What the clothes reveal in Only Murders In The Building

What the clothes reveal in Only Murders In The Building

The resounding success of Hulu Only murders in the building is one of the funniest TV shows streaming right now, 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 at their iconic Upper West Side apartment building (with the actual Belnord on the West 86th Street replacing the fictional Arconia). In the second season, the roles are reversed, with the trio themselves being investigated for murder. They do all of this while wearing a truly impressive collection of outfits.

The most-watched comedy on Hulu, which Decider called “a love letter to the neighborhood,” just got renewed for a third season and has garnered numerous Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actor ( for Martin and Short), and outstanding contemporary costumes. Fans are tuning in for the chemistry between the protagonists, the thriller mysteries, and the awe-inspiring Upper West Side style.

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With the show’s second-season finale airing Aug. 23, Bloomberg caught up with costume designer Dana Covarrubias (formerly of master of nothing and Claws). She talked to us on a video call from the back of a costume truck about how to create a fall wardrobe as stylish as Gomez’s character Mabel’s, where she finds scarves and designer jackets for Short’s Oliver, his homages to Alfred Hitchcock and hidden style secrets.

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

Mabel’s key is the mix of cozy and badass – it’s all about finding a good vintage, especially in these times when we have too much trash. Then you are automatically unique, no one will have this piece that you have. Eventually you build this amazing closet where you have your basics, your big black boot that you buy from Bloomingdale’s or whatever, but you mix it up with your interesting vintage sweaters. Obviously not everything Gomez wears is vintage, but we try to give it that vibe. It’s comfy on top, but then teamed it up with a cute skirt and a notch-soled boot.

So you think about sustainability when you design?

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

Going back to season one, Mabel’s outfits are iconic – from the moment you first see her in the yellow coat and plaid pants, you instantly know who she is. How did you come up with this vision?

We use a lot of plaid, which brings out the police vibe of the show and the almost college 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 her you’re like, ‘Wow, she put this together and we didn’t think it would work. And it just does.

When I read a script, I listen to music that I think will inspire me and immerse me in this world. For Gomez, I listened to this really amazing Mexican artist, Natalia Lafourcade. All of his music is wonderful.

You use marigold color a lot with it too.

This is his power color. 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 his Mexican culture and heritage. The marigold plays an important role in Mexican iconography and also symbolized everything that made sense to Mabel as a character in terms of creativity, loss and rebirth. In the first season, she’s constantly dealing with this loss that she’s had in her past and mourning it and it kind of holds her back, but then she tries to be reborn and try to get over what 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 tiny little marigolds on them – it’s a little hidden secret.

I love what you did with Martin Short’s struggling Broadway director Oliver Putnam, all the scarves and jackets he wears. Where do you find them?

Everywhere. We use TheRealReal.com, ideal for high-end second-hand designer brands. We get most of his scarves there. And then for his blazers and coats, we do a lot of Suitsupply. He’s one of my favorite designers for Martin Short because he’s sizing specific, and they have such a great size range, and their stuff looks really good.

Is it more of a challenge to dress Steve Martin’s character because his character is more reserved and his outfits change less?

It’s kind of fun – I always think it’s more exciting to be creative when you’re given a very tight setting, because then you can work with that and try to be as creative with the setting as possible. So I like that we have this very clean, 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 always wore a headband to match the hat. If it was a blue hat, it was a blue ribbon on the hat, for example.

For the second season, we wanted to show that he was starting to come out of his shell slightly, so we did some contrasting headbands. We put on a hat trick that has subtle little stripes but adds a bit more color to her look. And it’s a bit more of a bold fashion choice that shows her character trying to have more fun. So we find ways to have fun with his costume.

We have some great new characters in Season 2 – one of them is played by Shirley MacLaine, who has this incredibly rich, older New York style – where did you get your inspiration for her costumes?

I’m obsessed with this blog called Advanced Style. It’s basically all those octogenarians around the world who have incredible style. I used many women from this blog as inspiration for Shirley’s look.

And you moved from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn for Cara Delevingne’s character, Alice. How was this transition for you?

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

We had two different looks for Alice, because she’s not just an artist, but she’s the head of the gallery. We had a vibe where it was more practical, if she was working on her art that day. And it was little tank tops and cargo pants and jumpsuits with boots and her awesome jewelry – all of the jewelry was Cara’s personal jewelry. She brought some amazing pieces that we were able to incorporate into her costumes. And then we had her party looks and her gallery look, and it’s all a bit more sophisticated but still cool and hipster and youthful. We put blazers on him, but no shirt underneath. We wanted her to have a kind of powerful woman look while still being young and cool.

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

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

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

The Hardy Boys were my inspiration palette in season one, and in season two it’s Hitchcock. I’m curious what we’ll find in season three – to see what other mystery will be the inspiration.

Do you still have any clues about this?

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to get started!

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