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What clothes in Only Murders In The Building reveal

Emmy-nominated costume designer Dana Covarrubias talks about secrets about the best-dressed podcasters on the Upper West Side

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in a ‘Only Murders in the Building’ scene.
Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in a ‘Only Murders in the Building’ scene.

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Hulu’s smash hit Only Murders in the Building is one of the most fun TV shows streaming at the moment—as well as one of the most stylish. The show stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez as New York neighbors who create a true crime podcast investigating a murder in their iconic Upper West Side apartment building (with the real-life Belnord on West 86th Street standing in for the fictional Arconia). In the second season, the roles are reversed, as the trio become subjects of a murder investigation themselves. They do it all while rocking a seriously  impressive collection of outfits.

The most-watched comedy on Hulu, which Decider has called “a love letter to the neighbourhood,” was just renewed for a third season and garnered a host of Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actor (for Martin and Short), and Outstanding Contemporary Costumes. Fans tune in for the chemistry between the leads, the whodunit mysteries, and the impressively curated Upper West Side styling.

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With the show’s second-season finale airing 23 August, Bloomberg caught up with costume designer Dana Covarrubias (previously of Master Of None and Claws). She spoke to us over a video call from the back of a costume truck about how to curate an autumn wardrobe as stylish as that of Gomez’s character Mabel, where she finds designer scarves and jackets for Short’s Oliver, her homages to Alfred Hitchcock, and hidden secrets in the styling.

We’re in August and it’s still very hot, but we’re getting to sweater season and the knitwear is almost the fourth main character on the show. What advice would you give people who want to dress like Mabel this fall?

The key to Mabel is the mix of cozy and badass—it’s all about finding good vintage, especially now in this day and age where we have too much waste going on. Then you’re automatically unique, no one’s going to have that piece that you have. Eventually, you build this amazing closet where you have your staples, your chunky black boot that you buy at Bloomingdale’s or whatever, but you mix it with your interesting vintage sweaters. Not everything Gomez wears is vintage, obviously, but we try to give it that vibe. She’s cozy on top, but then pairing it with a cute skirt and a lug sole boot.

So you think about sustainability when you’re designing?

Yeah. Definitely. It’s a huge concern. It’s really hard in the film industry because we need a lot of multiples for when things get bloody or when someone has a stunt double or something like that; you have to have five of the same shirt, or five of the same boot, five of the same pants. And it gets expensive. So we do use Zara and H&M and those kinds of stores so that we can get five of something. But I try to do secondhand or consignment as much as I can.

Going back to season one, Mabel’s outfits are iconic—from the moment you first see her in the yellow coat and plaid trousers, you instantly know who she is. How did you get the vision for that?

We use a lot of plaid, which drives home the detective vibe of the show and the almost academia-like vibe of the Upper West Side. And we wanted her to really stand out and pop, to really contrast the plaid, with something young and cool that isn’t normal to put together, so that when you look at it, you’re like, “Wow, she put that together and we didn’t think it was going to work.” And it just does.

When I’m reading a script, I listen to music that I think will inspire me and put me into that world. For Gomez, I listened to this really amazing Mexican artist, Natalia Lafourcade. All of her music is gorgeous. 

You use the marigold color a lot with her, too.

That’s her power colour. I was trying to think of something that wasn’t too over-the-top or on the nose that could still be a nod to her Mexican culture and heritage. The marigold plays a significant part in Mexican iconography and sort of also symbolized everything that made sense for Mabel as a character in terms of her creativity, loss, and sort of rebirth. In season one, she’s constantly dealing with this loss that she had in her past and mourning it and it’s kind of holding her back, but then she’s in this process of trying to be reborn and trying to get past what’s happened. And she’s an artist, she’s a knitter, she’s a painter.

We also have two necklaces that she wears all the time and they have little tiny marigolds on them—it’s a little hidden secret.

I love what you’ve done with Martin Short’s struggling Broadway director character, Oliver Putnam—all the scarves and the jackets he wears. Where do you find those?

All over, all over. We use—it’s great for secondhand high-end designer brands. We get most of his scarves there. And then for his blazers and coats, we do a lot of Suitsupply. That’s one of my favorite designers for Martin Short because he is a specific size, and they have such a great range of sizes, and their stuff is really beautiful.

Is it more of a challenge to dress Steve Martin’s character because his character is more reserved and his outfits don’t change as much?

It’s kind of fun—I always think it’s more exciting to be creative when you’re given a really tight parameter, because then you can work within that and try to be as creative as you can be within the parameter. So I love that we have this very clear, very repetitive look for him.We did this one thing in season two that I don’t know if anyone will notice, but it was his character’s version of trying something new. He wears his hat all the time, and in season one he was always wearing a hatband that matched the hat. If it was a blue hat, it was a blue ribbon on the hat, for example.

For season two, we wanted to show that he’s slightly starting to break out of his shell—so we did contrasting hatbands. We put a hatband that has little tiny, like, subtle stripes but adds a little more color to his look. And it’s a little bit more of a bold fashion choice that shows his character is trying to break out more. So we find ways to have fun with his costume.

We have some great new characters in season two—one’s played by Shirley MacLaine, who has this amazing rich older New Yorker style—where did you find your inspiration for her costumes?

I am obsessed with this blog called Advanced Style. It’s basically all these octogenarians from all over the world who have unbelievable style. I used a lot of the women from that blog as my inspiration for Shirley’s look.

And you’ve moved from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn for Cara Delevingne’s c haracter, Alice. What was that transition like for you?

It was really fun because I lived in Brooklyn for very long time, and most of the shows I do actually are more geared towards artsy Brooklyn, young people. It was fun to go back into that world. 

We had two different looks for Alice, because she’s also not only an artist, but she’s the head of the gallery. We had one vibe where it’s more hands-on, if she’s been working on her art that day. And that was little tank tops and cargo pants and jumpsuits with boots and her awesome jewelry—all the jewelry was Cara’s personal jewelry. She brought in amazing pieces that we were able to incorporate into her costumes.And then we had her party looks and gallery look, and all of that is a bit more sophisticated but still cool and hipster and young. We put her in blazers, but with no shirt underneath. We wanted her to have sort of like a power woman look but still keep it young and cool.

I saw that you talked about how some of the costumes in season two were inspired by Hitchcock—the white coat Kim Novak wears in Vertigo, for example. Can you talk to me more about the Hitchcockian inspirations here—it is  a detective show.

Between the two seasons, there was a premiere party for season one, and showrunner John Hoffman gave me a little hint that season two would have some episode in it that was Hitchcock-inspired. They ended up not doing that, but I got so excited about that idea, so I took it and ran. I watched every Hitchcock movie I could and I read Hitchcock biographies, and I just thought it would be a perfect color palette inspiration for this season. And not just on Mabel, but on almost all the characters.

Thematically we did a lot of white and dark and light, and used a lot of grids—at the beginning of North by Northwest, there’s a whole grid design that happens. And so we incorporated a lot of grids into the costumes, in the fabric patterns.

The Hardy Boys was my palette inspiration in season one, and in season two, it’s Hitchcock. I’m curious in season three what we’ll come up with—to see what other mystery will be the inspiration.

Do you have any clues yet about that yet?

I don’t know, but I’m excited to get into it!

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