It’s first thing on a Monday morning and Gemma Sheppard is, by her own admission, exhausted.
Having just overseen the first pair of live shows, The X Factor’s style director hasn’t got any lazy weekends in her diary for the foreseeable future - and her weekdays aren’t looking much better, either.
“Historically I’ve always given the team the Monday, off but we haven’t had a Monday off yet,” Sheppard tells me in between sips of flat white and bites of avocado on toast (the fashion pack’s favourite breakfast, FYI). “And tomorrow is the album shoot. I’ve got to do five looks per contestant, so that’s 55 looks for tomorrow morning and we start at 6am.”
Plus, because the judges houses and new ‘six chair’ format were much later this year, it’s meant far less time for the style team to prep for those all-important makeovers.
Not that any of this has dampened the spirits of the mum-of-three, whose vertiginous hair is as perky as her personality.
“I’m most excited about Sean, I can’t lie,” she enthuses, when asked who is floating her fashion boat this year. “’I keep saying, ‘Less is more, Sean Miley Moore,’ because he constantly wants more!”
The flamboyant singer’s first live show look involved a sharp-shouldered Balmain jacket and a Louis Mariette headpiece flung dramatically from his head mid-song.
Is toning down contestants’ OTT suggestions a big part of the role, then?
It’s not, Sheppard insists: “I massively believe my role on the show is to bring out their creativity. If they really want to wear something, I’m not going to stop them.”
Styling is a collaborative effort which starts with creative meetings on Tuesdays, after which the stylist and team have 48 hours to ‘pull’ four looks per artist, then she’ll Whatsapp photos to the judges to make sure they’re happy.
“We see them on Thursday at sound check, Friday we do a dress run, Saturday we do a second dress run with fittings, then it’s straight into live show, then Sunday when we have three more looks [per contestant].”
How does one go about corralling that enormous wardrobe?
“I have a huge office which is a little bit like a less glamorous Selfridges,” Sheppard says. “It’s got 60 runner rails, which is our in-house stock. I have a really huge archive, but there is an element of madly running around the high street too,” she admits.
But can us mere mortals ever hope to look popstar-fabulous when we don’t have an enormous archive, designers on speed-dial and three seamstresses at our disposal?
Absolutely, says Sheppard, you just need to know where - and what - to shop. We’ve got the stylist’s seven top tips on how to up your high street fashion factor...
Take an LBD to the next level
The beauty of the little black dress is that it’s really simple and minimal, so I always say a really great up-to-date statement necklace can totally transform a look. In River Island, they often do these pieces that also hang on the shoulders, more like a harness, that makes the dress look totally different. I would very lightly sew it on, then you can remove it.”
Gold Tone Chain Jewel Body Harness, £35, River Island
AX Paris Thin Strap Skater Dress, £35, Very.co.uk
Step up your shoe game
“One of my favourite brands that we’re using a lot on the show is Little Mistress. The dancers last weekend had these great black boots that have powermesh in them so you can wear them with tights, they’re edgy but really comfortable. They’re my weekend’s top pick.”
Paper Dolls Black Mesh Insert Heel Boot, £65, Little-Mistress.com
Don’t be afraid to sparkle
“Louisa [Johnson]’s sparkly dress [on the first live show] was actually a two-piece from Topshop, we made it into a dress. It’s all about silhouette. If you can make the lines look really strong, a high street piece can really rock it, and people can often think it’s much more expensive than it is.”
Camilla Mini Dress by TNFC, £55, Topshop
Missguided Split Back Sequin Top, £20, and Mini Skirt, £25, missguided.co.uk
Tailor your tux
“I’m a massive tuxedo fan, because it has so many guises - if you’re young, you can do it with a cool bra top, if you’re older you can do a sharp wrap shirt. With a killer heel, that’s really sexy and glamorous.”
W Bronze Tux Jacket, £67.50, Wallis
M&S Collection Open Front Slouch Jacket, £44, Marks and Spencer
Find the perfect fabric
“I actually would go as far as to say I hate satin. I don’t think it works on anybody because it creates reflective bulges. When you are a plus-size, it’s about understanding what a fabric does. Silk, especially if it’s a bias cut, is much more forgiving.”
Coldwater Silk Dress, £189, Jigsaw
“I like to salute the British high street as much as possible. That’s the beauty of social media, the bow-tie I used on Anton yesterday was from a British brand that messaged me on Twitter, called Pepahs.”
Pepahs Tweed Bow Tie, £24.99, Etsy.com
Weather your leather
“Rokit and Beyond Retro are great for leathers. I think when you wear a leather, it looks better four years old than when it’s new. It looks more worn in, it gets better with age.”
Vintage Black Fringed Leather Jacket, £56, Beyond Retro