What would the nation have done without Strictly to get it through the last few months of Saturday nights under lockdown and tier restrictions? We might all be staying in, but the ballroom dancing show’s team has gone more ‘extra’ than ever in pursuit of delivering a few hours of dazzling distraction.
That mission has been front of mind for Sinead McKeefry, the stylist responsible for Claudia Winkleman’s artfully cool outfits. “It’s been very much a show must go on attitude,” she says of this year’s series. “The week we had to come straight on after Boris announcing the lockdown, it was running later and later, then the Head of the BBC came down and said, ‘Downing Street can go to BBC News’. The producers insisted we make the show even more upbeat, don’t dampen it down. People have really appreciated it.”
That goes for Claudia’s wardrobe, too. Although anyone who has encountered the presenter’s style will know that her signature look is more sophisticated than ballroom outré so there’s little danger of her upstaging the dancers in their sparkling costumes.
“If it’s black, it gets a tick, it’s quite sharp, tailoring - it’s quite undone,” is how McKeefry sums up Claudia’s comfort zone. “Carine Roitfeld is the style icon after Karl Lagerfeld. We’re always sending pictures of her between each other saying ‘she’s done it again, she’s smashed it - hair, make-up, everything.” Known for her mussed-up ‘do, kohl-rimmed eyes and exacting yet effortless-looking mélange of androgyny and glamour, the former editor of French Vogue and Winkleman definitely have plenty of style mores in common.
For primetime TV, Roitfeld might seem like a rather unexpected muse, but that’s all part of what makes Claudia pop on screen, McKreefry explains. “With everyone I style, 50 per cent of getting it right is them feeling good. And that’s not always what the executive producer wants to see, because they want them in glitter and colour but against the backdrop of the dancers and the set we’re in, that could get lost. I know when she feels good, then you’re going to get the best version of Claudia. It’s a mainstream show but we push it as far as we can.”
For a whole series, McKeefry- also stylist to Fearne Cotton and Stacey Dooley - aims for around 60 per cent of looks to be grounded in the chic suiting which Claudia loves. “We recently discovered Wardrobe NYC, if we could just get everything from there then it would be job done,” she says of the label known for its devotion to precise, sleek staples. Victoria Beckham and even Zara are also favourites for tailoring, and there’s always a seamstress on hand to make sure the fit is perfect (a take home tip for making your high street buys look expensive).
Claudia’s look for last Saturday’ show epitomises this part of the approach; a relaxed cream pussy-bow blouse from Chloe worn with Wardrobe NYC’s slim, split hem trousers and a pair of black Louboutins which “she felt major in”.
The other 40 per cent is about peppering in more surprising moments. McKeefry’s favourite of these was a leopard print Norma Kamali jumpsuit worn for the Blackpool show and teamed with matching leopard heels. “I said to her for a joke, ‘why don’t you wear it with the matching shoes?’ and she said, ‘yeh, why not?’ and walked off in them,” McKeefry laughs. More classically ‘pretty’ outfits get the classic Claudia edge via stacks of gold bracelets from brands like Tilly Sveaas.
More standout looks were scooped up the day before England’s lockdown began when the pair went for a ‘supermarket sweep’ for an hour in Selfridges. There they found a ketchup-red Sandro dress (“the response to that was incredible”) and the pearl-buttoned Alessandra Rich mini dress which Claudia wore for last week’s Sunday show.
Covid restrictions have meant that McKeefry has done more online shopping than she’d like this series. “I’m still old school in that sense, I find if you put that extra leg work in [going into shops], you find those hidden gems.” Then there was the social distancing to get used to. “We were so dramatic at first saying we can’t work like this,” she remembers. “We’re a strict two metres apart, there’s actually a person with a ruler. Now we’re totally used to it”
As for how Tess and Claudia coordinate their outfits each week, McKreefry, who also styles judge Motsi Mabuse, and Tess’s stylist, James Yardley, are constantly in touch. “I’ve worked on shows before where it’s all very ‘don’t let them know what we’re doing’. But the girls are really open. If something might clash on that day or if they’re both going to be in a similar thing, they just leave it to James and I. There’s never been a standoff.”