My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding fans, if you’re finding the stretch between seasons agonizing, TLC has good news — the Romany’s go-to designer, Boston-based Sondra Celli, is back with a special three-episode series called Bling It On, premiering Thursday night at 10/9CT.
The series features Celli and her crack team of rhinestone cowgirls (affectionately known as the “blingettes”) and seamstresses creating outfits and accessories for a lively mix of non-gypsy clients who email her and frequent her shop — from a drag queen to a pet shop owner looking for a tasteful “mommy and me” ensemble for her and her adorable boxer to a steam-punk enthusiast looking to add a little signature Celli glam to her Victorian-industrial chic.
“At the beginning, I was really shocked’” says Celli of being tapped to do the new show while in the middle of shooting American Gypsy Wedding last winter. “I thought, ‘I’m really just a spokesperson for the gypsies! Who is really going to want to see the process of putting these clothes together?!‘ But I get so many emails from people every day that ask, ‘How do you do it? How do you put the cement on? What kind of cement do you use? What kind of tools do you use? How did you get into this? I want to be a designer! I took out my old sewing machine and now I’m trying to create again.’ So I guess the appeal is there. People love the process.
“I mean look at the Food Network,” she laughs. “You watch people break eggs into a bowl and everybody gets excited! And I do too! I love to cook. And I love to see what comes out of the oven.”
In addition to showcasing the breadth of her customer base, Celli is also excited to let her devoted — and growing — staff and their meticulous work take center stage.
“We do incredible things and I have really creative people here, so it’s awesome to have them showcased,” says a plainly proud Celli. “Because it is backroom, so to have their talent out there and being recognized is really great for the girls!”
Here’s what else Celli had to say about the new show, the origins of her penchant for bling and why she gets out of bed running each day.
CGM: I had no clue about the Steampunk culture — so I learned something new right out of the gate. Might Steampunks become the new gypsies where your clientele is concerned?
Sondra Celli: You know, it’s funny because my office is right next to where they hold one of their conventions, but I had never really worked for them before. They would knock on the door and want to come in and have coffee or use the bathroom, because they’re out in the field for a whole day to do this thing, and I always saw them. And then when she called me to do this thing, I thought, “This is cool. This is a challenge!”
I love to do something new all the time. Love to do something new. I hate to do anything twice — and that’s why I love to work for the gypsies. And the average person that comes in here honestly comes to me because they want something different and they can’t find it in the store. And that’s what makes it so much fun.
CGM: Did you get a say in which clients and projects would be featured on Bling It On?
SC: Well, a lot of people called us after the gypsy show for some crazy things, some interesting things and I just thought, why don’t we hold them over and put them on the new show? So if they didn’t need their clothes before we filmed, they were allowed to try out. And if TLC thought it was a great story and if the producers and the directors thought it was something they could work with, they put them on.
There’s a girl with a neon wedding dress, and when she called me, I was like, ‘You’re from Massachusetts?!‘ Because Boston’s kind of conservative. It’s not a neon kind of town. But it was gorgeous, and she was happy because she was getting married in Vegas and it worked! She was adorable and if you put in the context of what she was trying to do — she wanted to run down the Las Vegas strip and get rid of the ball skirt after — it worked for her purpose. But it was just funny because we didn’t expect them to choose her — or anyone specifically. It just kept happening. I was shocked and surprised over who was chosen because every week it was someone different — I really didn’t know who it was going to be.
CGM: On the flip side, the gown you made for the pet shop owner was stunning in its understatement. Was this your first “haute dog couture”?
SC: As a designer, I get different opportunities every day, so I pretty much grab ‘em all — because I like to “jump off the bridge” differently every day. And she was so much fun and so nice. And that dog! I was never a big dog person, but I have to tell you, that was the nicest dog. It was so well behaved and so much fun. The only time that dog cried was when mommy went in the dressing room.
CGM: Did I read correctly that we will also be seeing you create something for your mom, who was also a well-known Boston-based clothing designer?
SC: My mom is the original Queen of Bling! They call me the Queen of Bling, but I really am the Princess of Bling, not the queen. My mother walks around in glitter to buy tomatoes. She goes to the grocery store with a rhinestone cowgirl hat on. And this is how’s she’s been my whole life. I was raised around a fashionista and a big fashion maven is Boston and — because she sprinkled rhinestones on our cereal and everything else we did — I was really raised around the glitter.
I’m in my 50s and thirty years ago people really weren’t into rhinestones the way they are today. But it was always around me. I was always around jewels and feathers — because that’s how she dressed. And I loved it. And my first model was my mom. I was in the third or fourth grade and I got my sewing machine and she let me play around and put feathers on her skirts. I remember getting feather dusters apart one year to make her a skirt, because I wanted feathers so badly.
CGM: So it runs in the family …
SC: And my dad is a contractor. He’s incredibly creative — he can make anything out of nothing. So I think I get the creativity from him, but I definitely get the business sense from my mother. And so the two of them married and it all worked out. It certainly worked out for me! And I think if you’re really creative and if you’re a good designer, you can work the customer’s taste. And so everything I’m asked to make might not be my taste, but I love every piece. I love it for what it is going to be used for — and I love it for the person we made it for. The challenge is always to make the customer happy. And sometimes it is a challenge.
But I really enjoy dressing other people more than I like dressing myself. If I have to go to a dressy occasion, I have a really hard time figuring out what I am going to wear. But I can dress somebody else in a second. In one second. I can see it; I can visualize it. I can get the person, get their personality and I can pull it together in two seconds. I never have time for me.
CGM: I suspect you’ve had to add staff since My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding began … ?
SC: Oh, sure. We actually bought more machines. We broke a wall. We put in new dressing rooms. Actually we put in a crystal dressing room, which will probably be featured in other shows, because it was done right after this one wrapped. We made a completely crystal dressing room — Swarovski was awesome enough to give us all the crystal as a gift and it was very expensive. And we had to put a new dressing room in because we broke one of the walls to put in more space, so we put in more tables and more chairs. And the gypsy dresses are so big, too, that we needed more space.
I originally started this business all by myself. I sewed, I sold, I shipped, I packed — I did everything you had to do, including make the clothes. So now the company’s bigger and I’m really the director, but I still cut everything myself. I am the cutter. There isn’t a dress that goes out of here that I don’t cut. I get here at 5 or 6 in the morning and I cut for a couple of hours before everyone else gets into work.
And we have had to hire more staff — whoever’s been here the longest, there’s a couple of girls who’ve been here for 7 or 8 years, just train whoever else comes in. Do we have screw ups? Sure! When the girls first come in, we try to give them easy things — shoes, baby shoes, compacts — little things to let them practice. But plenty of times, I’ve had to throw a whole pair of shoes in the garbage. It happens. They’re learning. No one is going to come in here and have rhinestone setting on their resume.
CGM: Is the blinged-out baby stroller the only gypsy order we’ll see on Bling It On?
SC: There were so many requests to be on the show that the only gypsy thing we could fit on was that! But the gypsies have their own show and we kept it that way. We were looking for the average customer who wants some bling — and boy did we get it! If this show takes off, I have lists. I mean, the people who email me — swim teams, equestrians, people will call us for wrestling belts. I’ve had DJs that want their headphones done. There’s just so many options for things you can bling.
We have a lot of people who bring their wedding gowns or their wedding gown trains and we cut them and make christening gowns out of them and after we finish them, they’re so pretty — and them they say can we have a little bling on it? And I think that’s because the store is so full of it that all of a sudden it looks plain. It’s contagious!
CGM: So would you be up for a full season of Bling It On and My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding if TLC and the viewers demand it?
SC: Sure! The girls love it — and that’s important to me, too. If they didn’t love it or they were afraid of the cameras — but I think that they’ve gotten so used to it from the gypsy shows that they’re kind of immune. I sometimes have to tell them to watch what they say because the cameras are there so much now that they’ve become immune to it [laughs].
CGM: So you plan to sleep when?
SC: The three shows were exhausting for us because we were in the middle of a Gypsy Wedding season. We have regular customers and they’re demanding and they’re paying us and we have dates that things have to be delivered — and then, of course, the show wants this dress by Wednesday and this dress by Friday. So instead of 5am, I’d get up at 4am, and that extra hour a day helped — I had an extra seven or eight hours a week and I fit it all in.
But I love what I do; it’s not a martyrdom thing. I get out of bed running! I just can’t wait to get to work. I’m really lucky!
Bling It On airs Tuesday nights at 10/9CT on TLC. Here’s a guide to upcoming episodes.
A Neon Wedding Dress!
Premieres Sept. 20 at 10/9c
Sondra Celli and her team work around the clock to make a Steampunk vision come to life, a blinged out birthday dress fit for a princess, a classy yet playful look for pet store owners and their dog, and a neon wedding dress for a Vegas bride!
The Zipper Just Split!
Premieres Sept. 27 at 10/9c
Sondra’s skills are tested when a self-proclaimed tomboy wants design control over her gown; a cancer-survivor is pretty in pink; a blinged-out gypsy stroller is ready to roll; a drag queen diva has a wardrobe malfunction!
The Craziest Request Yet!
Premieres Oct. 4 at 10/9c
Sondra finds herself trying to please some very opinionated clients: a bride-to-be and a pushy maid of honor, an aspiring singer with her shot at the spotlight, a ballroom dancer with an overly critical partner, and Sondra’s pickiest client of all — her mother!