanda Cellucci, has owned her bridal shop in Waltham, Yolanda’s Bridal Salon, since 1967. The store recently closed in 2009 but since then has been featured in an exhibit at the Charlies River Museum of Industry—Yolanda: Innovative Fashion Icon—which ran through Nov. 30 of last year. She has also been featured in the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. “Her store was full of dresses from all over the world, so I was used to being around really lavish, lush gowns,” said Celli. “You get a lot of ideas and inspiration from that.”
For all the fame that her starring roles in reality shows have brought her, Celli doesn’t seem extremely changed by her stardom. “The experience is something that I never thought I would have. I really am so not the type of person that would put myself out there and look for that.” Celli says she doesn’t act on the show and that nothing in her studio is scripted. All the catfights happen spontaneously and the camera crew just tapes, she told the Justice.
CRYSTAL BRIDE: Celli’s collection of crystal figurines highlights her trademark bedazzled wedding gowns.
TAKE A SEAT: Even the furniture in Celli’s store, from shoe-shaped chairs to animal print rugs, is extravagant, complementing the colorful and sparkly dresses lining the walls.
Celli is also very fond of her reality television clients and connects with them on a personal level. “I stay in their homes and I go to dinner with them and they’re extremely hospitable to me. They treat me like gold,” she said. And she is certainly well acquainted with the whole gypsy community—“My phone has 4,500 contacts and they’re pretty much all gypsies. I know every single one of them when they call.”
When asked about her biggest challenges in her career, Celli mentioned that creating anything for her daughter is “tough.” Her daughter is in the fashion business herself—on the corporate side—so she is very critical of her mother, Celli said. But she also said her favorite designs are the ones she creates for her daughter.
Celli’s work doesn’t stop with her gowns though. Recently, she undertook the project of designing uniforms for New England Patriots’ cheerleaders. “It was a challenge, because there are 26 of them and I’m so used to doing one-of-a-kind… but it was so cool to see all 26 of them in one shot,” Celli said. And more recently, Celli released her Crystal Bride, a china figurine of a woman wearing a blue dress embellished with 31 handmade flowers and 34 Swarovski crystals.
When asked if she had ever experienced anything too crazy for her designing skills, Celli responded with a definitive “nothing.” So next time you’re looking around Waltham and thinking that there is nothing here, take a second look and you might find something extraordinary in this small town.