Only Murders in the Building’s Costume Designer on Dressing a Larger-Than-Life Cast

A still from the show 'Only Murders in the Building' highlighting the casts outfits
Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Only Murders in the Building is back for season two—and once again, it’s getting glowing reviews (and has just been renewed for a third go-around). The Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, and Martin Short trio—which mixes classic comedians of Saturday Night Live’s golden era with the Gen-Z and Millennial star power of a former Disney scene-stealer—has proven to be the perfect algorithm to attract all generations to this Upper West Side-set murder mystery. And while fans come for the the three stars’ magnetic dynamic, the talented supporting cast, and—of course—the mystery, they stay for the depictions of New York City dressing, specifically that of the Upper West Side set, which is so brilliantly captured in this Hulu series.

We can thank the show’s head costume designer, Dana Covarrubias, for that. She may be Texas-born, but she’s been sharpening her skills for over two decades in New York City (spending time in Washington Heights, Harlem, Astoria, Greenpoint, and, of course, the Upper West Side during her tenure there), learning the ins and outs of every neighborhood and the way their residents dress.

“When I see someone from the Upper West Side, I immediately know who that person is,” Covarrubias told W. “Or, if someone’s from Astoria, you can tell if they’re from, like, 36th Avenue or upper Steinway Street.” That nuanced knowledge landed Covarrubias on some quintessential New York shows, like Master of None, Grand Army, and now, Only Murders—where she has made the costumes just as essential to the plot as the question of who killed Bunny Folger. So far, the looks from season two have continued the legacy built during the first season, and with new characters entering the action, Covarrubias has found a way to tell their story through jackets and dress choices as well, all while ensuring the viewer doesn’t get too overwhelmed with the colors and chaos playing out on their screen.

“What’s crazy about this show is that we have such a massive, amazing cast and every season, including this one, there are mini scenes where you have 20 or so actors in the same room,” Covarrubias said. “You have to consider all the looks and how they play against each other. It’s a bit of a puzzle—and I use that term specifically, because there’s a whole puzzle theme this season. You want to make sure everything works together and everybody blends well on camera visually, but at the same time, nothing is too similar.” Below, Covarrubias breaks down the costuming of five of the show’s characters, revealing where she gets her inspiration, and how Mabel can afford all those coats.


Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Selena Gomez’s Mabel caused quite the stir during season one, thanks to her seemingly bottomless closet of enviable winter coats. “We have a joke in the costume department that this show is no longer about murder mysteries, this is a show about coats,” Covarrubias said. Luckily, the head costume designer is playing into the gag and continuing the Gomez-headlined fashion show of statement coats for another season, despite Mabel’s lack of a job or seemingly any income. “We almost never put her in the same coat,” Covarrubias said. “I think we’ve only repeated a coat twice, and it is a little unrealistic.” Luckily, Covarrubias and John Hoffman, the show’s creator, came up with a solution. “We decided that since Mabel’s living in her fabulous aunt’s apartment, she’s borrowing clothes from her aunt’s closet, filled with some of these beautiful high, end pieces,” she explained.

But while Mabel’s volume of clothing may be unrealistic, Covarrubias has made sure the pieces she chooses for the character are not. Mabel is a certified “cool girl” who is constantly running through the streets of Manhattan, meaning high heels are not in her day-to-day lineup. There’s also the weather to consider, as the show both shoots and is set in the middle of freezing NYC winter. “There are so many scenes where they have to quickly run outside and maybe they don’t have time to grab their coat, so you need a sweater and you need comfortable boots,” Covarrubias explained. And considering the costume designer lived in the city for two decades, she knows a thing or two about the reality of how women in New York City dress. “It’s this really amazing combination of style and comfort and sort of badass punk rockness,” she said. “Now, when I’m walking down the street, I’ll pass someone and think, ‘That girl’s a Mabel.’ They’re wearing something that’s comfortable and stylish and unique to themselves, with a shoe they can walk in all day.”


Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

If Mabel’s signature piece is a statement coat, Oliver’s is, undoubtedly, a silk scarf. It’s rare to see Martin Short’s Broadway director without a scarf draped around his neck to the point where Oliver has become a bit of a caricature of himself. Once again, though, Covarrubias is in on the joke. “Marty and I had a conversation at the beginning of season two during his first fitting, where we were like, ‘Do we go further into the scarves or is that too much?’” she said. “Eventually, we were like, ‘Nah, it’s not too much. Let’s go for it.’ So there will be many scarves this season.”

This meant Covarrubias had to scour The RealReal in order to fully satiate Oliver’s scarf obsession. The luxury consignment site ended up being the perfect source for Covarrubias’s search. She surmises that “Oliver’s heyday was in the late ’90s, early ’00s,” meaning he was making a lot of money at the time, and spending it on clothes to wear to openings and events. Since then, Oliver hasn’t been so successful, so his closet and sense of style are still stuck in that time period.

“The RealReal is kind of perfect because we can get these beautiful high-end Prada or Zegna scarves at a massively discounted price for us.” And not only do these accessories add a bit of personality to Oliver’s looks, they also contribute to his overall eccentricities. “In my mind, the scarves are like his theater curtains, this cascading fabric around his neck, which act as his proscenium and he himself is the piece of theater,” Covarrubias said.


Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

While Mabel and Oliver are all bright colors and silk scarves, their third pal, Charles, portrayed by Steve Martin, is a bit more reserved when it comes to dressing. “He definitely finds comfort in repetition,” Covarrubias said. But this season, the costume designer wanted all three main characters to explore new identities through their looks, specifically with color. For Charles, this meant zhuzhing up his accessory of choice, a fedora. Covarrubias would buy ribbons to create hat bands for each of Charles’s outfits. “It’s a tiny pop of color that you might not even notice, but that little bit of a yellow or purple stripe in the hat band coordinates with something on his costume,” she said. “That’s just a small way Charles felt comfortable incorporating some color and exploring something new in his wardrobe.”


Barbara Nitke/Hulu

One of the biggest additions to the cast this season is inarguably Shirley MacLaine, who first appears in episode two as Leonora Folger, mother of the late Bunny. Immediately upon her entrance, it is clear Leonora is a woman of style, and it’s her dark, round frames that gives the character a resemblance to style legend Iris Apfel.

When it came to dressing MacLaine, Covarrubias looked toward Ari Seth Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style, which documents the fabulous fashions of older women. For Leonora, Covarrubias channeled “deliciously fabulous women who have beautiful style and tons of money in New York.” When Leonora first walks on screen, it’s hard not to take note of what she’s wearing: a black and white look complete with a striped coat, sequin pill box hat, and crystal brooch. Before she even says one line, it’s clear she is not a woman to be messed with.


Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Along with MacLaine, season two of Only Murders also welcomes Cara Delevingne to the cast as Alice, a Brooklyn-based artist who forms a romantic relationship with Mabel. While the rest of the characters are pretty Upper West Side-loyal when it comes to both choice of residence and way of dress, Alice brings a whole new style to the cast.

“We wanted to give her a cool, Greenpoint or Williamsburg-artist vibe,” Covarrubias said. For the costume department, it was important for Alice to stand out and “not feel like anyone else we’ve seen in the show.” To do that, Covarrubias looked to what she calls “work clothes,” pieces in which Alice could practice her art—a lug-sole boot, comfy jumpsuit, muscle tanks. In the scenes where Alice has to dress up, that downtown air is still very much prevalent. “Even when she needs to elevate her style to impress people, she still embodies this chic, masculine, hip, artist girl.”