Sondra Celli is nothing if not a creative fashion genius – but even she draws the line at ‘blinging up’ a £1,400 Prada handbag.
Her long list of devoted gypsy clients will stop at nothing it seems to coat everything they own in crystal – to them top-dollar sparkle and shine equals status within their community as well as momentary escape from the bubble they live in.
Sondra, who is based just outside Boston and has been designing jaw-dropping bridal creations for gypsies for 35 years, has seen it all during her career. From the six-month-old baby coated in mirrors to a Wedding dress that could easily have electrocuted the bride inside, Sondra’s proud motto is: ‘There’s nothing I can’t bling.’
"I’ve had too many crazy requests to count from gypsy clients,’ she laughs. ‘That baby was basically dressed in a reflective body cast. The poor child couldn’t move and looked like a disco ball but her parents thought she was fabulous!
"I’ve painstakingly sewn wire into dresses built around metal cages that see brides lit up like Christmas trees, seen girls literally topple over in their gowns because they’re so heavy and covered a pair of pink knee high boots with 43,000 pink rhinestones.’
Then there was the dress for a child that weighed in at 40lb – when the little girl herself was only 68lb, and the most expensive commission she’s completed to date, a £20,000 dress that came complete with a floor-length mink cape encrusted with crystals.
Sondra’s custom creations can take up to eight months to complete and shoes eight weeks, although she has had to turn them around in 72 hours before. The average age of the gypsy brides she designs for is 15 or 16, but although that might seem young it’s a perfectly normal age within the traveller community to be decked out and married off.
"The wedding dresses I make usually cost between three and five-and-a-half thousand pounds, but it’s often more and I’m currently working on several costing up to £11,000," Sondra reveals.
"Gypsies are very competitive and when they order their dresses spend as much as they can possibly afford – often just after the men in the family have had a big job on. To them bling is major status, they always want more than their family and friends and brag about how much they’ve spent.
"The dresses will generally be smothered with crystal and American gypsies also add mink or other expensive fur to the design to make it even more luxurious. It’s never faux anything either – the real thing all the way.
"When these girls buy Fendi or Chanel that’s exactly what it is and you wouldn’t believe how many extortionate bags they ask me to ‘bling up’. One was a £1,400 Prada design – I didn’t want to touch it!"
Sondra, who trained in New York and has appeared in Vogue and Harpers Bazaar, could be called the Stateside equivalent of UK design counterpart Thelma Madine whose huge meringue creations have become famous from appearing on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
She is herself about to hit our screens in series three of Gypsy Brides US.
"I’m a fan of Thelma’s work and would love to meet her one day," Sondra says. "I’ve actually been asked to copy dresses from the British series but I’d say the US brides like colour more.
"My favourite dress we made this series was orange and ivory – I really wanted to do something that wasn’t pink! I was freaking out that the bride would look like a giant creamsicle but it ended up working really well. It cost £9,000 and had 14,000 crystals on it.
"I can’t imagine doing anything else now although the job can be lots of pressure. It’s a tall order making gypsy girls’ dreams come true for their one day of escapism – a magical thing really.
"And if we get the green light for series 4 I’ve got a wedding dress in my head that’s so extreme you’d never believe it. I’ve just got to find the right gypsy bride to wear it!"
Gypsy Brides US airs Wednesdays from 25th June, 9pm on TLC.